Big, Fast, Boats on a Short Course

Yesterday was the day that showed what it is like to have big, fast, boats racing together on a short course. What an exciting day for spectators and sailors alike. The conditions were excellent; clear skies, 15 knots at the start that built to 20 knots by the finish. There were at least four lead changes during the race and plenty of spectacular action as these undermanned boats were put to the test in closed course racing. In the final moments of the race, Pirates on port was closing with Movistar on starboard, each boat planing at 20 knots. It was neck and neck for the last three minutes and only in the last 30 seconds was it apparent that we would be able to just squeak across Movistar’s bow and beat them across the line.

One of the great stories of the day was Brasil 1 making the start. They only got their spare mast in the boat at 0230 the morning of the race and had no time to train or even tune the rig. At the first windward mark, they had a handy lead which received and great round of applause from the spectator fleet. They later had trouble on a spinnaker set and finished 5th place.

With just 11 crew onboard, dousing the 500 sq meter spinnakers proved to be a defining element in the results as a few of the teams coughed up some valuable distance at the end of the run. Gybing the 500 sq meter kite with just four men grinding was also a workout in 20 knots of wind. On the second run we passed ABM AMRO ONE by matching them on a simultaneous gybe that the Pirate crew executed a bit better than their counterparts which allowed the Pearl to roll ABN AMRO ONE. 5 minutes later, ABN tried to return the favor but could not make it stick and we were able defend our second position at the bottom of the run while Brasil 1 was still in the lead.

As the wind built, the upwind speed of ABN AMRO ONE was too much for any of us to match and she took the lead on the third windward leg and never relinquished it. We did close in on her on the third run to round the leeward mark just 8 seconds behind. ABN AMRO ONE stretched out her lead up the last windward leg while we held a comfortable second place over Movistar who was followed by Ericsson.

While rounding the last windward mark, the Pirates spinnaker tore. I have to admit that I thought we were toast and that our hard earned second place would turn in to a fourth. But the Pirates got into action and got the back up spinnaker up and flying within 2 minutes. Our 45 second lead evaporated and it was a horse race to the finish with Movistar. All is well that ends well, and the second place was ours.

A couple of things that I took from yesterday was that our speed, in general, was very good. During our training last week we worked hard on our mast tune, re-cut our mainsail and studied different jib and mainsail settings. The result was that our upwind speed was as good as any of the other Farr boats if not better. ABN AMRO ONE did have a noticeable edge on the fleet once the wind got over 17 knots. Downwind we are very fast even against the other Farr boats and this is where we had an edge on ABN AMRO ONE on every run. On the in port race course, with equal distance upwind and downwind, the upwind speed edge is more valuable than a downwind advantage as getting out in front and sailing free while approaching the first windward mark is extremely valuable. Offshore, the round the world race is mostly downwind and reaching so hopefully we will find enough of the downwind conditions to allow us to have a speed advantage over ABN AMRO ONE which now has a commanding lead in this race.

The other important fact from yesterday was that our crew work was second to none. These are not easy boats to sail and you need some good techniques and solid execution in order to handle them. The speed at which they approach the leeward marks is impressive and requires a spinnaker drop several hundred meters from the mark.

I still believe there is a lot of potential left to be found in sail shapes, trimming techniques and crew work so I am pushing the Pirates to strive to a higher level in all these areas.

In closing, I want to acknowledge out shore team, a group of 15 professionals, who did an excellent job of getting the Black Pearl back on line here in Melbourne. We limped into town and we were strong yesterday and will be strong on the next leg thanks to their great work. Since we arrived 13 days ago, more than 1000 man hours have been lathered on the Pearl. Last night at the prize giving, our shore team joined the crew on the stage.

This week’s schedule: Sunday – dress rehearsal for the Pescanova kids event and replacement of the pistons and rods in the keel hydraulics. Tomorrow is Pescanova Day and a Disney guest sail in the afternoon. Tuesday will be a day out sailing to look at some new sails and Wednesday-Thursday is maintenance, prep and loading the boat. Friday is a short sail to make sure all is in order and Saturday is off for the crew. Sunday at 1400 is the start of the “sprint” to Wellington. Jules and I will be studying the weather all week with our meteorologist, Jean Yves Bernot.

We will restart from Wellington to Rio on February 19 at 1400.

Paul Cayard

Pirates of the Caribbean