FLY­ING CIR­CUS

AUS­TRALIA’ S NEW SU­PER FOIL ER GRAND PR IX MAKES FOR GREAT EN­TER­TAIN­MENT, AND IF YOU THINK THE RAC­ING IS CRAZY FAST AND CLOSE NOW, JUST WAIT FOR SEA­SON 2.

Sailing World - - Edge -

I’m tee­ter­ing on the edge of con­trol, sus­pended on a trapeze wire, un­cer­tain what will hap­pen next. Every mi­cro ad­just­ment I make of the slip­pery car­bon cylin­der in my hand is a flirt with danger. The high-fre­quency vi­bra­tions of the foils slic­ing through the wa­ter­line buzz like a pes­ter­ing mos­quito, and their es­ca­lat­ing pitch fore­shad­ows some­thing sin­is­ter.

My buddy Iain Jensen, “Goobs,” slips as he scur­ries and scram­bles on the bow. Work­ing with fu­ri­ous ef­fi­ciency, he drops the car­bon foil per­fectly like a butcher wields a cleaver, de­lib­er­ately, calmly, ef­fi­ciently. Not bad for us first-timers.

The foil grabs hold of the wa­ter pass­ing, in a blur, be­neath the flex­ing Su­per­foiler. Goobs seems to be trem­bling ever so slightly as he vaults back to­ward the wire. It could be his nerves, or sim­ply the tremen­dous loads build­ing be­neath this skit­tish car­bon mon­ster.

We are clock­ing now, eas­ily romp­ing along at more than 27 knots. It is the fastest I’ve ever sailed on a trapeze wire and foil­ing. My senses are be­ing bom­barded, but at the same time, it’s mes­mer­iz­ing.

Snap­ping me back to the job at hand, I hear Glenn Ashby, “Glenny,” chirp­ing away, laugh­ing and wheez­ing as he hauls the sheets. He’s en­cour­ag­ing me to con­tinue. “Send it, fella,” he re­peats aloud, barely au­di­ble over the hiss of car­bon foils shear­ing the wa­ter. At th­ese top speeds, any flinch on the sen­si­tive tiller will be cat­a­strophic.

The wind whis­tles, the boat screams, and it only gets louder as

we build more speed, the noise es­ca­lat­ing to a crescendo as we surge on­ward to­ward the gates of Syd­ney, Aus­tralia’s Har­bor Heads.

In a beat, cym­bals crash, and there’s an un­nerv­ing mi­crosec­ond of si­lence. Bug­ger. I’ve dug it in. The cen­ter pod’s bow torpedoes through the sur­face, send­ing a wall of wa­ter to smash me and Glenny. Goobs is spared the sledge­ham­mer of wa­ter. In­stead, he is hurtling sky­ward, his last curse words lin­ger­ing be­hind him.

I track his or­bit; he clears the mast. Phew. He’s not out of harm’s way though. Here he comes, ca­reer­ing back to­ward the Su­per­foiler like a rag doll lashed to a teth­erball. He’s done a 180-de­gree sweep of the bow and barely misses im­pact­ing the star­board float on his re­turn. My re­lief is fleet­ing. He lands against the main­sail with a shud­der­ing thud, and as we be­gin to tur­tle, I take the look on his face to be ei­ther a re­as­sur­ing smile or a des­per­ate look of pain.

The calm and reli­able voice of Amer­ica’s Cup vet­eran Tyson La­mond comes across the comms. I can’t see him yet, but I know our chase boat is close. He asks if we are OK. I hear laugh­ing from Glenn and an “all clear” from Goobs. I dis­con­nect my trapeze line and splash into the wa­ter. We all scram­ble into the RIB to col­lect our­selves, and the anal­y­sis be­gins even be­fore the Su­per­foiler is pulled up­right. We will be out again im­me­di­ately, but not be­fore a more com­plete post­mortem.

BREAK THROUGH IN ADE­LAIDE

There’s a gen­uine buzz around the boat park in Ade­laide, Aus­tralia, an area the or­ga­niz­ers call the “launch pad.” It’s the first event of the 2018 Su­per­foiler se­ries where I catch up with many fa­mil­iar faces. The com­pe­ti­tion is go­ing to be fierce: I spy peo­ple I’ve cam­paigned with and against in the Olympics. There’s Olivia Price, Lon­don Olympics sil­ver medal­ist, who will steer Kleen­maid, and quite a few of my team­mates from Artemis in the Amer­ica’s Cup, namely Luke Parkin­son, who is paired with Ay­den Men­zies aboard tech2 along with Sam New­ton, who was a part of Or­a­cle Rac­ing Team’s pre­vi­ous two Cup cam­paigns.

I’m look­ing for­ward to reignit­ing my bat­tle with Paul Camp­bel­lJames, who is spear­head­ing a team aboard id In­tranet, along­side an­other Land Rover BAR Amer­ica’s Cup alumni, Ed Powys. I give the boys a tough time about the color of their Su­per­foiler. “Is it wa­ter­melon?” I ask, giv­ing a jab about the most del­i­cately col­ored of all six Su­per­foil­ers, which is rich given mine is pow­der blue.

I get no re­sponse, but they toss back a com­ment about Euroflex be­ing the “dream team,” a la­bel a jour­nal­ist used af­ter our crew was an­nounced be­fore the sea­son start.

While the ri­val­ries are friendly for now, I have no doubt it’s tinged with hos­til­ity, with sailors from Amer­ica, New Zealand, Scot­land and Eng­land, as well as a heap from Aus­tralia, every­one is here to win, and egos and rep­u­ta­tions are on the line. I cer­tainly in­tend to race to win, but the chance to sail on home shores along­side good friends, with my wife and fam­ily watch­ing, makes it even sweeter. It eases the pres­sure at least.

An in­jury to one of the sailors be­fore the first re­gatta in Ade­laide, as well as some in­ter­est­ing boat fail­ures across the fleet, cre­ates an at­mos­phere of anx­i­ety around the launch pad on the first day. It’s a ner­vous start to rac­ing, and no­body wants to be too close to one an­other’s ma­chines. With only a few days of ex­pe­ri­ence in the boat, I don’t think any skip­per wants to push it un­nec­es­sar­ily. I cer­tainly don’t.

We nail the pin end of the start and take it from there, man­ag­ing to con­nect the nar­row course per­fectly, even min­gling through the spec­ta­tor fleet in a quest to sail the short­est dis­tance to the mark.

We are also the first to ex­per­i­ment with four-point foil­ing (hav­ing both foils down in the wa­ter). It’s a lit­tle more sta­ble, and prob­a­bly slower, through the turn, but it cer­tainly makes our foil jibes eas­ier. While it proves to be a mas­ter stroke, it also helps re­serve Goobs’ en­ergy, spar­ing him from drop­ping and rais­ing two foil boards during every ma­neu­ver.

We claim the first race win of the Su­per­foiler cir­cuit and then go on to en­joy a clean sweep with seven wins. Every­one says we make it look easy, but we are ab­so­lutely gassed. There is a lot of “rope pulling,” as Glenny calls it, and poor Goobs is ab­so­lutely smoked from the phys­i­cal de­mands of de­ploy­ing the boards.

We find it so phys­i­cally drain­ing that we ex­per­i­ment with our po­si­tions the fol­low­ing week­end. Even I have a tin­ker as for­ward hand be­fore we de­cide it’s best to stick to our roles from then on. The next task is re­view­ing all the video footage from the broad­cast to see what other ex­per­i­ments the five other teams have come up with. There’s plenty to learn yet.

CHECK IN , CHECK OUT

It seems other teams are a lit­tle more foren­sic with their video stud­ies than we are, with Pave­ment’s ea­gle-eyed Steve Thomas clos­ing the gap rapidly on us at the next event in Gee­long. While we are lucky to es­cape with a clean sweep at Glenn’s home re­gatta, we’re look­ing more vul­ner­a­ble with every pass­ing race. The squad on tech2 is now com­fort­able enough to jos­tle for po­si­tion, sail for over­laps and bring the rac­ing ever closer, float to float. Close enough for me, at least, to high-five their three boys at dif­fer­ing stages of the re­gatta as we sail past one an­other.

With the skill level be­com­ing more ho­moge­nous, and all the sailors rid­ing more com­fort­ably, three-point foil­ing be­comes the fa­vored mode. Su­per­foiler skip­pers are a lot more ag­gres­sive with their steer­ing now, a change that’s plainly ob­vi­ous during the Gold Coast stop of the tour, where teams are re­ally push­ing the three-point foil­ing.

Gold Coast is where our win­ning streak comes to a halt. In the first race of Su­per­charged Sun­day, we mess up a pair of jibes and find our­selves buried in the pack. In an ef­fort to re­gain the lead, we de­cide to throw cau­tion to the wind, but can’t find a clear lane past Phil Robin­son. At one point, we’re ap­proach­ing him with too much speed. I have to bail out be­fore we cause a se­ri­ous col­li­sion, and the split-sec­ond bail sends Goobs fly­ing for­ward off the boat and Glenny into the main­sail. By the time we col­lect our­selves and our be­long­ings, our race is done.

It’s in­evitable, how­ever, that in a fleet this strong, our run would come to an end. At each event, teams are get­ting in­cre­men­tally faster and sail­ing smarter. It’s dis­ap­point­ing to let one event get away from us, but it’s ob­vi­ous we need to up our game if we want to re­main on top, and up­right. Time to get back to the wire.

Ed­i­tor’s note: Out­teridge and his team­mates on Euroflex went on to win the fi­nal event of the Su­per­foiler Grand Prix in the fi­nal race of the se­ries, earn­ing them the Ben Lex­cen Tro­phy, a Cham­pagne shower, and a year to re­cover for Sea­son 2.

Nathan Out­teridge (helm), Glenn Ashby, and Iain Jensen dis­play win­ning form on the fast and loose Su­per­foiler plat­form de­signed and built for a new gen­er­a­tion of Aus­tralian sta­dium sail­ing. BY NATHAN PHO­TOG­RA­PHY BY AN­DREA OUT­TERIDGE, FRAN­COL­INI

Tech­ni­cal in every way pos­si­ble, the Su­per­foiler was de­signed by Mor­relli & Melvin from the foils up, and af­ter months of test­ing, break­ing and re-en­gi­neer­ing the plat­form and elec­tronic flight con­trols, even the best sailors in skiff rac­ing had their hands full. As skip­per Luke Parkin­son’s tech2 demon­strates early in the se­ries, the boat can quickly take con­trol, and there’s not much the crew can do to stop it.

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