AC­CU­MU­LAT­ING PRES­SURE

The on­board de­mands and crew re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of the 35th Amer­ica’s Cup put a pre­mium on power, en­durance and men­tal tough­ness.

Sailing World - - Contents - BY DAVID SCH­MIDT

Cup crews are power and skill.

THE IM­AGERY IS ICONIC: 12-Me­ter crews wag­ing Amer­ica’s Cup war­fare on the windswept waters off of Fre­man­tle, West­ern Aus­tralia, in 1987. An anx­ious ten­sion hov­ers over the crews, crouch­ing in their work­sta­tions, study­ing their sails and an­tic­i­pat­ing a com­mand from the af­ter­guard. A slight wind­shift catches the tac­ti­cian’s eye, and he broad­casts a tack. Eleven bod­ies fu­ri­ously ex­e­cute the ma­neu­ver, the boat set­tles onto its new course, the speedome­ter strug­gles to break 8.5 knots, and the crews hud­dle low again.

Flash-for­ward 30 years, and the role of an Amer­ica’s Cup crew has changed as dra­mat­i­cally as the boats them­selves. While the tran­si­tion to wing­sail-pow­ered foil­ing cata­ma­rans is ob­vi­ous, less ev­i­dent are the de­mands placed on the sailors by the hy­draulic-pres­sure ac­cu­mu­la­tors that are used to trim the dag­ger­foils and wing in a del­i­cate high-speed bal­anc­ing act. The 35th Amer­ica’s Cup will be the first de­fense to use stored en­ergy, and the hard-boiled re­al­ity is that with­out ac­cu­mu­la­tor pres­sure, an AC boat can’t be con­trolled.

“All of the sailors are go­ing to have to be mas­sively phys­i­cally ca­pa­ble,” says Giles Scott, a 2016 Olympic gold medal­ist and the tac­ti­cian/ grinder aboard Land Rover BAR. Scott de­scribes his job as one that in­volves feed­ing crit­i­cal in­for­ma­tion to skip­per Ben Ainslie while spin­ning the han­dles on his shared grind­ing pedestal. Tac­ti­cians have al­ways been chess masters, but now they need to think quickly while sus­tain­ing a heart rate that would chal­lenge most elite-level ath­letes.

“It’s a lot more grind­ing ori­en­tated be­cause you need the power to get the boats around the course,” says Rome Kirby with Or­a­cle Team USA, about the AC35’S on­board roles. “I wouldn’t say any­one’s any smarter; it’s the Cup that’s changed.”

Rather, Kirby de­scribes the team’s on­board re­spon­si­bil­i­ties as be­ing sim­i­lar to those aboard the 72-footer USA 17 that he and his team­mates raced to win AC34 on San Fran­cisco Bay, ex­cept they now sail their 50-foot Amer­ica’s Cup class boats with just six sailors in­stead of 11.

While Kirby ex­plains that OTUSA worked hard to sim­plify its sys­tems to cope with fewer hands, AC35 will hand­somely re­ward teams that are nim­ble enough to stay on their foils through jibes and tacks.

All good sailors per­form care­ful dock- out pro­ce­dures, but ACC boats re­quire far more pam­per­ing, espe­cially as con­trol sys­tems are de­vel­oped and re­fined. Given the in­te­grated na­ture of the boat’s sys­tems and elec­tron­ics,

OTUSA di­vides ar­eas of con­cern ( e. g., elec­tron­ics, wing con­trols, foils) over their en­tire crew, with at least one sail­ing-team mem­ber per­son­ally re­spon­si­ble for en­sur­ing that his as­signed equip­ment and sys­tems are prop­erly sorted be­fore each sail­ing day. The level of at­ten­tion ap­plied to main­tain­ing and im­prov­ing USA 17 bor­ders on ob­ses­sion. It’s ei­ther that or domi­noes top­ple.

“We’re re­li­gious about check­ing the boat be­fore push­ing-off the dock,” said Kirby, who — along with team­mate Cooper Dressler — is re­spon­si­ble for USA 17’ s elec­tron­ics and com­mu­ni­ca­tion equip­ment.

“If some­thing doesn’t work, it’s on you to raise a red flag,” says Kirby, em­pha­siz­ing the re­spon­si­bil­ity that each crewmem­ber takes in en­sur­ing the boat is ready to fly the mo­ment wind touches the wing.

Once sail­ing, main­tain­ing ac­cu­mu­la­tor pres­sure be­comes a mis­sion-crit­i­cal task that’s tack­led by four sailors. “Grind­ing is still a big pri­or­ity,” says Kirby, ex­plain­ing that aboard USA 17, the first four sailors (mov­ing bow to stern) pri­mar­ily grind. This scheme, which is em­ployed by five of the six com­pet­ing teams, frees the skip­per and the wing trim­mer to get the boat around the track.

Un­like a mono­hull, where the fore­deck is the front line, no one needs to go be­fore the for­ward beam. “I wouldn’t say any­one has the sketchi­est job; all of us have the same [ ex­po­sure],” says Kirby, who ex­plains that ev­ery­one cy­cles through the boat’s busi­ness district. “I’d say the sketchi­est point is cross­ing the boat while you’re tack­ing or jib­ing, or in the pre- start — it gets a lit­tle sketchy be­cause of the amount of G- forces when the boat [ turns] …. There’s a high po­ten­tial for get­ting thrown off.”

To cope with these dy­namic and po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tions, each sailor must be in top form — both phys­i­cally and men­tally — which re­quires a rig­or­ous train­ing regime, cal­cu­lated nutri­tion and a 24/ 7 com­mit­ment to the team’s goal. “I’m the fittest I’ve ever been,” says Kirby, who de­scribes a cross- train­ing rou­tine that’s rich in car­dio­vas­cu­lar work, strength train­ing and am­ple sail­ing time. While races of yore were cere­bral, marathon­like events punc­tu­ated by fu­ri­ous- but- short- lived mo­ments of all- out grind­ing, AC35 races will be 15- to 20- minute sprints with a pre­mium on non­stop power- en­durance grind­ing.

The rules man­date each crew’s com­bined weight can­not ex­ceed 1,157 pounds, but teams can al­lo­cate this weight among them­selves. As a re­sult, most skip­pers and wing trim­mers have been sur­ren­der­ing mass to their grinders and trim­mers, as ev­i­denced by helms­men Ben Ainslie, Jimmy Sp­ithill, and Dean Barker, all of whom are no­tice­ably leaner. The corol­lary, of course, is that the sailors up front have op­ti­mized their physiques. Kirby, for ex­am­ple, tipped the scale at 187 pounds dur­ing AC34 but has gained 13 pounds for AC35. “I strug­gle to keep weight on,” he con­fesses, even with ex­traor­di­nary calo­rie con­sump­tion.

While Cup sail­ing has long been a pro­fes­sional sport, cur­rent edi­tions have seen it evolve into a sev­en­day-a-week job. The com­mit­ment level treads heav­ily on per­sonal time and fam­ily life. More­over, while Ber­muda is a post­card-per­fect is­land na­tion, di­ver­sions for the sailors are lim­ited.

“I love the is­land and the peo­ple, but I some­times wish there was a lit­tle more go­ing on than spend­ing time on the wa­ter,” ad­mits Kirby, who re­calls catch­ing post-sail­ing San Fran­cisco Giants games dur­ing AC34. Still, he’s quick to point out that Ber­muda en­cour­ages con­stant sail­ing — with the team and aboard his Moth — and fa­cil­i­tates a blin­der­son men­tal­ity to­ward de­fend­ing the Cup. “We’ve ac­cepted it and buck­led down,” says Kirby. “It will be well worth it to hoist the Cup over our heads in June.”

While pre­vi­ous Cups may have been more cere­bral, AC35’ s ac­cep­tance of stored en­ergy has ush­ered in a new era that de­mands world-class sail­ing skills, light­ning- quick de­ci­sion- mak­ing, Olympic-cal­iber VO2 max lev­els, and the crew chore­og­ra­phy to foil through any ma­neu­ver. Q

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