Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, continues to offer impeccable sailing conditions, showcasing blue skies, abundant sunshine, and a steady 14-17 knots of north to north-west airflow—the prevailing wind direction in the region during this season. The Red Sea presented a slightly challenging sea-state with bumpy conditions featuring local waves up to 1.2 meters and an underlying swell off the Jeddah Corniche, creating rolling swells measuring 1.2 to 1.4 meters.
With the forecast, four of the America’s Cup teams elected to stay ashore for what was essentially a day for the race management team, led by Iain Murray, to dial in their systems and controls ahead of the first Official Practice Races that start at 1.30pm (local time) on Wednesday 29th November.
Emirates Team New Zealand, the Defenders of the America’s Cup and INEOS Britannia, the Challenger of Record, were the only two teams to venture out of the Jeddah Yacht Club Marina and face down the swells, keen to assist the race officials ahead of racing in earnest.
Unfortunately for INEOS Britannia a technical issue with a stuck flap meant that they hove-to on the middle of the racecourse attempting to fix the issue. After approximately half-an-hour, Rob Andrews, the team’s coach informed race control that they were unable to make a lasting fix on the water and so returned back to base. Emirates Team New Zealand meanwhile accepted the count-down sequence and went into what was scheduled as a two-lap race in a building swell and breeze that was right at the top end for the AC40 with its reduced waterline.
Unabashed, Peter Burling and Nathan Outteridge treated what was in essence a shadow-boxing exercise as full-on practice with rapier-fast tacks upwind as Blair Tuke and Andy Maloney dialled in a low flight with wide cant angles to keep the boat close enough to the water for speed but high enough to ride the swells.
Downwind, the swells were tough and getting tougher. A slow exit from a two-board gybe looked to be safety first from the sailors and they gybed offshore to avoid the building waves on the reef in front of the marina. A gybe back brought them into the mark zone and then a further two-board-down gybe secured a starboard-hand rounding to head offshore again.
With the seas building, Emirates Team New Zealand made an onboard decision to curtail the beat half-way up, bore away with two boards down, gybed and headed back towards race control. Immediately post the gybe, and on starboard going down the course, the sailors got caught on a swell and hobby-horsed into a full splashdown, before calling it day with the Chase Boat coming in for the tow home.
Speaking afterwards, Nathan Outteridge summed up the day saying: “It was top end on the sea state, for sure there were moments when you had to back-off a bit and try and manage the boat and other moments when you found a few flat pieces of water and could really push it hard but as anyone knows who watches these boats, you can’t really throttle back too much downwind. It’s still full noise, it’s just really working on your positioning on the manoeuvres and trying to get through those gybes -anything where you’re on two boards is always the tricky part on these boats because the auto-pilot is bouncing around. It was a good session for us, we got out and did what we wanted to do, got back and now we’re starting to prep for probably lighter, flatter conditions.”
According to the forecasts, today is expected to be the peak of the wind strengths and swell with more benign conditions of approximately 8-12 knots expected on Wednesday for the Official Practice Races of the America’s Cup Preliminary Regatta Jeddah, presented by NEOM, and looking further into the actual racing days, the forecast looks similar.
Arnaud Psarofaghis, Skipper of Alinghi Red Bull Racing gave a briefing about expected upcoming conditions saying: “It’s looking at the moment like conditions are going to be light for the regatta, but strong for training in the days before. We should have 8-10 knots for the regatta. These are conditions which are quite pleasant to navigate but more technical because you have to be on top of every detail. The little things can make the difference.”
Shoreside, the America’s Cup buzz is palpable in the air. The Saudi Sailing Federation and the Jeddah Yacht Club & Marina have created incredible facilities for the teams and spectators. The excitement is building for the first America’s Cup regatta ever on the Red Sea.