The Force, The Wingman
The Force, The Wingman
Evan Sjostedt knows his way around wings, but now he's getting schooled on the wings of the AC45. Sometimes the hardest part is getting the darned thing on the boat.
“Stop sharing our magic!” shouts Evan Sjostedt.
He’s laughing from somewhere in the office as David Liebenberg continues explaining the intricacies of rigging an AC45 wing. David and I are sitting in one of the smaller office rooms of Force HQ. Like most every corner of their operation, the room is strewn with duffle bags, dirty laundry and old sailing gear. It’s only the three of us sleeping here tonight.
“It’s essentially like craning a boat in with the main up, every time we go sailing,” says David.
Evan appears around the corner of the office door, grinning.
At 20, Evan, the wing trimmer, is the youngest member of the team. He designed ‘The Force’ logo to look like a combat fighter patch and he has the face of 1980s-era G.I. Joe character, with all the scars to match. But the scars are from catamaran sailing, not combat.
But before he ever stepped onboard an AC45, his life revolved around the principles of lift and drag.
“Before I was born my dad built a home-made racing sailplane. My sister and I grew up on the weekends traveling around the desert to all these horribly hot places with lots of thermals. And while he went racing sailplanes we’d fry eggs on the tarmac and run around trying not to get bitten by rattlesnakes.”
“Sailplane racing,” he explains, “is just like ocean racing, but with a third dimension. There’s handicaps, turning points, etc. My dad introduced me to sailing after he moved us from Texas to California. But when I didn’t know anything about it, I’d build model rockets and remote control airplanes and fly them around.”
He grew up around wings.
Thursday was the final day on the hard for The American Youth Sailing Force’s AC45 before the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup begins on Sunday. At 7 a.m. all nine sailors converged on the team base at Pier 30 with a work list and a 12-hour window to prepare the mighty Dengus Khan for the main event.
“Give me a piece of paper—I write faster than I type—and I’ll show you what we did today,” Evan is already scribbling away, “I’ll bet we got more done than you.”
David continues. “The operation requires nine guys and a crane operator. You roll the wing out, wash it off. Four guys push the base of the wing as the crane lifts from the top until it’s vertical. Two guys hold the butt lines controlling the wing’s bottom leading edge. And here’s where it gets exciting.”
Trying to step a 70-foot wing onto an apple-sized deck mount. And thanks to their time working on AC45s at the Oracle base this past year, the guys have it down to a crude science.
“When the wing gets out of control the instinct is to grab it, which actually trims it. So you jump on the front corner and pull down, and you end up with like four guys hanging off it completely suspended in the air. Literally, it’s like wrestling with an airplane wing,” says David.
Once the wing is stepped on the ball three sailors are stationed on the transom and wheels are locked at special angles.
“They need to be stationed on the transom rotating the boat into the wind as it constantly shifts during the 20 minutes it takes to place the load cell. We re-measure the forestay tension, mark runner tails for max runner (2000kg), pull the load cell out and reinsert the original forestay pin. Then we crank the shrouds back to tension and the boat is hoisted into the water and put straight on the mooring.”
The rudders are placed at special angles so that the AC45 can pivot on the mooring and the wing is left un-sheeted to swing freely so that boat can rotate under the wing with windshifts.
“This might be the last time these boats will ever be sailed,” says David, a bit solemn.
Evan hands me the day’s work list and says, “But if these boats keep sailing after this event I’ll do anything I can to keep sailing them, to sail anything with a wing. It’s pretty much the coolest.”
Leaning in the doorway he smiles and tries not to laugh as he shouts,
“A bunch of degenerates from the skiff sailing foundation just got handed an America’s Cup yacht!”
“And we’re going to go fast.”
David isn’t joking.