Are you comfortable with the wing sail at this point?
It's amazing to see the spread of performance, the average points of performance, and the peak. It's not like the wing sail is always better at all points of sail. We've been out in over 20 knots. We're still learning.
One of the big advantages of the wing sail is you can depower it very efficiently. With a soft sail, you flatten it out, then you twist it, and then, once you are actually sailing, it can flap. But with wing control, there's almost zero drag. You could potentially sail it in really, really strong wind, as long as it doesn't blow you over. We've been pleasantly surprised.
Sailing upwind is quite safe, because you're sailing at a very narrow apparent wind angle and you can easily regulate the wing. You can really pinch it along quite satisfactorily. The dangerous part is turning it around. When you're going downwind, it's fairly safe; when you're going upwind, it's fairly safe. But in between, there are zones where, in certain wind speeds, you can't sail. When the wind is about 90 degrees to you, 20 knots is okay. But I'd say that, in 25 knots, you can find yourself in a position where you can't bear away without having an accident. The guys have been pretty good with the boat so far. They know, as far as these boats go, there are no small accidents.
Will you use the hard sail in the Cup?
We have other configurations. There are certain wind strengths and speeds where you are better off with a soft sail. You can reef [soft sails], and they're probably more reliable in really strong wind. But our main line is to put the wing in, and there is nothing that dissuades us from going in that direction.
How long does it take to fit the wing on the boat?
From the time the wing is sitting on the dock, it takes a couple of hours. It takes 15 or 20 minutes to erect it. There's a bit of putting ropes on and putting cranes in and making sure everything is ready to go sailing. To get the wing fitted takes another 15 or 20 minutes.
What happens if the wing breaks in Valencia?
Parts of it can break; it's incredibly damage-tolerant. It's not like if you break a mainsail or a boom or something and the sail falls down there are 27 tons of stored energy and it will unleash. We don't think the wing sail has that huge, high load. Breakages tend to be small. We've had nothing major happen yet, nothing that's taken more than a day or two to fix. The big danger is is that your calculations and theories actually produce less load, and you find you've made the thing too small. Thankfully, we're on the other side of that curve, which is where we were hoping and dreaming we would be.
Once the boat gets to Valencia, how long will you need to get it ready to sail?
I honestly don't know. It should take a few weeks of shipping to get it there, and then a week or so to get it established and going. We have a few jobs we want to tidy up before we get the boat really race ready. But we should be sailing in early January.
As far as the race against Alinghi goes, what can happen?
I think we'll have different strengths in different winds. Alinghi has the benefit of designing for a lighter venue. There's a certain wind speed where they could be flying a hull-really light winds that we would normally call unsailable.
But you might have the advantage in strong winds?
Yes, I think so. There are a number of issues not yet resolved, or even rules that could dissuade [sailing in heavy-air conditions]. Just recently, we had a ruling about what ballast you can carry on the boat, and I don't think it went the way Alinghi would've liked it to go. I think that will have a big effect in strong wind. I think that might cost Alinghi a bit.
How would you compare the wave conditions and wind speeds in Valencia to those in San Diego?
In San Diego, even in five knots, you can have three-meter swells, which is unusual. In Valencia, in wintertime, you get northerlies, and you can get a really chopped, short wavelength and a sea state of a couple of meters. That is the sort of wavelength these boats do not like, but we'll both be toughing it out if we get a wind coming in from the north.
One interesting thing we've been aware of in Valencia for quite some time is that it's a 20-mile course. We'll be a long way offshore, and offshore winds are quite different than they are near the shore in Valencia. On average, that northerly is blowing all the time and it's really strong. So I think we'll be starting in five knots and then it'll go up to 20.