For the four syndicates still committed to putting an AC72 on the line for the 34th America’s Cup, it’s a busy time.r While the primary focus shifts to the 72-footer, which each team has launched or will launch shortly, the America’s Cup World Series rolls on, with another event in San Francisco starting today. While each team’s learning curve in the one-design 45-footers has plateaued, there’s a lot that can be learned about what it’s like to race high-speed catamarans on such a windy and tidal racecourse. In advance of this America’s Cup World Series stop, Sailing World checked in with the skippers of three of the Big Four teams. Michelle Slade chatted with Emirates Team New Zealand’s Dean Barker while Stuart Streuli spoke with Jimmy Spithill of Oracle Team USA and Artemis Racing’s Terry Hutchinson. The Barker interview is below, Hutchinson’s interview can be found here, and you can listen to the Spithill conversation here.
Sailing World: Looking back to August, how was that event for you?
Dean Barker: To be honest, it was a disappointment. We came here definitely flat—we’d been putting so much effort into our 72 back home with its launching, etc., that we hadn’t really focused on the 45 or prepared well enough for that event. It was really quite a disappointment for us not to have sailed better than we did [7th out of 11 in the Fleet Racing, and losing to Oracle Team USA Spithill in the semis of the match racing]. We had moments where we sailed well, but we made a lot of mistakes. Back home we addressed some of the little details, but we know we can do better and look forward to a better performance this week.
SW: It seemed that the starts were eluding you?
DB: We did have a couple of bad starts initially, and that made it difficult. From there on we did a much better job, but we just couldn’t finish it off like we have been able to do in the past. We came away knowing we needed to better understand the Bay and the conditions, so we’ve asked Dee Smith to come in and give us some advice on local conditions. He’s been a huge help as he knows the place really well. Our speed was off the pace, so we’ve been working really hard to improve that. If you feel at all compromised, you pay for it all the way around the racecourse. It’s all about getting out in front and being able to stay there. We made a lot of tactical mistakes, which we’ve addressed.
SW: Glenn Ashby (trimmer) is off the boat with an injury? Who will replace him this week?
DB: Yes, that’s unfortunate, and it means another crew change. Adam Beashel is here to replace Glenn, and we’re working hard to get him slotted into the crew and our program. Adam’s a fantastic sailor and will do a really good job with what needs to be done. We’ll be fine by the time racing starts on Wednesday.
SW: You mentioned in your blog that you had a fantastic day—probably the best here in San Francisco—last weekend. What made it so good?
DB: The conditions are quite different to when we were here in August; they feel like they ratcheted down a notch. The Bay was just beautiful, and Monday was stunning again with nice weather and warm!
SW: Are you feeling pretty confident with your 72?
DB: We are really happy with our boat. It’s doing everything we hoped and expected it would. But, in saying that, in past experience with America’s Cup boats [usually quite serious, Barker laughs somewhat uncharacteristically], no matter how well prepared or how fast you are, until you line up against another team, you just don’t know. We have a lot of work to do before we can even contemplate being ready for the Louis Vuitton Cup let alone or, if things go well, the America’s Cup. But after nine days of sailing it, if that’s any clue, it’s performing well, it’s been reliable but there are a lot of things we want to improve to be ready to race.
SW: How does it feel to helm versus the 45?
DB: It’s completely different. In some ways the 72 almost feels more docile just because it is so big. The whole concept is generating a lot of lift with the foils. It’s really powerful, the apparent wind is always well forward; it’s just a different experience.
SW: Are you finding it manageable?
DB: Yep. We’ve sailed up to 25-26 knots of wind speed, and it was good; the boat behaved well. But you just can’t afford to have an issue with these boats. If you have an issue, they’ll be very frightening so you have got to be prepared to manage it very well and do things the best you can. It’ll be interesting–that’s for sure.
SW: How many practice days are permitted on the 72?
DB: 30 days between launch and February 1, then beyond that, unlimited days through to the start of the Louis Vuitton. You have to really make use of each day.
SW: How are the practice days observed?
DB: You have to declare any day that you sail. There is a rule in place that if you are towed out to sail and decide its not worthwhile sailing, providing you don’t drop the towline, it’s not counted as a day. It’s fair to say I don’t think any team would go sailing without a bunch of spectators following them around so it’s almost self-enforced.
SW: How do you think limited training days has worked?
DB: Again, in some ways it’s almost been self-fulfilling. We were hoping to get in the water in mid-July and didn’t get in the water until end of July. Oracle obviously was late getting in the water and had a bit of damage, likewise with Artemis. On the whole, they are very difficult boats to get in the water, launched, and kept in one piece, so if you launched first of July and sailed through to February 1, even if you could get sixty days of sailing in, that would be phenomenal. It is just a challenge to get these boats on the water day in and day out.
SW: You’re obviously not happy with the news that transpired last night concerning provisions that were promised to the Teams for establishing a base at Piers 30-32?
DB: Other than what I was told last night, I wasn’t at the meeting so I can’t say too much beyond the shock of what we had planned for and what we now have to deal with. We operate on a very tight budget that was based on not having to create our own facility. Now having to do that at a very late stage of the program is going to have implications.
SW: Does Emirates get involved in these situations?
DB: We operate as a stand-alone entity so whatever we do as part of the team is entirely up to us; the sponsors don’t have any involvement in decision-making – that is done by Team management.
SW: The concept of ‘pit row’ has been so successful – it’ll be unfortunate not to see that now in San Francisco.
DB: Yeah it is. One of the successes that we saw in Valencia was having all the teams together; it creates an atmosphere and adds to the environment. I’m trying to think of when it wasn’t like that, probably 1995 in San Diego when the boats were not in the same area as each other. Auckland was the start of the idea and it was a huge success. It was looking like it was going to be great here too, although there are not many teams. To have had them all together would have been brilliant, but now to be told we’re on our own is disappointing.
SW: How do these off-the-water issues affect the sailing team in terms of morale?
DB: We try to focus on the stuff that we can’t control. Anything that’s event related, we’re effectively just a passenger and one of four teams competing, so we have to conform to the rules and regulations. The things we can control are our performance and the way we sail.