Alinghi Red Bull Racing were back in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, taking full advantage of near perfect 8-12 knot conditions and a flat sea-state to get vital hours on the water ahead of the America’s Cup Preliminary Regatta, presented by NEOM, that is now only a matter of days away from kicking off in earnest with the Practice Races starting on Wednesday 29th November.
The Swiss have been focussed on this regatta like no other team, having completed a solid six-day block of two-boat training earlier in the month and now are the first team back on the water in the days leading up to the start. After the first Preliminary Regatta in Vilanova in September, there was a sense around the team of unfinished business as they ran well in races and were then let down by a hydraulics failure before the last race. This is a team that knows the podium beckons if they can extract the learnings from training and pull it all together when it matters – time on the water always matters.
Hard to bet against them – they looked rock-solid in testing today with superb sail handling technique through the transitions, particularly gybe-to-gybe downwind, keeping the traveller high at the exit and then lowering down the track as the new windward board is raised. There’s an artistry to that manoeuvre that we see the very best trimmers executing with the emphasis on the absolute correct time to ease the traveller down as the new leeward board grips and the flight of the hull dips. What we saw on film was close to perfection.
After the Chase Boat team put down marker buoys to create tight gates, it was gloves off pre-start practice between Arnaud Psarofaghis and Maxime Bachelin on one boat, with Phil Robertson and Dean Barker on the other. Once off the line, little quarter was given with on-the-bow tacks when ahead and speed tests to leeward.
Interestingly the team were running two different bespoke aspect J1 jibs – one with a square cut top and more volume in the foot and the other with a tapered head and less volume lower down. Not much to choose from in relative speed terms as Team Rigger, Rob Salthouse confirmed after sailing: “All pretty similar I mean we’re just ticking through stuff and ticking through sails that we’re learning from and so yeah it went really well today…Both sails were in range, top end of the range at the end of it, but you know we take the learnings from there and move forward so really nice day on the water.” The recon team noted that: “the J1-3 performed better upwind but the J1-4 was able to sail deeper downwind.”
Rob described the day, saying: “Yeah good, again glamour sailing conditions here – really nice actually, shorts and T-shirts and 8 to 12 knots: perfect…We saw in the first session here that we can get a bit of everything, and we had a bit of everything earlier on a couple of days ago, so you know like any place in the world you sail there’s always weather that gets thrown at you that you’re not expecting.”
Out on the racecourse, clearly the brief to Phil Robertson and Dean Barker was to apply maximum pressure onto the presumed starting line-up for the regatta (Psarofaghis/Bachelin/Mettraux/Detrey) and with the hard-charging Jason Waterhouse and Nicolas Rolaz on trim, it was great practice. One notable move saw Psarofaghis cross Barker on starboard and then slam tack hard onto port to steal his wind. Barker thought about tacking to free himself from the cover, then switched and went for speed on port to try and fight out under the lee but lost the control of the foils and splashed down. Great racing at a high intensity from the Swiss who will be relentless now through to the start of the regatta.
On-Water Recon Report – Alinghi Red Bull Racing: Alinghi Red Bull Racing rolled out their AC40-4 (RED) and AC40-7 (BLACK) at 09:15 and 09:55 respectively, marking the start of their second trip to Jeddah.
Both boats were in the water by 10:30 and standard pre-sailing checks were carried out, with One Design mainsails and LE jibs prepared for both boats. The team docked out at 12:00, hoisting the mainsails just off the dock before towing out towards the racing area in front of the Jeddah Waterfront on the Red Sea.
The Black boat hoisted the J1-3 LE jib, with some notable adjustments in the tack, while the Red boat later hoisted the new J1-4 LE jib, with a comparatively lower aspect ratio.
Stint 1: The Black boat commenced sailing at 12:30, warming up with a few laps around the course as the Red finished setting up and joined 20 minutes later. Both boats then set off in parallel upwind sailing for two-boat testing, comparing the two J1 jibs. After turning downwind and returning to the course start, both boats paused to adjust the batten tension on their jibs.
Stint 2: This involved long stretches upwind and downwind side-by-side sailing, to compare the two sails. It appeared to the recon unit that the J1-3 performed better upwind but the J1-4 was able to sail deeper downwind.
Stint 3: The first race, comprising 3 laps of the 1NM course set at 210, featured a standard fleet race start. Both boats started on opposite tacks and sailed to different sides of the course, with the left side appearing more advantageous on average over the laps. The race culminated in a tight fight before the leeward gate, with the Red boat rounding first with the Black boat immediately behind and tacking off (JK manoeuvre).
Stint 4: The second race, limited to one upwind leg, saw a 10-degree wind shift to the right and an extended course length to 1.5NM. Post-start, the boats split and reconvened at the top in a tacking duel. The Black boat forced the Red off the foils with a close tack and then completed a tack and gybe (360 turn penalty), continuing to round the windward mark while the Red regained flight. Both boats then sailed back to Obhur Creek, lowered sails and were back at the dock just after 3.30pm.
Post-sailing, both yachts were craned out by 16:30, wrapping up a day focused on sail testing and warm up races ahead of the preliminary regatta. The team spent just over three and a half hours on the water, of which 120 minutes were spent sailing. 80 manoeuvres were observed, 98% fully foiling.