Today was my first full day here in Valencia. No sailing by either team as the wind was forecast to be strong. There was a about 20 knots today and it is supposed to be more tonight. Things are supposed to be better tomorrow and this might get the competitors out for some last minute testing in the afternoon.
I spent a few hours with my Eurosport TV crew at the BMW Oracle base this morning. We got a tour of the wing which was down and inside a large… no make that very large…. tent. I have enclosed some photos. Try to look for people in the pictures so you can get a feel for the size of this thing. It is the largest wing ever built, period, bar none. It is about twice the span of a 747 wing. It is 223 feet long! It weighs about 3.5 tons and it’s truly and engineering marvel. There are 200,000 man hours in the wing. It is a two element wing in 9 vertical sections. The control system is wires inside the wing all coming down to the “platform” (the boat) where hydraulics do the pushing and pulling. Dirk de Ridder runs the controls. Dirk sailed around the world with me on Pirates of the Caribbean and he gave me a tour up on the deck of the boat. It is also amazing and I can tell you it is very racy. One detail I noticed was the trampoline net between the hulls that most multihulls have for the crew walk on to get from side to side and to stow sails on. The BMW Oracle boys have cut the netting down to a very small longitudinal strip right along the main hull, only where it is truly essential, in an effort to cut weight and windage. This means that when they tack or gybe they run from one pontoon toward the main hull they have to be clipped onto the boat so that if they fall, they will stay attached to the boat rather than go overboard. I hope the tethers are short because if you fall off when the boat is doing 40 knots you would rather just be cut loss than dragged through the water.
I caught up with the two lead builders for BMW Oracle, Tim Smyth, who was the builder of the boat I won the Whitbread with, EF Language, and Mark Turner who was with Oracle when I worked with the team in 2000. This has been a construction contest; they have built the Trimaran, they have rebuilt the Trimaran, they have built three masts then the wing then they added 8 meters to the wing. Not to mention building things like the foils. Each dagger board is more complicated than building a house. There are bulkheads, skins, and hundreds of layers of carbon fiber that have to be vacuumed bagged between each layer, heated to just the right temperature to cure, etc. Just putting the wing in the boat is a militaristic operation involving 40 people. The scale of this boat makes everything hard and requires coordination and communication.
Each team, Alinghi and then BMW Oracle, held press conferences in their bases tonight. I attended the BMW conference where Russell Coutts, Larry Ellison and Skipper James Spithill answered questions for about an hour. There is still a lot of acrimony between these two teams and plenty of issues of disagreement. The media asked a lot of questions about the “constructed in country” lawsuit still pending in New York Courts. But the bottom line is that we will see the two most high tech sail boats ever built, come together on the starting line on Monday morning, weathering permitting, and that is exciting to me. The starting line will become very small for both skippers when the closing speed is over 50 knots. I don’t think we have ever seen a match where the outcome is less predictable. Also we haven’t seen a match where the weather will be so determinant. This will be a spectacle.
What am I doing over here? I am the technical commentator for Eurosport for the 33rd America’s Cup. Eurosport is broadcast in 54 countries in Europe and Asia. Unfortunately I don’t think it is broadcast in the USA. Tomorrow, Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday, (all non race days) we will produce an 8 minute piece. Starting Monday and on all race days, Damien and I will comment the races live for about 2 hours. Tonight I interviewed Russell Coutts for tomorrow’s piece. Kind of strange for me to interview Russ who is a friend and contemporary. I don’t know if I did a good job because having been in his shoes all I could think of is what a pain in the ass I must have been.