How I ended up on the chase boat, half way up the Solent with Peter de Savary trailing the Blue Arrow 12 Metre, I don’t recall. Vaguely it had something to do with winning a youth dinghy event and this was the prize but it was all a long, long time ago, another lifetime almost. But what I do remember is the moment PDS ordered the RIB to go side-on to the stern and said; “go on, on you get” and I stepped aboard. To me that was everything. Right there, in that moment, I was living the America’s Cup dream, even though I was just an annoying kid that the pros probably looked at through gritted teeth. But, I was immensely grateful for the ride. The America’s Cup bug was well and truly caught.
It was an exciting time in the late 1980’s with de Savary, the ultimate swashbuckling maverick hell-bent on winning the Cup after his near-miss with the stunning Victory ’83 (still my favourite AC boat of all time) with a cigar in his mouth and a legendary ability to corral and cajole, making waves and coming so so close. He was then (and still is) awesome with an indefatigable, can-do spirit that inspired and pushed a whole generation of AC sailors into the Great Game. I wish we had more like him. To me growing up, he was Mr America’s Cup and the bulldog spirit is something future British campaigns should resurrect.
But whilst a rather knackered 12 Metre was doing sponsorship duties in the Solent, what was being created down in the shed down at Port Pendennis in Falmouth was way ahead of its time. Penned by a dream team of Tony Castro, Ed Dubois, Jo Richards and Rob Humphreys with aerodynamicist support from Geoff Willis, the team were taking a foil concept to the outer limit of possibility and applying it to the Cup in an attempt to outfox the Cat & Dog show Deed of Gift race that had been called by Michael Fay’s New Zealand challenge. The British beavered away on a truly radical concept and then looked outside of the box for sailors bringing in the best of a golden generation and also the legendary International Moth sailor John Claridge from Lymington as part of the crew.
John’s not only a terrific guy, deeply embedded in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s Moth scene on the South Coast of the UK which was, at the time, the epicentre of the low-rider Moth world, but also a championship-winning sailor and boatbuilder that pushed the boundaries to the limit. And I happened to be reading his website last night when I came across this:
“Arguably the success of the current foiling America’s cup boats owes much to the International Moth – indeed Mothists have been involved in their development. What maybe forgotten, is that back in the 1980’s, the UK was the first country to build a foil assisted America’s Cup challenger – named Blue Arrow.”
“The Americas Cup deed of gift required that the defender, i.e. America, should race a similar boat to the challenger. When the New Zealanders wrong-footed everyone by challenging with a giant monohull, the Americans decided to defend with a giant catamaran. The litigation that followed resulted in the American courts deciding that a multihull was a like boat to a monohull and that the New Zealanders had to race.”
“This excluded the UK’s Blue Arrow challenger which had been hastily designed and built to take part in the competition. As a member of the star-studded crew which included Phil Morrison, Joe Richards, Pete Allen and Derek Clark that had been assembled to sail the boat, I claim to be the first Mothist to have had the opportunity to be part of this great competition.”
Today the Moth influence is in every campaign. Amazing how the guys who were viewed by the dinghy world back in the day as being almost a cult have become the influencers of the modern day Cup boats. And I’ll never forget seeing Rohan Veal pull alongside the maxi Wild Thing down in Geelong in the early noughties, sheet on and start flying. Right there and then, hairy pro sailors used to grinding and lugging heavy sails knew that the game was changing. Stunning to see innovation when it happens.
Ultimately the Blue Arrow boat that they nicknamed ‘Radical’ was written off after a pitch pole during training and sadly never made it to the America’s Cup but the seed was sown for what we see now thirty years later. I wonder what design ideas are being thrown around today that in another thirty years will become reality?
Looking at Team New Zealand training yesterday (see video from Gilles Martin-Raget at the end of the blog) and wow we’ve come a long, long way from 1989. Looking at Te Rehutai in a bit of breeze going through pre-starts is an awesome feast for the eyes.
The angular, muscular hull form and the sheer power that is generated is quite something but the Kiwis have been keen to distance themselves from the dockside chatter of speeds in excess of 60 knots – physics and extensive tank testing and studies says foils in water generally stall out and cavitate at 53-54 knots according to some who studied Naval Architecture at the University of Southampton – but knowing the Kiwis they will have found a way to completely ‘foil’ physics alongside perfecting another “no-look” gybe system which everyone is getting very excited about shoreside.
The great thing with the Kiwis is that if they feel that having the dual helm system is the way to go, especially in the pre-starts, then they have the ability and the talent to adapt. And it’s this ability to change and react quickly to new techniques that puts them in a class ahead. They are humble enough as a team and honest enough as individual sailors to see something on Luna Rossa and go “great idea, let’s try it” and whilst the Italians will caution and guide that learning new tricks so late in the day is fraught with issues – they know, and we all know, that if anyone’s going to nail it then the Kiwis will…and they’ll probably end up with an even better system.
To my eyes they are looking pretty impressive. See for yourself. But we won’t know for sure until two minutes after the ‘B’ of the bang on Wednesday March 10th. The clock is ticking whilst grass grows under our feet on this interminable but necessary delay to racing but you can almost feel it now as the tension winds up. It’s going to be a fascinating, riveting contest.
Does anyone else feel like a kid on Christmas Eve or one that’s just about to step foot on a 12 Metre for the first time? The America’s Cup – you just can’t beat it.