52s ready to rumble
The 2013 52 Super Series sets sail today with two scheduled races at Quantum Key West and if early indicators from the informal training races which have taken place over recent days are a yardstick then the established form teams might not have it all their own way.
With five days of windward-leeward racing planned, the six 52s from both sides of the Atlantic, should enjoy a good range of wind conditions. Naturally the teams would choose to dial up the best Key West conditions, sunshine with 15-18 knots of breeze and a useful sea state each and every day, but forecasters anticipate light airs to provide a gentle opening to a 52 fleet season which spans nine months and six regattas, two in the USA and four in Europe. And although the training days have seen overcast skies, and humid daytime weather, sunshine is promised.
Reigning 52 Super Series champions Azzurra have made a key change to their afterguard, bringing in Croatian Tomislav Basic. That his big strength is match racing does not directly indicate that the team which represents the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda are anticipating regular duels with Quantum Racing - such as characterised so much of last season - insists fiery Italy tactician Vasco Vascotto but having his skills in their armoury is just another component in their drive to cover every base:
“We were looking for someone who could bring us that match racing experience.” Vascotto emphasises, “ We want to be relaxed and know we can do what we need to if we get into that match race situation. We have that strength in our pocket. It is about being prepared but not necessarily a signal we are going in that direction. We are ready to ensure we are not weak on that side. We don’t want to be fighting like we did at the end of last season in Valencia, but we are ready.”
Quantum Racing, who won their class here last year, have owner Doug DeVos steering and at the World Championship in early March in Miami. Their long term goal is to win the 52 SuperSeries titles, but making sure DeVos – owner of the team and enthusiastic principal sponsor of the regatta – enjoys maximum satisfaction is part of the focus this week for skipper Ed Baird and the team: “The objective is to have a week which we can look back on and say ‘that was really good, that was fun’,” says Baird. "That is number one priority. If we won the event than that would be fabulous. But more importantly it is about just trying to get better every day and see where we end up."
Ed Reynolds, Quantum Racing Project Manager added: “Ed Baird will do tactics and Andy Horton will do strategy and just integrate Doug [DeVos]. For all the commitments he makes, everything he has done for this event and for 52 SuperSeries this is our chance to make sure he has some fun. That is a major priority, but of course we always want to win. Also we are working on a lot of new technology with the sails. We have some new fibres we are testing here, a number of new films and that is also a big focus for us, making sure the next evolution is validated.”
For each of the teams the drive is to maintain a high level of consistency from the very start of the season. Niklas Zennström’s Rán, which finished third overall in 2012 and Tony Langley’s Gladiator have both taken different steps to enhance their challenge to the top two teams this season. Zennström says they are looking to simply cut down on the occasional, but costly bad races, while Langley has made a fundamental change to the configuration of Gladiator. A new, deeper keel fin should get them on terms with the newest generation boats.
“We have had some good practice racing here," said Zennström. "We have had a first and third in today’s training races, so we are in good shape and this is a lovely place to sail. This is the third time we have been here. We were here last year with the Mini-Maxi and in 2008 with the Ran 1 (original TP52). We like it here, it is a good place to sail and a nice regatta.
"Last season we were third and now we are going to be doing everything we can to beat Quantum Racing and Azzurra - that is our target over the season. We can win but everyone has been getting better. Looking back at last year for us we are going to be about minimising mistakes. Last year we had a few really bad races which set us back. So for us, consistency is what we need to be better at.
"It is great to be having six regattas this season. And it is nice to be starting here and it is great to have Interlodge and Rio here on the starting line. It also great to have mostly owner drivers competing here.”
Chris Larson tactician on Gladiator added: “We have had four days of good practice, lots of starts, picking up where we left off last year. Having good consistent scores here, making sure you are not last or next to last here and can stay in the top half of the fleet, that is what I am looking for here. I have been here about 20 or 22 times. On the big boat course here, versus the other two, the current in the shipping channel goes out and so there is some tidal effect.
"We have made some changes to the boat and it is pretty impressive. We feel good, even if we have not had a lot of stability sailing yet. We feel like we can put the bow down a little more than we could before and sail a tenth of a knot or two faster for speed without losing VMG, which we could not do before with the old configuration. The newer boats can sail at a tenth or two faster and not lose VMG and we had to sail a high, slow VMG mode now we can put the bow down and compete and that’s exciting for us.”
The American boats Austin Gwen Fragomen's Interlodge and Manouch Moshayedi's Rio (ex-Synergy) have already proven competitive in the tune up racing and both will be looking to repeat that when racing starts in earnest Monday. Phip Halowell, upwind trimmer on Interlodge, reports: “We’ve been racing together for a year now, and I think we are fast and our corners will be fine. But the starts will be tough, so we worked on that today to learn to shift gears for positioning off the line. These other teams are really good, they won’t make mistakes, so we have to make sure we can be at the same level.”
Main trimmer and boat captain Keith Kilpatrick says the Rio team is working hard to learn the boat, which was just delivered to them in November. “We felt we had reached a performance peak with the last boat, so getting this new boat that is a sistership to Quantum will give us the chance to be on the same level as the others. But we have to learn this boat, so this will be important for us this week.”
Weather for the week will be a good Key West mixture: everything from light to fresh to challenge the teams assembled here. The regatta will likely start out very light and patchy Monday but then things improve for the rest of the week. Conditions will become fresh on Tuesday and into early Wednesday. During the day on Wednesday, moderating winds are expected, but still could be fresh in strength up to 20 knots on Thursday. Easing winds are expected for the finale Friday when the wind veers more into a trade wind pattern, but still moderate in strength.