America’s Cup - Sport

Power and endurance the keys to victory

  • Life’s a grind: Land Rover BAR’s athletes get to grips with their America’s Cup Class yacht on the Great Sound (Photograph by Harry KH/Land Rover BAR)

Gone are the days of bellying up to the bar after a day on the rail. These guys sailing the America’s Cup class yachts are professionals with a job to do. One and all, these Cup sailors are serious, finely conditioned athletes. The race is theirs to win.

After the America’s Cup class boats start flying on their foils, nothing should touch the water, except the daggerboards, those ‘L’ shaped appendages sticking below each hull, and ‘T’ shaped rudders that the helmsmen steer with. Both of those foils provide lift to fly the hulls.

Boat speed comes with the control of the daggerboards… angled forward or back, canted in or out, lifted up or down and with the control of the position and shape of the enormous wing mainsail. The mainsail can be trimmed in or out and its shape can be simultaneously adjusted for “twist” and “camber” in several horizontal areas. All these adjustments are called trim, and trim takes power.

Power used to trim the boards and the mainsail cannot come from stored sources. Nothing electric can be used to trim or steer.

Traditionally power came from groups of two grinders facing each other on a double-handled pedestal turning big winches and hauling lots of ropes through lots of pulleys. Electric winches are in use now on many large sailboats.

The power to adjust sails and daggerboards in the America’s Cup Class comes from people pushing hydraulic pumps. People power and wind power make these spectacular boats fly.

In a recent posting Land Rover BAR discussed strength and sustained power, “Modern America’s Cup athletes,” they wrote, “are unusual in needing both excellent sustained power output — like an endurance athlete — but also needing to produce a significant force at certain key moments — like a weightlifter.

“For the ‘powerhouse’ grinders on board our race boat, made up of four sailors, the grinding machine is a key piece of equipment and is becoming more commonly found in the gyms of America’s Cup teams. It trains the sailors to work on maximum strength development and increases their cardiovascular levels.”

When you see these new breed of grinders up close they are no longer the B-Max monoliths of old. No musclebound heavyweights… not ballast on the rail.

These sailors are athletes. They look to be 5ft 10in and 180-200lb. They are quick, strong and sculpted for action. There are six souls aboard each boat. Total crew weight, with the sailors dressed in light shorts only, is 525kg, 1,157lb. That’s an average of 87kg apiece or 193lb.

“Restricted by an on-board weight limit,” the Land Rover BAR spokesman continues, “each BAR sailor also follows a tailored diet plan based around each of their individual needs“

“The strength and conditioning programme has the sailing team training for 12-15 hours a week in the gym combined with yoga sessions to enhance mobility and prevent injury. They will also sail up to five days a week, when the weather in Bermuda permits, on top of the technical aspects of their jobs.”

For America’s Cup news or updates, Talbot Wilson can be reached at 595-5881 or 278-0143