Dean Barker On Sailing an AC72 - Sail Magazine

Dean Barker On Sailing an AC72

As Team Oracle showed this past October, conning an AC72 catamaran is not for the faint of heart. We recently caught up with Emirates Team New Zealand’s skipper Dean Barker to see what it’s like helming one of these behemoths.
Author:
Publish date:
Americas-Cup-Oracle

As Team Oracle showed this past October, conning an AC72 catamaran is not for the faint of heart. We recently caught up with Emirates Team New Zealand’s skipper Dean Barker—who at press time was still managing to successfully keep his boat upright under sail—to see what it’s like helming one of these behemoths. 

SAIL: What’s the learning curve been like on the AC72? Is driving the boat as easy as you’re making it look?

DEAN BARKER: It’s been a very, very steep learning curve, and it seems it’s going to be that way all the way through until we finish sailing next year. The boat’s very powerful, it’s a very new concept, and we’ve obviously spent a fair bit of time up on foils on this boat—still trying to understand whether that’s better or worse. Yeah, it’s been a very interesting period. 

 Barker (at the helm) with his crew

Barker (at the helm) with his crew

SAIL: What does it feel like when the boat starts to lift up on its foils? 

DB: The first few times is pretty frightening. The boat is now obviously foiling on two components that are in the water, and you’re looking down there sort of hoping nothing’s going to let go. There’s a huge amount of load, but it is a very amazing, very cool sensation. 

SAIL: How does steering when the boat is airborne differ from when the hulls are in the water?

DB: Surprisingly, it’s not too different, but the sensation is different because the boat doesn’t really experience any of the sea state...You’ve definitely got plenty to manage, particularly as the breeze gets stronger and stronger, and the boat speeds get higher, and small alterations in steering and everything else have a fairly large impact on the way the boat behaves. 

SAIL: What’s the noise and motion like aboard an AC72?

DB: When you’re up and ripping it’s not too bad. It’s actually quite pleasant. But the movement can be quite jerky, just because you’re traveling at high speeds and any small movement is magnified. Upwind is where it’s really difficult to communicate when you’ve got very high-powered wind speeds, 50 to 60 knots of apparent wind speeds at times. At that stage it is very, very difficult to have conversations.

SAIL: Is sailing an AC72 like sailing on a knife edge, or is it fairly stable once you’re in a groove?

DB: Initially in the lighter breeze it’s actually quite docile. But like all the multihulls that I’ve [sailed] now, they reach a wind speed where things go from pushing and racing the boat hard to feeling like you’re just sort of trying to survive. It’s a difficult sensation because on a 72-footer the downsides are pretty dramatic if you get it wrong. The AC45, to begin with, felt like a reasonably big boat, but now when you get into a much bigger boat again, one that is much more powerful for its size, you obviously have to really keep your wits about you.

SAIL: What are the most dangerous moments on an AC72?

DB: As we’ve seen with Oracle, the most challenging time is going to be any high-wind-speed bear-aways, because the boats are very powerful, you’ve got a wing sitting 40 meters above the water and you can’t reef it down. It’s always up there, and it’s always got some form of power, so you have to get the maneuver completely right. As the wind increases you definitely sense everyone’s awareness really comes to life, and you push the boat as hard as you can, but you also have to manage how aggressive you are with the boat. So, it’s going to be challenging, but I think every day you go out and you’re more accustomed to the power and the speed of the boats, and we know that next year we’re going to be forced to race in some strong wind days and we’re going to have to be very good at it. 

Photos courtesy of Chris Cameron/Emirates Team New Zealand

Related

daviscards

Davis Instruments: Quick Reference Cards

CHECK THESEIf you’re sailing with new crew this summer or your kids have suddenly and inexplicably started to look up from their phones and take an interest in the finer points of cruising, these Quick Reference Cards from Davis are a great way to further their boating education. ...read more

01-rbir18-596

Another Epic Round Britain Race

There are basically two kinds of offshore sailboat races out there: those that take place annually, like the Fastnet and Chicago-to-Mackinac races; and those that take place every other year, like the Transpac and Newport-Bermuda race, in part so the competitors have sufficient ...read more

01b_WALKING-KEDGE-OUT-cmykpromo

Getting More Use From Kedge Anchors

If you are cruising, you need at least two anchors on board for the simple reason that you must have a backup. Imagine having to slip your anchor on a stormy night with other boats dragging down on yours, or having your rope rode severed by some unseen underwater obstacle, ...read more

SailAwayCharter

How-to: Navigating on a Bareboat Charter

So you graduated from navigation class where you practiced dead reckoning, doubling the angle on the bow and maybe even celestial nav, and you now feel well prepared for your first charter trip. Well, you won’t be doing any of that on vacation—not past the first day, anyway.Most ...read more

04-Turtle-rescue

Turtle Rescue in the Vic-Maui

Strange and often wonderful things can happen in the course of an offshore sailboat race, and one of the strangest and most wonderful things we’ve heard of recently took place during the 2,300-mile 2018 Vic-Maui race, from Victoria, British Columbia, to Lahaina, Hawaii.It ...read more

dorcap-open-blue

ATN Inc: Dorcap

COOL SLEEPYou’re fast asleep in a snug anchorage, forehatch open to catch the breeze, when you’re rudely awakened by a sneaky rain squall. Now you’re not only awake and wet, you’re sweltering with the hatch closed. Sucks, right? That’s why ATN came up with the Dorcap, an ...read more

HIGH-RES-29312-Tahiti-GSP

Ask Sail: Who has the right-of-way

WHO HAS RIGHT-OF-WAY?Q: I sail in Narragansett Bay, which is a relatively narrow body of water that has upwind boats generally going south and downwind boats generally going north. When sailboats are racing, the starboard tack boat has the right-of-way over the port tack boat, so ...read more