Time to Limit Wind Limits
Time to Limit Wind Limits
Why do race committees send sailors to safe harbor as soon as the breeze gets a little fresh? The wind is our friend, we must embrace it. "Gaining Bearing" from our April 2010 issue
For the 2000 and 2003 Louis Vuitton regattas in Auckland, New Zealand, wind limits were again set relatively low. The challengers worried that boats built to survive the meaty springtime breezes on the Hauraki Gulf would struggle to beat a defender purpose-built for the lighter sea breezes expected for the America’s Cup match. In both 2000 and 2003 I helmed Stars & Stripes in the challenger trials. There were many days that racing was canceled because of too much wind, and on the tow back to the base we’d pass an Optimist Dinghy regatta in progress. Talk about embarrassing.
Contrast this to the Volvo Ocean Race, where the boats must be sturdy enough to handle the abuse of the open ocean. The “in-port” racing that is part of each stopover takes place in almost any conditions. The sailors, and their boats, must adapt like chameleons. The in-port race in China in February 2009 was sailed in 6 knots of breeze, requiring big sails and finesse to handle the big shifts and constant lead changes. The in-port race during the 2005 Cape Town stopover started in 20 knots and finished with nearly 40-knot puffs rolling down the course. Racers said it was one of the wildest and most fun races they had ever participated in. The images and video of boats hauling the mail downwind at 30 knots and wiping out trying to jibe in 35 knots of wind made for some of the most exciting sailing footage ever recorded. The public appreciated watching professional sailors putting it all on the line.
Unfortunately, the general trend in sailing has followed the Cup model. Weekend regattas, race weeks, and weeknight beer-can racing have all seen wind limits drop to the point that no one expects to race in heavy air. There are some places where it is “breeze on” most of the time, and races regularly take place in 25 or 30 knots. But those are the exceptions to the rule.
A 25-knot breeze isn’t a viable excuse to cancel racing. It is a reason to go out and test your skills against the elements as well as the competition. Wind is our friend. It’s what makes our sport great.
So, for those organizing the next Cup, please listen up: Before the teams spend millions on design and development for a new generation of Cup boats, tell them that the sailing will go on when it’s windy. Sure they should focus the design on the typical conditions of the venue. But on those days when it blows a little, or even a lot, more than expected, teams will have to take a page out of the chameleon’s book and adapt to whatever Mother Nature throws at them.