Guest Racer Reports: Racing with Team Energy

Loïck Peyron is sitting on the windward hull, tiller in one hand, a cigarette of undetermined brand in the other. Though I can’t see what he’s looking at through his dark and closely raked sunglasses, it’s obvious he’s studying something very closely.
Author:
Updated:
Original:

Loïck Peyron is sitting on the windward hull, tiller in one hand, a cigarette of undetermined brand in the other. Though I can’t see what he’s looking at through his dark and closely raked sunglasses, it’s obvious he’s studying something very closely. That smoking hand though—it hangs casually, looking more like it belongs to a man at a sidewalk café in a small village on the Cote D’Azur than a man pointing his 45-foot carbon-fiber catamaran at the mercurial America’s Cup spectator fleet. 

Heading back toward the starting line, there is some conversation between Peyron and the crew. Lines are adjusted, the wing rotates inboard, and Team Energy groans and spurts forward. The right hull lifts a bit, and I feel the aft beam pinch my leg slightly against the sparse netting of the catamaran’s aft trampoline. I expected these boats to be absolutely rigid, yet there’s a surprising amount of flex. 

Winning the match race is Peyron’s job. The crew’s duties include everything from counting down the time to the start to handling the sails and working the boat’s two daggerboards. My job is to hunker down on the three-foot-deep spectator “seat” behind the aft beam, hold on to a modest quarter-inch red line and do my best to not fall off the boat or otherwise distract the crew. 

Sailing past Fort Adams we lift a hull and I hear the spectator crowd roar its approval. Shoreline spectators are an integral part of the new America’s Cup, and our skipper is putting on quite a show. I’m astonished at how fast we accelerate away from shore, and yet how smoothly our port hull rises up into the air, settling in at what feels like a heel angle of 30 degrees. The roll induced by the tight wind angle coupled with a slight downward pitch of the leeward hull is akin to an aircraft pulling 0 Gs. We are, for a moment, both on the water and airborne.

I look over at Peyron, who circumnavigated in a record 45 days this past winter aboard the maxi tri Banque Populaire V, and realize he’s looking at me, so I break the contract and ask my single unsolicited question of the day. “So, this is how you got around the world so fast?”

“No, No,” he responds. “My other boat was much faster than this one. Much.” 

A few minutes later we are up against Artemis in the prestart and passing the committee boat’s transom at 15 knots. A few hundredths of a second later the view opens up beyond our bows and I see we are on a collision course with the competition. Peyron has made a gutsy play for starting line dominance, but all is not right—two guys on Artemis’s crew have raised their arms and are shouting. A third joins in. It’s a protest, and we sag off, outmaneuvered and penalized. I breathe a sigh of relief that at least the foul is not on me. 

The rest of the race is a bit of a blur. As we chase Artemis around the marks, I am so caught up in the moment, trying to savor every last second, that it’s impossible to concentrate on things like strategy. This is sailing on a scale so large, so fast and so loaded with talent that it’s about more than the race. It’s simply about being here and noting the details. 

At the first mark, the genny unfurls and just when I think the boat can’t possibly go any faster, it surfs forward. Ludicrous! It’s at this point I hear a humming sound building to a shriek, a kind of cross between nails on a chalkboard and wind screaming through the rigging on a windy day. It’s as if the rudders are rusty scalpels cutting through thick seawater. It’s a noise I’ll never forget. 

All too soon, the race is over: remember the feeling you had as a kid when the power was cut to the amusement park ride and it began to decelerate? Going slower and slower, I savor the remaining time. The crew is silent as they quietly drain their water bottles and then offload them onto the support boat. After that it’s my turn as another guest racer comes aboard to take my place. 

As the RIB slowly pulls away, it occurs to me that in a perfect world I would have had a video camera with me to capture the event. But then I pause, realizing that the experience had been perfect as it was—30 minutes of pure existence with the luxury to sit, observe and try to figure everything out like a 4-year-old on his first trip to the beach. That 30 minutes was not meant to be captured any more than a rattlesnake on a West Texas ranch.

“Merci,” I say to Peyron as the RIB pulls away. “Et bon chance!”

Follow Rob's journey through our Crew for a Day blog. And for more of his story and photos, click here.

Photo courtesy of Gilles Martin-Raget/AC34

Related

2.4mR's racing at the 2018 Clagett Regatta-US Para Sailing Championships credit Clagett Regatta-Andes Visual

Host for 2021 U.S. Para Sailing Championships Announced

The 2021 U.S. Para Sailing Championships will be hosted by The Clagett Regatta at Sail Newport, in Newport, R.I. on August, 24-29, 2021, according to a joint announcement from the host and US Sailing. "We have had a very long working relationship with US Sailing and look forward ...read more

Reflections-photo-CMerwarth

Cruising: Reflections of an Old Salt

I am 90 years old, dwindling in mind and body and fear living too long. Twenty years have passed since I last weighed anchor. Still, when a Carolina blue sky is polka-dotted with billowing cumulus clouds and the wind blows fair, I sorely miss raising sail and setting forth. I ...read more

DSC_0145

Waterlines: Solo Sailing Again, Naturally

In spite of the fact I came to the sport of sailing alone and untutored, in a boat I acquired on my own, I never really aspired to become a solo sailor. It just sort of happened. All these years later, I still never explicitly plan to sail anywhere alone. I’m always happy to ...read more

01a-DJI_0398

Racing The M32 Class

This year the M32 celebrates its 10th birthday. Swedish Olympic bronze medalist Göran Marström and Kåre Ljung designed the M32 in 2011 as the latest addition to an already impressive portfolio that includes the Tornado, M5 A-Class, M20 catamaran and the Extreme 40. Two years ...read more

01-LEAD-23274-Coastal-Oilskins-GSP

Know how: Cleats, Clutches and Jammers

Since the invention of rope, there has also been a need to belay or secure it. Every sailboat has rope on board so, unless you own a superyacht with captive reels or winches, you’re going to have to find a way to make it fast. (As a side note—and before you reach for your ...read more

9e4d8714-2a8e-4e79-b8f6-c9786aaec4d0

Antigua Sailing Week Announces Women’s Mentorship Program

In partnership with the Antigua and Barbuda Marine Association, Antigua Sailing Week is launching a mentorship program to encourage women and girls to join the sport of sailing. President of Antigua Sailing Week, Alison Sly-Adams says, “When we devised the program, we looked at ...read more

01-LEAD-Carmody-Distant-Drummer

Experience: A Badly Snagged Prop in Haiti

When a winter norther blows through the Bahamas, the northeast trades can reach gale force as they funnel through the Windward Passage between Cuba and Haiti. After waiting for a lull, though, we had a fabulous beam reach aboard our Liberty 458, Distant Drummer, from Santiago de ...read more

01-LEAD-IMG_9186

Charter Cruise to La Paz Mexico

Just 24 hours before our scheduled charter in the Bahamas, the government clamped down again on visitors from the United States. Having endured two Covid-19 brain swabs in preparation, I looked at my packed bag on the floor and reached for the rum. I could, at least, pretend I ...read more