Volume, Counterbalance and the Crossover—Grand Prix Sailing
Ever wonder what Team New Zealand’s Dean Barker and Terry Hutchinson mean when they say, “We learned some things” in sailing those tough, late challenger rounds? One guy who knows a piece of it is Hartwell Jordan, mainsail trimmer on Desafio Espaol, who helped teach them a few of those things—and has sparred with the defender, by the way, and has a few thoughts about Alinghi.
You will recall that the Spanish team took two races off Emirates Team New Zealand in the semifinal round. Here’s Jordan: “It turns out that in 14 knots down to the water, you can gybe, go deep, and keep your air clear astern. We beat New Zealand twice at that game. Now they know the deal.”
In the two races won by Desafio Espaol over NZL 92, now the official challenger, “They knew they could sail as well as they were sailing,” Jordan says. “We did not know that we could sail as well as we did. We caught them by surprise, and it probably did even more for them than it did for us.”
Jordan, who grew up sailing on San Francisco Bay, has been part of big boat racing in the Med—especially in Spain—since 1994. He took the full IMS ride in the European fleet and then played a role in the decision that the TP52 would be the next instrument of choice for grand prix racing in the Mediterranean. He quickly spun around from his duties with Desafio Espaol to duties aboard Bribon, a Judl-Vrolek TP52 racing now at Alicante. When we talked (starting with some chatter about the ceramic bearings he was installing later that day on the bicycle that he bought for $2,900 on eBay) it was at the Desafio Espaol base at Port America’s Cup, Valencia, where Bribon was sitting on the hard, ready for delivery to Alicante.
“What’s driving sailing in Spain is the involvement of the king,” he said. “It’s not a ‘mechanism’ as such, but the king’s interest in IMS in the 90’s drew people to come out and sail. It also allowed national teams to get sponsorship to partially offset their costs.”
And it created an environment suited to the Hart Jordans of the world who are willing to take on the challenges of a new life. He says, “My wife, Susan, and I like Valencia so much that we’re staying for another year, and I say that, even though Valencia is not on my list of the top five places to live in Spain. We’ve immersed ourselves—we live in the center of the city—and we opted to put the kids in public school. Their Spanish is a lot better than ours, I can tell you.
“Early on, I didn’t wear my team gear around town. People were resentful of how much money was going into the port and the America’s Cup. Now I think it’s finally sunk in that you can bring the family down here, there are things to do, and it’s free, and you can have a good time.”
And given the investment in infrastructure, what’s the likelihood of seeing a Formula 1 track laid at Port America’s Cup in the future? That’s a much-discussed possibility on the local scene, whether Cup racing stays or goes.
“Formula 1 racing in 2008 is a very good possibility,” Jordan says, “because the politicians who were pushing for it just got reelected.”
The Next Plot Point
The rapid emergence of the TP52 fleet tells you the temperature (hot) of grand prix sailing in Europe. For a time, the appetite was there but the boats were not. Forget about comparables in the USA; they don’t exist. Twenty-four boats entered to race at Alicante, the first of four events in the Breitling MedCup circuit, and nine of those boats are newly built. Any “old” boats have been tweaked, you may be sure, and the crews are as good as they come.
A passel of guys from the ACC fleet are sailing TP52s this week, and you can be sure there will be a lot of bar talk about the Alinghi-New Zealand match looming on the horizon: June 23, Race 1, first-to-five.
So what does Hart Jordan think of the challenger eliminations, now finally resolved?
“I think it’s academic,” he says. “I think Alinghi will win easily.”
“It’s a different boat. Alinghi was on a design path before they won in 2003, and it seems the design path works. The second boat for Mascalzone Latino was the most similar in the challenger group, and that boat was really fast; they just didn’t have time to develop it.”
1) Mascalzone Latino shocking New Zealand by beating the Kiwis on the opening day of round robin racing; 2) Alinghi topping the leaderboard in the Acts with their older but updated B-boat, SUI 91.
And how different is that design path? It starts with more volume in the hull, forward, and—
“I think the difference is substantial. With more volume forward, you can put more horsepower up front, and then you can counterbalance that with more horsepower in back. You always have to have that balance. But it’s not about adding more sail. It’s about how you trim. The main has twice the area of the jib, and usually you’re not setting the main for all the power available.”
Another way to say that: In these boats, optimized for Valencia, the typical crossover point—where you start to depower—is 11 knots of breeze. Alinghi is designed for the additional seabreeze that, statistically, we will see during the Cup match. New Zealand, in the mode we know, has been a light-air flyer. It’s reasonable to figure they will re-mode to meet Alinghi, but they can’t change the hull shape to do it. They had to build a boat to beat the challenger fleet in order to get to Alinghi. But if, for some reason, the breeze is light, will Alinghi be stuck in the water? So much to speculate about, so little to know until the ponies hit the track.
Going against NZL 92, Jordan says, “The Alinghi guys are going to know their boat. They’re going to sail well, and I think they’ll have a speed advantage. The unknowns—will they start as well as New Zealand? That’s the big one. The racecourse doesn’t lend itself to exploiting a technological advantage no matter how real it is. The legs are too short. If you’re on the wrong side, even if you’re fast, you’re not going to get your two lengths [to tack and clear] in the time allotted. Unless they get to five-mile legs; then you could see things develop.
“In the final four, our package was similar to Oracle’s. Prada was the slow boat in the group.”
Whither the Cup?
It’s hard to talk about the future of America’s Cup racing, as Jordan says, “Because there is no continuity.”
That lack of continuity has been a feature of America’s Cup competition since the oldest international trophy in sport was loosed from the grip of the New York Yacht Club in 1983. The Deed of Gift gives great power to the defender to decide the time and manner of the defense. The defender can do it this-a-way or the defender can do it that-a-way, now that every potential defender is careful to come to terms in advance with a like-minded challenger of record, and to have that challenger waiting and ready when the winner crosses the line with five firsts. Ernesto Bertarelli had that kind of understanding with Larry Ellison as Alinghi closed in on winning the Cup in ’03, and those two together organized the new-look racing we’ve seen here. It began with the Acts—some great racing on the road, and the points helped New Zealand win the round robin racing and the right to select a semifinal opponent.
Jordan is one of many people who want to build a circuit around the challenger series. “The Acts really helped the event,” he says. “I hope that whoever wins the Cup, they will carry on that mentality. I’d like to see a two-year cycle, and I don’t think you can do it anywhere else, other than Valencia, in two years.”
Of course, not everyone agrees. Prada-Luna Rossa boss Patrizio Bertelli, for one, does not want to see Cup racing reduced (my word) to a two-year, predictable cycle, which risks losing the majesty (my word again, and yes, it’s a bit much, but something like that: intrigue, uniqueness, the sense of the ultimate quest; the sheer intractability of the thing). On the other hand, Bertelli thought enough of keeping the Cup in Europe to send his team out to spar with the defender, whose thinking runs closer to Jordan’s. And on the other-other hand, New Zealand also sparred with the defender, a while back, and took some heat for doing it. Then again, they also took money from Bertarelli to jump start a new Team New Zealand back in the dark days, and what goes around comes around.
Life feeds on life.
Oh, we could write a book.
But now there’s all this talk that if New Zealand takes the Cup, they’ll institute strict new nationality requirements. That could work for them. They’re a heavily-Kiwi crew with an American navigator, tactician, and strategist, this time around
But what would it mean for other teams? You wouldn’t be seeing another challenge from South Africa, that’s for pretty sure. Sweden would have some thinking to do, and the other European countries would have a lot to sort out. Desafio Espaol competed well, but with a mixed-nationality team. Jordan says, “In Spain we have top sailors in small boats, but not in the big boats, and there are no Spanish teams making the match- race rounds. Spain has two bowmen who have done everything in the world, but there’s not much all-around depth. Spain has a trimmer or two who can compete at the America’s Cup level, but there’s no helmsman.
“Italy’s lacking a match racer too . . .
“And the US could use one. Oracle might be in a different position now.”
Thanks, Hart. I guess that means, all eyes on Ed Baird, American from Florida, if in fact he gets the nod to drive Alinghi—KL