The Jeddah Corniche racecourse area was a busy waterway yesterday afternoon with Alinghi Red Bull Racing, Orient Express Racing Team and the Challenger of Record, INEOS Britannia all putting in a super-long stint ahead of the America’s Cup Preliminary Regatta, presented by NEOM, starting in earnest next week. Shoreside it’s a hive of activity with the temporary tent bases preparing the AC40s of Emirates Team New Zealand, NYYC American Magic and Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli and with a forecast for swell and winds, it has all the hallmarks of being a classic high-stakes regatta.
The thing that strikes you most landing into the King Abdulaziz International Airport from what is now a chilly European autumn is the heat of one of the Kingdom’s most beautiful and arresting cities. Yesterday afternoon, on-water temperatures were recorded at a smidge above 35 degrees Celsius and with a light north-westerly airflow that refused to register above 10 knots, it was a day of low-end technique sailing for all the teams before flight was achieved later on and the sailors were on the water through to a stunning Red Sea sunset.
Alinghi Red Bull Racing were the only team with recon as they were running LEQ12 sails again today whilst INEOS Britannia and Orient Express Racing ran in the regatta one-design AC40 set up. The Swiss once again were testing their different aspect J1 jibs that they are running with the new J1-4, square topped, lower aspect jib being used on the ‘red denominated’ (distinguished by bow-sprit colour) AC40 being helmed by Arnaud Psarofaghis and Maxime Bachelin whilst the higher aspect jib, the J1-3, was set for Dean Barker and Phil Robertson before the crew rotated and switched boats to get the full 360 feel.
On balance, in terms of sheer straight-line horsepower, the differences appear marginal, but the on-water recon team made numerous references to the trade-off between flight attainment being easier on the lower aspect sail, whilst power retention going into lighter air patches was more easily carried by the higher aspect sail. Interesting to note the battening structure that Alinghi Red Bull Racing are running towards the foot of the sail with a batten low down indicating their sailmaker’s desires to maintain a flat lower section and induce drive into the middle third of the sail – possibly an explanation for why the red boat could take off easier.
Plenty of great light-weather technique on display yesterday afternoon with the zero-board goose-winging downwind in the very light that will no doubt please the dinghy sailing purists and also, something that we are seeing more and more of in the AC40 class a sailing styles get defined is the over use of the traveller through manoeuvres with the trimmers keeping the sail hard to windward on the exit of tacks and gybes before dropping to the centreline as the power comes on.
In the really marginal early part of the session, the obligatory crew members to windward technique was being employed to hang off the shrouds and coax the AC40 to target speed – a tricky artistry to get right because as soon as the windward crew returns to his leeward pod, flight must be assured or the boat wallows to displacement and boatlengths are lost. What we also saw was the return of tacking downwind to stay on the foils in marginal conditions something that Nicolas Rolaz described after as: “I think if I remember well in Vilanova we were tacking downwind…and it’s still good to practise it to see if it works in very light and marginal conditions – we’re still not sure about it.”
Overall, Alinghi Red Bull Racing spent some four hours on the water and left to return back to the Official AC40 Team Area with one boat whilst the other returned to their Obhur Creek base which is just a few hundred metres north of the main harbour. From here on in, the team will train in strict one-design mode ahead of the regatta.
Speaking afterwards, Nicolas Rolaz, the rising star of Swiss sailing and a key member of the Driving Group for Alinghi Red Bull Racing summed up the day saying: “They’ve been long, long days, the last two days with this light breeze. It took time to fill in, luckily today we managed to get some sailing at the end of the day as the sea breeze finally came but yeah sick day… we had the LEQ sails on and that was the objective of the day – trying different set-ups.”
When asked about how the team responded after racing in the first Preliminary Regatta in Vilanova back in September and how the team are sailing now, Nico responded: “We had a few weeks to think and to look at the others who are making better than us and what we were making better than the others, and we think it’s going to be a mix of those learnings to make the boat sail faster on the course.” Asked what the biggest ‘learnings’ were, Nico replied: “I would say the starts for us” and that’s a good observation as the team got progressively better through that first regatta and were really on the button towards the last few races.
Looking ahead to the racing next week, Nico highlighted the change in conditions that are predicted over the weekend saying: “Looks like the forecast is going to be pretty good for the beginning of the week. I saw maybe some swell filling in and hopefully more wind than these last two days.”
Preparations continue for all the teams on Saturday and through the weekend here in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia – truly a world-class sailing destination and an amazing first-time Red Sea venue for the America’s Cup. (Magnus Wheatley)
On-Water Recon Report – Alinghi Red Bull Racing: Alinghi Red Bull Racing rolled out their AC40-7 (BLACK) and AC40-4 (RED) at 09:15 and 09:45 respectively, ahead of their last day of testing before the Jeddah preliminary regatta. Both boats were in the water just after 10:00, undergoing standard pre-sailing checks, with a few technicians spending some time below deck before 12:30 dock-out.
The new M1-3 LE mainsail and J1-3 LE jib were hoisted on the Black boat, while the Red boat hoisted the M1-2 LE mainsail and new J1-4 LE jib. The crew combinations remained the same from previous days but switched boats for the first half of the session.
Stint 1 (13:05 – 14:00): 4-5kn 275° @ 13:05
Sailing began at 13:10 as both boats set off on a reach, averaging 8 knots boatspeed. Various methods to increase speed were observed, including heavy pumping of the mainsail traveller, three persons hiking from the windward shrouds with the windward trimmer steering, and goose-winging downwind with both boards up.
Stint 2 (14:05 – 14:45): 4-6kn 270° @ 14:00, 7-8.5kn 265° @ 14:35
Both boats were towed north to better wind and successfully tow started on the second attempt. It has often felt that the wind further north of the racing area has been slightly stronger. They sailed mostly low and fast upwind but touched down when attempting to tack. Up on foil again, the Red boat notably lost flight before the Black boat when entering a lighter patch. Both boats were then towed to the sailing area and a subsequent tow-start saw the Black boat fall off the foils immediately, perhaps an error from the team, while the Red boat maintained flight before touching down during a tack.
During this time, the Orient Express Racing team and INEOS Britannia started their training in the area. The racecourse bearing was measured at 270°. Between Stint 2 and 3, the crews swapped boats.
Stint 3 (15:10 – 16:05): 6-9kn 270° @ 15:10, 6-8kn 270° @ 16:15
With the wind filling in, both boats were able to take off without assistance, but initially struggled to complete manoeuvres. After not long, the Black boat managed to string a few tacks together without losing flight, despite a brief issue with seaweed caught on the rudder. After some time, the Red boat foiled consistently and the two boats joined together for side-by-side sail testing, sailing comparatively evenly. On entering a marginal patch, the Red boat fell while the Black boat maintained flight with the help of a few mainsheet traveller pumps. The Red boat was towed downwind and tow started, while the Black boat continued sailing downwind. The Black boat finished sailing at 16:05, and the Red boat continued until 16:20, taking a short break before sailing back to their base in Obhur Creek. The Black boat was towed to the Jeddah Yacht Club.
The team spent just over four hours on the water, of which 150 minutes were spent sailing (including displacement and towing/tow starts). A total of 24 manoeuvres were observed of team Arnaud and Max, with 58% being fully foiling. The M1-3 and J1-3 sail plan on the Black boat again proved noticeably superior during the day’s marginal conditions.
On-Water Recon Report – Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli: The Italian team rolled out their LEQ12 prototype at 9:30, stepped the mast and craned the yacht in by 9:40. The appendage configuration looked the same with Wing 03 on starboard and Wing n04 on port. On the latter, several markings along span could be spotted on inboard and outboard wings. Four crew boarded the LEQ12 today and the yacht was towed out of the harbour at 10:30. The forecast looked promising with some offset between breeze and swell but unfortunately the highest pressure was measured 5-7 knots from 315 while mainsail M1-2 and jib J1-1 were being hoisted. With both sails up, the pressure dropped completely and Chase1 scanned the Gulf for any more pressure. Without having found any acceptable patch over the Gulf, the sails were lowered and the team docked back in, having awaited approx. 2h before calling the day