Heading into the last few days, John Craig, Principal Race Officer, offers up his perspective gleaned from many days on the water watching Oracle Team USA and Emirates Team New Zealand.
Sailing World

AC34 Race Committee

AC34 PRO John Craig, at the operations center onboard the race committee boat Regardless, says the on-water race management has gone all according to plan. ACEA / PHOTO GILLES MARTIN-RAGET

If anyone’s been paying attention, perhaps they’ve made a mental note or two about just how well this America’s Cup event has played out in terms of on-water management—it’s been a smooth operation amidst a lot of messy goings-on. America’s Cup Race Management for one have held up their part of the AC34 plan to deliver, whether it be the challenging racecourse or great TV coverage. The disappointment is hanging heavy around the AC compound for fans who’d hope that the teams were just a little more even.

ACRM probably had the best “well-laid” plan going into this of any part of the event? How has it played out on the water?

JC: I would have liked to see it go a little closer and a little further but I’m also looking at the end of the tunnel…but it’s been really good. Some of the safety regulations that we had to implement gave us some challenges, i.e., going from the mark boats to the soft marks, and our ability to adjust the racecourse as quickly as we’d like to and as efficiently. That went away a little bit when we had to start anchoring marks in deep water. But the team rallied around that and figured out how to anchor and make them stick for the most part. Our operations with the Coast Guard has been great, and our relationship with them super. We haven’t really had any major issues as far as vessel traffic, a few spectators getting in the way but not really a problem.


What were spectator traffic numbers?

I was surprised at how many boats. The Coastguard estimated that on last Saturday we had 600 plus boats on the water [Ed’s note: 700 estimated for Sunday]. I knew there’d be some but just the nature of San Francisco Bay and how rough it can be, windy and cold, I was surprised to see as many as we did.

From your point of view on the water what have been the challenges for Oracle?


It was interesting that the dock talk two months ago was that Oracle was fast upwind and ETNZ was quick downwind, and ETNZ was probably better in boat handling maneuvers and foil-to-foil jibes. Looking at it now Oracle’s perhaps a smidge faster downwind and upwind they’re probably more than two knots slower racing in the conditions and the configuration they presented on Thursday. Their tacks and jibes are just not as smooth or efficient as ETNZ.

Did you expect that Oracle would be more polished?

I wouldn’t say they are not polished, I would say that ETNZ has been from what we’ve seen on the water very systematic in their training and their boathandling and the data we see coming off the boats has indicated that they are machine-like in their maneuvers. They do everything the same all the time. They are so consistent. Oracle just hasn’t shown that consistency in their maneuvers whether that’s their training with two boats or the configuration of the boats that they have that hasn’t allowed them design-wise to have the stability or ability to deliver consistently.


Do you think they can pull anything out of the bag at this stage?

You never know. I think the configuration that they’re in right now gives them a lot of stability downwind. Whether that stability is hurting them upwind is something I’d be interested to see. I think they may be able to give a little downwind speed away to improve their upwind and it’ll be that tuning the configuration of the boat that’ll be interesting to see if they can make it upwind better. They have shown that they can beat them. The question is whether they can still get to a position where they can hang on after a gate and get past them after they get through that leeward gate. It’s going to be a tough feat and I’m sure the oddsmakers are looking at it a little differently than I am.

What observations have you made about the course and this style of racing?


I think the proof of concept has been pretty good. The goal was to make it accessible to the public and we’ve done that—Crissy Field, Marina Green, Piers 27 and 29, along the wall at Pier 39 and Aquatic Park—everyday has been pretty good. Stan Honey has delivered a TV product we haven’t seen in the sport before so I think there’s a lot of it that we can look at and say, that really worked. For sure there’s been some challenges, the boats themselves, that they weren’t originally conceptually being designed to foil then the designers making that happen. They’ve created some incredible boats but with it you have on the edge stuff, which has made people made people more concerned. But at the end of the day I hope Oracle can take a couple more at least—there’s been some great racing in boats people said would never match race because they’re just too fast.

Can anything be changed on the racecourse to facilitate closer racing?

When I look back at the presentation that we made a year ago about what we were going to deliver we didn’t have enough challengers and the boats were too expensive but some of the things we said we were going to deliver we actually did. As I said, I wish we could get a few more races in just to really show that it actually really does work. I think the format for the arena works really well. Sure, you have shorelines and boundaries you have to put in but it really does look like a stadium and the boats fit within it. I think the next type of boats they come up with you’ll need to look at what works and what doesn’t. We tried to start the AC45s in New Zealand in upwind format. The problem was that you’d try and pinch each other up because they’re so efficient—they’d be going upwind at 5 knots because they were just trying to pinch each other out. That didn’t play out well. The second piece was that we wanted to try and have the boats stay together for as long as we could knowing there could be big speed differences, and the reaching start and then the run up and down to the leeward mark at the same time theoretically or close to it. The percentage of beat to run—again, the boats show better in the run but they also go so quick that it gets that timewise—the beat and the runs are the same. For these boats I think its worked out pretty well. It’s been tight and I know it’s suggested that there are not a lot of passing lanes but there’s been some good passing going on and good opportunities. It’s a trade off between having the boats line up and go up to a corner for a layline and back in one tack but our goal was to force some boathandling. That means three jibes downwind and five to seven tacks upwind. I think we achieved that.

**Have the teams had any concern about the few penalty calls post racing or have they all been dealt with on the course? **

I think everybody has been pretty cool about it, with the dial-down and a few other maneuvers, which the teams raised some concerns about. But all of that, the thresholds, how much they can bear off, what’s acceptable and what’s not was determined between the teams beforehand so it’s just been a matter of delivering consistent calls as to what they teams are expecting.

You’ve been RC for everything from 470s to superyachts this regatta what’s been the most challenging?

They’ve all been different. On the water stuff has worked pretty well. The marks dragged around a little bit and reverting back to that as I said has been challenging because we can’t get them exactly where we want them. The guys have worked really hard to develop systems to get them in the water when we need to and get them to stick. The teams have been really good. We’ve been really open with everybody and that’s been good. It’s just been really long days. We had Moths one the morning, ran the AC races, then tried to run the skiffs. We did that once and it turned into a very long day. But it’s part of generating excitement about sailing to increase the content and keep people there looking at stuff.

Have conditions been at all surprising?

We’ve been close wind-wise a couple of times. We’ve had a couple of days where we’ve been close pre-start to the wind limits (23 knots in September) and close to not getting it done. We lost a day with the Red Bull Youth Series—their final race. We’ve also been lucky, however, that a lot of the regatta has been in the flood. So our wind factor goes up. It’s September, you never know what you’re going to get.