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State of Sailing: Part 1 - Foiling 50's, AC75's, AC36 and more

by Richard Gladwell, 4 Sep 2018 01:04 PDT 4 September 2018
Black Jack powers up - Hamilton Island Race Week - August 2018, Day 1 © Richard Gladwell

Currently, the sailing world is a cauldron of change on many fronts.

There's new classes for the Volvo Ocean Race; foiling monohulls in the America's Cup; the breakaway Foiling 50 circuit; Womens sailing; the rise of the Netherlands to be the top sailing nation; new classes in the Volvo Ocean race and more.

Several of the world's top sailors competed in the recent Hamilton Island Race Week - mostly sailing aboard the supermaxis, TP52's and others in the Division 1 fleet. A chance remark mid-regatta from Iain Percy (GBR) as to how pleasantly surprised he was by his first experience of the Hamilton Island Race Week, led to the staging of an impromptu media conference with five leading professional sailors. A small group of Australian and international media posed questions as to their thoughts on the Regatta, along with the current changes and challenges facing the sport.

[Their thoughts on Hamilton Island Race Week were reported earlier on Sail-World now updated ]

The Panel included Iain Percy (GBR) - double Olympic Gold medalist and skipper of Artemis Racing at the 2013 and 2017 America's Cup Regattas. At Hamilton Island, he was sailing aboard the supermaxi, Black Jack.

Rob Greenhalgh (GBR) - Foiling Moths, 18ft Skiffs, and Volvo Ocean Race champion. Sailing aboard the TP52 Ichi Ban at Hamilton Island Race Week.

Wouter Verbraak (NED) - a professional sailor and navigator, sailed in four Volvo Ocean Races, Admirals Cup and Sydney Hobart. At Hamilton Island Race Week he sailed on Alive, the Reichel Pugh 66.

Sharon Ferris-Choat (NZL) - double Olympic representative, Volvo Ocean Race (2001-02), and Extreme Sailing Series - GC32 skipper. She led the all-female crew aboard the 40ft racing trimaran Ave Gaitana which sailed 1800nm from New Zealand to compete at Hamilton Island Race Week and will complete the return voyage two-handed.

Juan Vila (ESP) - six times Whitbread/Volvo OR competitor, America's Cup winner, Jules Verne Trophy winner, the top navigator in offshore sailing. At Hamilton Island race Week he sailed aboard the supermaxi Wild Oats XI.

Iain Percy (GBR) led the Swedish America's Cup team Artemis Racing, which came within an ace of winning the 2017 America's Cup.

Having beaten Defenders Oracle Team USA in 15 straight Practice Races, plus two in the Qualifiers in the America's Cup Regatta, they led winners Emirates Team New Zealand around 18 marks compared to just 6 for the Kiwis after Race 4 of the Challenger Final, but the Kiwis came back to dominate the final three races and win the Final.

After coming very close to beating Emirates Team NZ in the Challenger Final - why had Artemis Racing not continued into the 36th America's Cup?

"We enjoyed the event in Bermuda - it was disappointing that your team [Emirate Team NZ] just beat us in the Final of the LV", Iain Percy replied.

"I think there are a couple of reasons [for not continuing]. Ultimately it is the decision of the owner. In our opinion it is contentious. They set a class Rule and Protocol that is expensive. More expensive than it has been previously."

"Also it seemed to be a shame, I think, to not build on the past, because that was, as ever, the chance for the event to grow. And that is not to criticise the decisions. I think the boat (AC75) is fantastic and will be very exciting - but at some point, our sport needs to progressively grow and not have a revolution every single time."

"Just to repeat - I see valid reasons each time for that revolution, but at some point, we need to finally all get together to try and slowly evolve and build on something. The main reasons being two-fold."

"One, the public need to understand what they are watching and how hard it is on the sailors - because it is a reducing audience. And the second thing is that when you change the design completely, you are unable to get out sailing quickly. I love our sport - and I think our sport is so exciting to watch.

"Auckland is going to be fantastic - as it was in Bermuda. We need to keep that going. We need to keep the high-level televised sailing going - so fewer changes mean that inevitably that can happen quicker. All those things combined, for Torbjorn [Tornqvist - Swedish billionaire owner of Artemis Racing] to sit it out for a while and watch how it all goes."

"He's all very keen and very interested - and we are going to watch and enjoy the event in Auckland just as much as anyone, I'm sure. No hard feelings about the decisions that have been made - we are going to look forward to it", Percy concluded.

The Foiling 50 circuit is yet to be announced but will sail with what is predicted to be five to ten teams using a one design version of the AC50 wingsailed foiling catamaran sailed in Bermuda in the 35th America's Cup. The one-design platforms and wingsails are currently being constructed at Larry Ellison owned Core Builders Composites in Warkworth, an hour north of Auckland using a mix of existing AC50's and new builds.

Many at Hamilton Island saw the new circuit is not as an opposition to the America's Cup, but more as an incubator in which future America's Cup teams can be formed.

Artemis Racing was widely expected to be a competitor, in the Foiling 50's, but Percy denied their involvement.

"No, we're not sure about that. Has it even been announced? I'm aware that it is happening, obviously.

"Artemis is sitting on the fence at the moment on things generally," he added.

The dock-talk at Hamilton Island Race Week had it the yet to be announced Foiling 50 circuit would start with a regatta in Sydney, with another in San Francisco, before moving to Portsmouth UK in May 2019. Other venues were expected to be in Europe. A media team is currently being assembled.

At Hamilton Island, Rob Greenhalgh (GBR) sailed aboard the Division 1 winner TP52 Hooligan. Of late he has switched to a foiling Moth winning a UK Championship and placing third in the 2016 Worlds. As the one of the group with the most foiling monohull experience, we asked his impression of the AC75.

"I've seen the renderings like everyone else.

"I would probably have chosen, as Iain was saying, to stay in a similar boat [AC50]. But if you win the Cup, you get the chance to adjust the rules, so you play to your strengths. It would have been great to see the AC50's carry on. The monohull will be fast - and the best guys will win so that it will be a good Cup, I'm sure."

Asked whether he had seen the British Challenger's 28ft prototype sailing, he responded:

"I have only seen the video of Team UK's prototype sailing in the Solent. It looks very good. But it is early days. In a year or so when the big boats come out. I am sure they will have it all figured out."

As the only female in the group of five, Sharon Ferris-Choat was asked "where to from here" for the Ave Gitana project, started earlier this year with an all-female crew sailing the 40ft trimaran:

"We leave here on Sunday for Magnetic Island. (Unfortunately, they struck an object - a whale/turtle and had to pull into Airlie Beach before continuing to the regatta)

"Some of the girls will be returning from the Groupama Race, and also we have Bianca Cook from the Volvo Race, joining us as well - so we will have the sisterhood back on board. Then Jo Breen and I will sail doublehanded back to New Zealand - about 1800nm. That will be preparation for some double handed sailing we want to do in the future."

The sailing world is divided over whether there is a need to use a quota system to lift the percentage of females participating in the top line sailing events, or if a laissez-faire approach is preferable.

"Womens sailing is a very interesting subject," Ferris-Choat replied. "We simply need more owners. We can't be just sitting on the side of the boat and making up the numbers.

"We need to be in absolutely credible roles and you are only going to get the chance to be a navigator or trimmer or have the hours driving a boat, if you are part of a team that allows you to that. So with an all-woman team you can.

"We only sail with five on Ave Gitana at a time - so when we go offshore - you are doing everything. When the navigator is asleep, the backup navigator takes over. It is just stepping stones. A couple of the girls who have been on the team have gone home and talked to different owners about utilising boats that aren't being used - and doing their own campaigns together.

"So slowly we are going to build up a squad, if you like, all over the world. Hopefully, with the Magenta Project, we will get the women actually doing the critical jobs and gain more experience.

The Netherlands is arguably the world's top sailing nation. At the recent combined Sailing World Championships in Aarhus, Denmark, the Netherlands won three Gold medals in the 10 Olympic events.

They were second on the medal table at the Rio Olympics and fourth in Weymouth in 2012. In the 2016/17 Volvo Ocean Race, two of the seven entries were Dutch-flagged.

Wouter Verbraak (NED) was asked the reasons behind the ascendancy of Dutch sailing.

"Holland has a huge fan base for ocean racing. That started with Connie van Rietschoten who won the race twice. There is a big following and combine that with easy access to sailing and pretty well everyone by the time they are 13 have sat on a sailing yacht."

Verbraak says that like several countries, the Netherlands looked to Great Britain to re-structure their Olympic program and achieve the level of success they currently enjoy.

"I think we were quite a step behind the UK - in terms of their organisation and structure for the Olympics - and that [change] has now pulled the Netherlands to the point where we were the top nation at the last World Championships", he said.

"I grew up being inspired by Connie and the subsequent teams in the Volvo Ocean Race - and it takes some time before you mature enough to participate in the race. It takes almost a generation before you can make that step."

[All questions by NZ's Editor, Richard Gladwell, unless otherwise stated.]

Part 2 of this story will be published tomorrow - including the crossover from America's Cup into other racing; the new classes and foiling, and whether there should be both VO65's and IMOCA60's for the Volvo Ocean Race; the Final leg of the 2017/18 Volvo Ocean Race; and extracting more performance from 13-14 year old supermaxis.

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