BMW Oracle Racing on the back foot says Spithill
America’s Cup-style racing returns to the Solent tomorrow with the start of the 1851 Cup between Larry Ellison’s BMW Oracle Racing team, the current America’s Cup champions and Sir Keith Mills’ TeamOrigin. The teams represent the USA and the UK respectively as was the case when the first race for the 100 Guineas Cup (as the America’s Cup was called at the time) was held in these waters, watched by Queen Victoria in 1851. On that occasion the sole US entry, America, was up against the fastest boats the UK could muster, yet the legendary all-black yacht still walked away with the trophy, which has never returned to British hands in the intervening 159 years.
Today the two boats TeamOrigin’s USA-87 and BMW Oracle Racing’s USA-98 went out training for the first time this afternoon with a course set up in the mid-western Solent, allowing the crews to re-acquaint themselves with the boats and to practice starts and get used to the short courses.
“It is pretty cool to come back to where it all kicked off,” stated BMW Oracle Racing skipper and helmsman James Spithill. “It is surprising that it has taken this amount of time to start something like this. I think it is a fantastic idea.”
While BMW Oracle Racing is the present current America’s Cup defender champion and the 1851 Cup is being sailing in their boats, Spithill reckons they are on the back foot, compared to TeamOrigin. “Look at the whole team and also what they have done over the last two or three years and it has been monohull sailing and match racing,” he says of the British crew. “Ben and the guys have been out there doing all that while we have been doing nothing but multihull and big boat sailing. So we are trying to catch up to them and by the end of the week we’ll be somewhat closer.”
Aside from the Louis Vuitton Trophy Regatta in La Maddalena, this is the first occasion Spithill has raced this generation of America’s Cup yacht since Valencia in 2007. In terms of his track record against Ben Ainslie, his equivalent at TeamOrigin, Spithill reckons he had the upper hand when they competed against each other on the World Match Racing Tour, but on their last encounter in La Maddalena, it was Ainslie and his British team that came out on top.
Meanwhile Ainslie is enjoying bring the return of America’s Cup-style racing to the UK.” There is no better opportunity to invigorate Cup fever in the British public than at Cowes Week. “It looks like it is as good as ever with so many boats,” he says of the world’s most famous sailing ‘week’, which itself dates back to 1826. “There are so many people around that for us to be racing the Cup boats on home waters is pretty special. Hopefully once Cowes Week competitors have finished their racing they can come and watch us.”
Racing in the strong tides of the Solent, Ainslie reckons navigation will be one of the keys to success. “It is going to be about who gets out of the tide first or who makes the best call on the tidal influences. 1/100th of a knot of boat speed won’t be the deciding factor.”
Ironically for this regatta TeamOrigin has a Spanish navigator in Juan Vila, previously with the 31st and 32nd America’s Cup winner Alinghi, while the American team has a navigator from Northern Ireland in Ian Moore, who holds the advantage of being an Isle of Wight resident.
“It is going to be exciting racing AC boats in the middle of the Solent in full flood tide,” admits Moore. “High tide is about 5-8pm so we will be racing in full flood tide, beating in to the tide and with short runs with the tide behind us coming back down again. It was a bit of an eye opener today. How you enter the start box, how you kill time before the start, all those things change in a strong tidal venue. We are all learning to adapt to it. People who get on top of that quickly will have an advantage.”
Star Gold medallist, Andrew Simpson, strategist for TeamOrigin, agrees that tides change the match racing game. “The pre-start is very different when you have a tidal component, but in a lot of places on the match racing circuit like the Monsoon Cup there is a lot of current, so you get used to it. It does change the game. The positioning in the box is different. If you are early and there is 2.5 knots behind you, there is no way to kill it. You can be really vulnerable because there is no way to stop the thing. Juan [Vila] has been unbelievable on getting the time to line right today.”
Racing is due to set sail at 1530 BST tomorrow, when three races are scheduled.