Cheats. It’s one of the most emotive words in the English language. And it’s one hell of an allegation to throw at an individual or team. It says that they can’t win without doing the others down and hangs around like the waft of an AC grinder’s armpit after a long day pumping hydraulic oil. But in sailing, cheating is a parlance that can be delivered in a manner that implies an inherent cleverness, design innovation – a ‘rule cheat’ if you will – and at some point in all of our sailing lives, we’ve ‘cheated’ to a degree.
In the old “three pumps per gust, per wave” era, come on admit it, we all bent that one. Shoving my mother’s broom stick up the inside of a boom on a Topper in 1988 to make it slightly stiffer – yup guilty as charged m’lud – and she still can’t find that broomstick.
In the America’s Cup cheating is a currency of designers and sailors masked in technicality. And on the eve of the weigh-in, or ‘measurement day’ as they call it for the Challengers, it’s going to be fascinating to see what happens.
So what are the rule cheats this time? We’ve heard that Prada has a faster canting foil system and are working out how to hide backstays in the mainsail leech – I kid you not – to reduce drag. Sounds to me like really, really clever thinking rather than cheating.
We’ve seen the amazing Batwing sail of American Magic that ingeniously gets around the sail plan rules. Not so much a cheat, more of a brilliant solution by master sailmakers.
Team New Zealand have all sorts swirling around them regarding their amazing mainsail control and some onboard computational wizadry involving ride height measured digitally.
And Team Ineos, it would appear, are purer than the driven snow – I haven’t heard or seen anything that would suggest a flexing of the rules but you can be sure they are pushing like fury – too much money not to be.
And on this day of measurement, those appointed measurers will have to be forensic auditors of the highest order with lawyer level interpretation skills to get these boats passed. The electronics alone are a minefield – a friend of mine on the American Magic Team told me in an email recently that half the team would be “working for NASA, Airbus or SpaceX” if they weren’t doing this Cup. These boats are so complex and the people required to just get them out of the shed and rigged is immense. The talent pool is very small to draw from and there will have to be changes for the next Cup to succeed and attract new entries. (Batteries boys, batteries…)
For the measurers it’s a tough ask. Long gone are the retired professionals filling their time before meeting their maker with an easy life of plumb bobs and measuring sticks, hanging around boat yards on first-name terms with the rockstars. Nowadays it’s a pro-game. A degree in computational analytics is preferable. Basically, yours and my retirement plans are up the swanny. You’ve got to be seriously good to measure these beasts and at the top of your game to spot just what these teams are up to and where the performance gains are coming from.
The good news is that it’s widely acknowledged that the measuring team in this Cup is one of the best ever assembled and the recent missives from the arbitration panel are testament to just how ‘on-it’ they are. The latest one – ruling 73 – highlights how hard the teams are pushing aero performance with an anonymous submission requesting clarification on crew members, their kit, where they can be positioned on the boat and whether they can be covered or not. There’s even a statement about “human beings” – was someone building a robot? These requests are tantalising insights into the thinking of the teams and every serious, die-hard Cup watcher has that page on permanent refresh. It’s fascinating.
So whilst we’ve had public allegations of cheating in the past – Dennis Conner take a bow in 1987 – and we’ve had all manner of clever ‘rule cheats’ as developments, the Cup has largely skirted a publicity nightmare of cheating allegations. I admire the boundaries that these teams are all pushing and have no doubt that the trickle down of their development will hit yours and my 28 footer at some point – Tylaska shackles anyone? Rod rigging? Laminate sails? Carbon dog bowl…
And best of luck to the boys weighing in – I remember the DC story at an Etchell’s Worlds where he made his crew run round the block in sweat suits to shift some pounds…I don’t expect that but the sight of 24 grinders in their underwear at a weigh-in is something that can’t be unseen.
Pity the weighing in team…
(PS: Some fabulous stories coming to me about crews making weight. If you’ve got a funny story – please share below…)
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