Emirates Team New Zealand’s focus switches to the Middle East for the next week and some top multi-hull competition.
Dean Barker, Jeremy Lomas, James Dagg and Glenn Ashby are preparing in Oman for the first Extreme 40 catamaran series regatta for 2011.
With a multihull America’s Cup challenge a prospect, The team has progressed a long way in the world of multihulls since they wound up two years of successfully campaigning the TP52 monohull in the MedCup series and the last Louis Vuitton Trophy regatta in Dubai.
Even though plans for an America’s Cup campaign are still up in the air until sufficient funding is secured to mount a credible challenge, the team cannot afford to sit still.
A massive amount of work has gone into theoretical and practical aspects of multi-hull design. And members of the sailing team have put in many hours sailing on multihulls.
Managing director Grant Dalton says, 'In many respects we look and act like a functioning America’s Cup challenger and that’s how it has to be if we are not to be left behind in either technology or skills.
'The difference is we have not pushed the go button and we won’t until we have the funding to do it properly. We have no interest in just making up the numbers at San Francisco.'
Looking back over the past few months, Barker says the team’s introduction to multihulls was a baptism by fire. It was at Almeria in September last year, the last regatta in the Extreme 40 2010 series.
'We were very green.... jumping in at the end of the TP52 season into multihulls and a very different style of racing against very experienced crews was never going to be easy.
'We (Jeremy Lomas, James Dagg and Darren Bundock) did have some good races and we got some valuable experience on sailing multihulls in a variety of conditions. We finished with a good insight into what to expect in the future.'
Back in Auckland Dean teamed up with Glenn Ashby, who had joined the team to provide multihull expertise, sailing A class catamarans on Auckland harbour.
The A class is an 18ft single-handed, hi-tech, trapeze catamaran. 'It’s very light and responsive and a good way to get multihull experience - steering, trimming, sail changes and boat handling.
With two boats and sailing off the dock at the Viaduct Harbour base, Barker, Ashby, Dagg and Lomas were sailing nearly every day, getting more familiar with the demands of multi-hull sailing and growing in confidence.
By Christmas, Barker’s second baptism by fire was looming: the January Australian A class national championships at the Lake Cootharaba sailing club, Queensland.
Barker and Ashby were entered. Barker’s objective, having done some solid preparation for the regatta, was to get into the top 20 of the 73-strong fleet. His hope was to make the top 10.
Showing great upwind speed, but lacking a little on technique and experience down wind, Barker finished fifth. Ashby was first.
Since then, the team has continued sailing the A class cats on Auckland Harbour and familiarised themselves with the new AC45. Now it’s back to the Extreme 40 and some tough, really tough, competition.