America’s Cup - Sport

Artemis get stronger as teams prepare to take on New Zealand

  • Strong contenders: Artemis take on BAR on the Great Sound (Photograph by Talbot Wilson)

Artemis Racing, Sweden’s hope to win the America’s Cup in June, seem to be getting stronger and stronger. Following a mid-March change in the event protocol, the boats training in Bermuda have had ten possible days of racing or testing so far, some one-third of those “blown out” by too strong winds. Artemis have sailed 16 matches and only lost three, all in the first round. In the practice session concluding last Wednesday, they went undefeated at 9-0.

Bermuda’s Monday morning skippers now rank Artemis first, then Oracle Team USA, SoftBank Team Japan, Land Rover BAR and Groupama Team France. Just over 40 days remain before the big game starts.

In running the table in the second session, Artemis defeated Cup defender Oracle in four of those races. Magic Blue looked fast. Her crew work was precise and smooth.

In this latest practice session Oracle finished second in the unofficial results table, winning five of their nine races. They were followed by Team Japan, who won two out of seven races they took part in. BAR competed in five, winning one. Team France took part in four races without a win.

The practice sessions have had their tense moments. In one race where Artemis were leading Oracle, a Red Bull Youth America’s Cup chase boat got in the way just after a mark rounding, causing Artemis to take evasive action. The port hull dug into the water and the fairing on the cross beam was ripped off. They withdrew to their base and checked the structure then came back to their winning ways.

At least two sailors went overboard during recent practice racing. For Team France the G-forces in a full foiling turn may have surprised their sailor crossing to the new windward side. He crossed the boat during a fast turn and couldn’t slow down on the other side. He appeared to make the last step a jump to get clear of the boat.

Cup defender Oracle lost Kyle Langford overboard last week. Langford had just crossed the boat to prepare for a manoeuvre. During a mark rounding, hardening up onto the wind, the leeward hull dug into the water and the tsunami filled the cockpit. He was washed right out in almost an instant much to the surprise of his mates.

Both of these crewmen were quickly recovered by chase boats. In an actual America’s Cup race, the boat could continue to race without going back to make its own crew recovery.

However, unlike the final downwind leg in a Bermuda Fitted Dinghy race, where crew jump overboard to lighten the boat for speed, losing a crew from an AC Class 50 means you lack critical manpower needed to operate trim the wing and maintain hydraulic pressure for all the sailing systems.

Artemis skipper Nathan Outteridge was very positive about his team’s performance. “We’ve had a really good race period here in Bermuda,” he said. “All five teams on the island have been racing hard. We’ve had some really close battles, really close starting.”

“Tacking duels around the course were forcing umpires to make decisions. This racing is everything we expect it’s going to be come May and June. It’s going to be close. We’re just working on getting better and better each day.”

“Six weeks to go now until the beginning of the competition,” Iain Percy, Artemis’s team manager said. “We’re now at the business end of our campaign.” Qualifying ‘double round-robin’ matches start May 26. These race weeks continue to prove very useful. We’ve come away again with lots of lessons, lots of things we need to improve.”

Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill said: “It was another great race period. You can definitely see that all of the teams have improved since the last one. Clearly Artemis Racing are looking very strong. They came out on top.

“SoftBank Team Japan were going really well. The French were spending more hours out there and getting sharper as well with their AC boards.

“People were definitely trying a few different things out on the water in terms of technique and also their general set-ups. It was fantastic. We got more top-end conditions in this race period.”

“We learnt a heap as I’m sure everyone did who was out there. Overall it was a great period and we’ve got to build on this. The clock is ticking, so every day counts.

“The priorities now are to do a good debrief from this period, making sure we take the time to study all the racing and learn from it.”

“We need to make sure we keep developing this boat, keep making it faster. Every other team will do the same.”

Dean Barker, the Team Japan skipper and chief executive was very positive after the week’s racing practice even though the team scored just two wins and five losses.

“This last practice racing period was the most beneficial yet for the team,” he said. “The results obviously don’t show just how close the racing was but we’re really happy with how the boat is going and the improvements we’re seeing out on the water. It just shows how close the racing will be. “We’ll keep developing and improving straight to the end.”

Team France, latecomers to the competition have less training time than any of the other teams. Team manager Bruno Dubois said that if the team had six more months of practice they would be more competitive.

Meanwhile Nicholas Heintz, the Team France grinder, said: “In terms of physical stress, a training day on the water is much more demanding. We do three races and a lot of runs, a rhythm that we won’t be doing during the cup. The learning curve is exponential for Groupama Team France and we are learning from every session on the water.”

King Edward VII Gold Cup veteran Adam Minoprio now the wing trimmer with Team France said: “The boat is getting more and more stable and faster on the racecourse. We reach 40kts [46mph] downwind. We are happy with our new foils’ designs. We’re still in the process of optimisation in terms of control systems. Competition is very sharp indeed.”

BAR principal and skipper Sir Ben Ainslie issued the following statement in the team’s latest newsletter: “There are now less than 50 days to go until the America’s Cup action kicks off in Bermuda, and the temperature is starting to heat up both literally and metaphorically on the island.”

“Since we moved our sailing operations to Bermuda, we have launched our America’s Cup Class race boat R1, and put her through two upgrade periods. The most recent of them involved the shore and design teams in a huge effort to install a substantial number of upgrades.”

“We have more developments to come; as a start-up team we always knew that we had to come from behind to build our design, engineering and technology programme to catch up with the established teams that have been competing for a number of years, or even a number of America’s Cups. We are working incredibly hard to close that gap to the established teams and I am really proud of the team’s efforts to date.”

Jono Macbeth, the BAR team manager, said in a recent interview comparing the previous Cups to this one: “The difference is huge in the interaction of the crew on the boat. If one person does something wrong it will throw the whole manouver or the speed out.”

Ainslie said: “At this time we are seeing huge amounts of performance gains from all of the teams. Artemis put together a great series and other teams will make [performance] jumps through the final months as well.”

When asked about Emirates Team New Zealand coming to town, Macbeth, a Kiwi himself, said “Nobody should discount the Kiwis. They have been in the thick of the America’s Cup for years.”

Ainslie added: “It will be fascinating to see them out there.”

Team New Zealand’s entry arrived in Bermuda last Monday evening and by Wednesday the shore crew were busy assembling the boat in Dockyard.

Kevin Shoebridge, the Kiwis’ chief operations Officer said the team hopes to have the boat out on the Great Sound for testing as quickly as possible.