In August I rejoined the TP52 MedCup Circuit for two events. I say rejoined because I sailed both the 2005 and 2006 seasons in the fleet with George Andreadis and his Atalanti team.
This is the class that has enjoyed the most growth in the past three years. I think that’s because of the perfect balance between fun in fast, fairly evenly matched boats, and costs, which are not minimal but are obviously manageable for 25 teams. After spending most of the spring commentating on TV for the America’s Cup, I was anxious to see if I could remember how to sail myself.
My first regatta in 2007 was Copa del Rey in Palma where I joined Alberto Roemmers and his Matador-Siemens team. The skipper of the boat is Guillermo Parada and he has put together a great team. The boat is one of five new Vrolijk designs for 2007 and Siemens have joined as the sponsor. Everything was well organised and the boat was fast so it was a pleasure to be asked to step aboard in the tactician role.
We sailed a very consistent series, never out of the top five in the windward-leeward races. I did manage to get us a disastrous result in the ‘coastal race’ but what would you expect from a guy with little offshore experience? In the end we won the Copa del Rey with a nice margin. This fleet is now so competitive that the slightest mistake and you lose six places.
My second event was in Portimão, Portugal with Doug deVos and his Windquest team. Doug skippers and helms his boat and is a very good sailor. Even more, he is a great guy to hang around with. The current Windquest is last year’s Botin & Carkeek designed Warpath which was a very strong boat. We managed to finish fifth overall in the shortened series as the wind was MIA for the last two days…
Another feature of the Portimão event was the first appearance of Lagos Sports on the sailing scene. Everyone there was quite impressed with the shoreside hospitality and organisation. There was a large tent with breakfast for everyone each morning… I am talking about freshly made omelettes, fruit, cereal, juices, breads, yogurts, you name it, we had plenty of it. The free bar was always open and there were great evening events as well. Lagos Sports really impressed and set a new standard for hosting a sailing event; this fact was especially pleasing to Russell Coutts and myself as Lagos Sports is now the managing partner of the World Sailing League!
It is impressive to watch the eight new boats in the TP52 fleet. The five Vrolijk designs, upwind in particular, are very fast. They just have a nice little edge in anything over 11kt. Even compared to Mean Machine, last year’s Vrolijk super-boat, this year’s models are special. The new boats are even wider in the transom on deck, which must make more use of the crew weight when hiking. The new Botin boats, Caxia and Mutua Madrilena, are good boats also but more so under 10kt of wind… and downwind all the time. Patches, the only new Reichel-Pugh boat, is a very good all-round performer. For sure the new boats are faster but Peter de Ridder’s Mean Machine team showed everyone in Portimão that it is more about who sails best than boatspeed.
Artemis won the 2007 Breitling MedCup circuit with owner Torbjorn Torqnvist steering his own boat. That is the second year in a row that an ISAF Category 1 helmsman has won the season championship in this very competitive class. I think that sends a great message to the sailing community.
A few words on the Cup. I read Grant Simmer’s ‘justification’ of the Protocol for the 33rd AC in this magazine last month. I like Grant and respect him a lot. He asserts that changing boats will be ‘better for the small or new teams’. I really struggle with that. With 100 boats built, the existing AC class is running out of design space so it is harder for the big-budget teams to find significant gains. The competition this spring was the closest ever. Teams like Shosholoza surprised many.
And I think the final, with Team New Zealand, was a real scare for Alinghi. A new rule will create a wide open playing field and a lot more research will be required so the best flow codes and operators will yield significant speed advantages for their teams. That is good for the big teams who have money and a large design team in place now.
Of course Alinghi are stacking the deck even more… in case a new rule wasn’t enough. They are the ones creating the rule so they are pocketing another six months’ design time advantage. So help me again with this one, Grant?
Then once the new boats are launched, and since two-boat testing is not allowed, the teams with the most experienced people will be able to develop their boats more and faster. How does this help a small or new team?
There is another new rule, the ‘no two-boat testing rule’, whose purpose it is to save money by cutting personnel. This rule will cut some costs but maybe not as much as one might
First of all, any cuts in personnel are from the lower end of the pay scale, not the top. Then, because delaying the start of construction will give the design team the best chance to find the right shape the teams will get their new boats with just three months to go until the racing. How do you optimize this boat that no one has any experience in? You hire one-and-a-half shore teams and they work all night every night to make sure that the boat is on the water every day. You hire two full sailing crews and you keep that boat sailing every single day of the week! But this rule is the motivation behind Alinghi saying, ‘Well it wouldn’t be fair to us to not have anyone to race against so we
are going to join the challenger selection series.’
This has all gone way too far. Changing the class of boat and moving to a two-year cycle is too much to do at the same time. Now we have the uncertainty of a court case to boot. The event was growing in such a positive way. Let’s come back toward the rhumb line… a couple of hundred miles to the right I think.