Naturally Fast: Extended Interview
Naturally Fast: Extended Interview
This year’s America’s Cup World Series was his first, but Yann Guichard’s experience sailing around buoys and across the Atlantic has served him well. Guichard describes his magic in making Energy Team’s AC45 go fast. Extended interview from our July/August 2013 issue.
Yann Guichard says sailing in numerous transats has played a key role in the development of his multihull racing expertise for the America's Cup World Series. After cutting his teeth against world-class competitors while finishing fourth at the 2000 Olympics in the Tornado, Guichard (38) transitioned into offshore multihull transats, finishing second twice in the Jacques-Vabre and winning the New York-to-Brest Krys Ocean Race on a MOD70 last year. Guichard acknowledges that his past experience in the Olympics has been very important for the ACWS, but says that the multihull skills he developed during his transats were essential for the circuit as well. The fact that the Frenchman has begun to make a name for himself as a helmsman for Energy Team’s AC45 during the ACWS serves as proof that the combination works.
How has your offshore experience helped onboard the AC45 in the America’s Cup World Series?
YG: You learn a lot more when you sail different kinds of multihull races, both inshore and offshore. If I had only done inshore racing before, then I would not be prepared to compete in the ACWS like I am today.
Solo offshore racing teaches you to wear several different hats. When you are alone in the middle of the ocean, you have to be an expert at everything and know every facet of the boat. That has definitely helped me to manage a team much better when sailing the AC45.
Is multihull experience crucial to success in the ACWS?
There are also people with no multihull experience who have learned very quickly, in six to eight months. It all depends on applying yourself. You can be good at monohull sailing and then switch to multihull sailing, and vice versa, but you need to spend a lot of time on the water to do that. Multihull sailing involves a lot of intuitive skills that you only learn while on the water. When sailing offshore on a multihull, which is very different than inshore racing, the intuitive part of the equation is important.
So a monohull sailor can learn to sail AC45s competitively in a relatively short period of time if they work hard enough at it?
It depends on the sailor. A good example of someone who has done that is James Spithill. Before competing in the America’s Cup, he had never sailed competitively on a multihull boat, but for a couple of years before he started, he ate, drank, and slept multihulls and competed in every multihull regatta that he could. And he certainly learned the ropes. Not everyone has the capacity to master the skills like he did, but his preparation was very intensive, and he spent a long time on the water to get where he is today.
How can a spectator tell whether a team is doing something right or wrong?
It is hard to notice when a team makes a false move, except for obvious things, such as when the sail begins to luff or the boat capsizes. Given the high level of talent in the ACWS, there are, of course, few occasions to witness such obvious errors. The errors are usually due to flaws in a strategy or tactic, which are less noticeable.
The start represents 80 percent of the race in the ACWS. Positioning is extremely important before the start. It greatly depends on the wind angle. [From the pin end] the distance to first mark can be shorter, but if the angle of the wind is not optimal, you can [start closer to the committee boat and] sail a course that is longer, but faster because the boat’s angle to the wind is optimal.
You study the angle of the wind at the pin, and if the true wind angle [relative to the bearing to the first mark] is less than 90 degrees to 100 degrees, you are going to lose speed compared to when you are at 110 to 120 degrees from the wind. We also make a few practice runs toward the buoy to see what the wind angle is there before the start.
The best direction to take also depends on the wind speed. If there is a lot of wind, you go fast at a 120-degree true wind angle, but if there is not a lot wind, then you go slower than you would if the true wind angle were 90 degrees. Analyzing these variables determines how you are going to position yourself at the start.
Then, you have to analyze the competition. If I start next to the Chinese team, for example, I know I have a better chance at gaining speed compared to if I start next to the New Zealand or Italian teams.
You mention capsizing, how do you avoid that when you’re pushing the boats so close to the limit?
I haven’t capsized yet in the ACWS, and this is where my offshore racing experience has been a factor. In an offshore race, capsizing can be deadly and you put your teammates’ lives in danger. So offshore racing is a constant exercise in risk calculation. You need to know when to take your foot off of the gas pedal because you are either going to break the boat or do something bad.
You also need to be in harmony with the boat when helming. I have been sailing multihulls for 20 years and have a developed a sense of how multihull sailing works. I can tell right away when the boat has reached its limit. It would be wrong to say that I will never capsize during an inshore race, but I have never capsized while sailing a boat larger than a Tornado.