One of the most interesting sailors on Britannia, Ineos Team UK’s Nick Holroyd-designed AC75 that is now taking on Luna Rossa in the Prada Cup final, is a young man named Bleddyn Môn who hails from the island of Anglesey off the coast of Wales.
He’s spoken of very highly inside the team and you get the clear sense that they regard the 29-year-old mechanical engineering graduate from Southampton University in the UK, as what you might call a “difference-maker.” That’s because Môn is as much an engineer – and one who specialized in aerospace design – as he is an excellent sailor.
When Sir Ben Ainslie and his core group stumbled across him in the build-up to the last Cup in Bermuda, they found him working with the aerodynamic team at the Red Bull Racing Formula One team and they were intrigued. Once they got him involved, there was then a bit of a battle over where Môn should best be placed. After racing on the team’s Extreme Sailing Series cat, he became part of the sailing squad during the Cup in Bermuda in 2017. He is now not only a key part of the sailing team on Britannia, as mainsail trimmer, but also a player in the team’s analysis and performance group.
Môn doesn’t like to overstate his role, but chatting to him you get the feeling that he was at the heart of the comprehensive upgrade process Ineos Team UK embarked upon during the Christmas period, as they worked to remedy their flight issues particularly in light winds. At that time, they brought a large amount of new kit to bear – including a new rig, new sails, adapted foils and a new rudder – and the workload in terms of installing new components and then validating changes on the water would have been enormous.
Môn, who has a handful of British national sailing championships to his name in Toppers and 29ers, says “big jumps” in performance were made. “A big part of that was the sailors – all the sailors and the designers working together on key areas that we knew were our weaknesses,” he says. “It is amazing to see in the design office the improvements that should be coming and then also be on the water to help put that stuff into practice and make sure we do get 100 percent out of the boat.”
But Môn’s main role is the dark art of asymmetric mainsail trimming on the AC75. Remote control console in his hands, he swaps from one side of the flying boat to the other through tacks and jibes and plays a key role in the speed loop alongside skipper Ainslie, tactician Giles Scott and the two flight controllers, Luke Parkinson and Leigh McMillan.
“Like on most boats the mainsail trimmer is essentially part of the speed loop, making sure we are getting the most performance out of the boat at any given time. I work very closely with Ben who is sat right in front of me,” he said. “These boats are massively maneuverable, so a big part of it is making sure we get it around the course in the best shape possible and I think we’ll see, over the coming weeks, that the AC75s get pushed harder and harder with some more and more unique maneuvers being pulled off.”
Môn had originally been slated for a grinding role on Britannia and his teammates say that in those days he regularly posted the highest fitness figures in the squad. With his move to the back of the boat, he has shed 10 kilos and now it is his fingers that do the heavy lifting—not his upper body strength. Clearly, he was not going to talk in detail about the techniques Ineos Team UK is using on sail trim but he gave an overview.
“I guess the biggest thing to learn has been how we manage not only the skin that you can see from the windward side of the boat but also the one to leeward,” he said. “There is a lot scope in generating new and more dynamic shapes between the two surfaces, so essentially you end up with almost twice as much work to do.
“There are obviously a few different concepts between the teams,” he added. “We have been through some iterations in that area as well over the past couple of years. It is kind of one of those areas where you can develop quite late on, because lead times on sails are much less than they are on foils, and also we have more cards to play in the sail department compared to foils.”
He describes what it is like trimming with the game console. “It’s kind of amazing, the control that I have at the touch of a button in a way,” he said. “And a lot of work goes into the development of that side of it as well – the HMI (human-machine-interface) that we’ve developed closely with Renishaw (the team’s precision measurement and additive manufacturing partner) to make sure we have developed something that’s easy and user-friendly.”
Môn says he will send off hundreds of commands during a 25-minute race, the limiting factor being the amount of power the grinders can produce to charge the hydraulic systems on the boat.
“The grinders are obviously powering the hydraulics of the mainsail system,” he said. “So provided there is power going in, those changes will happen instantaneously. There is a small amount of accumulated energy stored as well, so some of the trims can be made even if there’s nobody grinding.”
As the boat accelerates through a tack, Môn could be on either side, and sometimes makes a positioning choice to help disguise the next move from Ineos Team UK’s opponent. He gave this insight into the constant adjustment of the mainsail control lines and mechanisms, as the boat powers up through the gears. “Obviously the boat is travelling very quickly and so, particularly upwind, you are travelling through the breeze at some speed, so the dynamics of changing modes are at a fast pace and especially on the shorter course. So, we’ve only got from between 40 to 90 seconds between maneuvers and, as a result, you are spending a lot of time accelerating. And throughout that acceleration process you are re-trimming and tweaking the trim of the sail to make sure we are accelerating as quickly as possible. So yes, it is highly dynamic trimming on these boats.”
He also talked about the comms on board the British boat which have come in for praise from commentators who have noticed the smooth and slick exchanges, mainly between Ainslie and Scott, which appeared to have been more effective in decision-making than on the Italian boat, for example. Môn’s goal is to speak only when necessary and keep his ears pinned for the signals coming from Ainslie and Scott.
“When we get to racing, we try to keep the comms as quiet as possible to allow Giles and Ben to talk about the tactical decisions,” he said. “So the only time you will hear my voice is during mode changing, so that everybody on the boat has the same mindset and the same aim. Otherwise the important thing, with so much going on in races, is trying to keep other comms to a minimum. The grinders can see in any case – I don’t need to ask for a demand because they can see when I am requesting something on their displays.”
It is interesting that, on the face of it, Môn does not have the sailing credentials to be holding his own against multiple world champions and Olympic medal-winning sailors like Ainslie and Scott. That has a lot to do with the fact that he chose to get a degree rather than sail full time when he was younger and he struggled to make the weights for the Olympic class (49ers) he was aiming at. But, equally, there is no doubt that this modest sailor has won the respect of his peers and is holding down one of the key jobs on the British boat with their full confidence.
Some of them even joke that the young Welshman is its secret weapon.