America's Cup: Aboard the AC45 - Still pinching myself..

- 34th America’s Cup - First Racing trials in San Francisco bay

Kiwi born, but San Francisco based, sailing journalist Michelle Slade, was one of those invited out for a sail in the AC45 in San Francisco Bay on Wednesday.

Here's her report of an unforgettable day:


Yesterday I spent some 45 minutes sailing around the future racecourse area for the 34th America’s Cup on an AC45.

Yes, it happened, I was there, and I’m still reeling from the combination of incredible good fortunate to have had the opportunity and the adrenalin rush of pure unadulterated speed. My head is overcrowded with clichés as I try to relive that once in a lifetime experience (see, there I go).

Oh, and did I mention that it was all the more sweet with Russell helming for the first time since his spectacular capsize on Monday, although, I’ll admit to a moment of anxiety when Philippe Presti switched out and Russell jumped on board - the old adage about getting back on the horse came to mind as did Russell’s comments at the earlier press conference that it could take a few more bad decisions to get it right…

When the new Cup regime talked about accessibility, it never occurred to me that would include a Guest Racer Program that actually got folks with a huge range of sailing - or not - experience out on the actual boats that the teams race, particularly this early on in the action. It's almost unprecedented in Cup history, with the exception of the previous highly coveted 17th man position which was as rare to come by as hen’s teeth. For the average punter like myself, one could have perhaps won a 17th seat at a charity auction for thousands of dollars, but…probably not.

14/06/2011 - San Francisco (USA,CA) - 34th America's Cup - First Racing trails in San Francisco bay

Swathed in oversized team foulies, I was delivered by volunteer RIB from the Golden Gate Yacht Club dock out to an ORACLE RIB, as it’s an maneuver unto itself to bring a RIB alongside an AC45 which even in 'rest' mode feels like it's dying to cut loose - just pure energy.

On the ORACLE RIB, I chatted it up with bowman Simeon Tienpont, who at 29 is the youngest sailor on the Team. Simeon pointed out a few of the obvious differences between the AC45 and the version 5 Cup boats he's used to. Life on the AC45 is lean and simple, gone are the massive weighty blocks and lines, for example.But, as Tienpont who was onboard for Monday’s capsize pointed out, while the 45 is a reputedly wild and potentially dangerous machine, the case can be made that the sheer loads carried aboard the V-5 boats also did not respond well to bad crew decisions. That’s just what it is at this level.

Another related trade off is that the hefty trimmers required to man the V-5 boats are gone. Agility is the answer to getting quickly and efficiently around the 45. Point in case, after seeing Terry Hutchinson at the presser earlier in the day, he looked like he’d dropped a bunch of weight, not that he needed to, but the guys are getting a massive aerobic workout on the 45.

It was my turn to clamber aboard the 45, I got a quick introduction to the guys on Coutts 5 - Dirk 'Cheese' de Ridder, Matt Mason, Phillipe Presti, Simon Daubney and Jonno Macbeth - before being shown my spot behind the aft crossbeam. The only instruction: hold onto to the piece of yellow rubber hosing fixed on the crossbeam. And we shot off on a reach toward the Golden Gate Bridge. I did my own mental safety check, recalling that the only thing to do in the event of a capsize is to hang on. I can’t say there was ever a moment where I was white-knuckled because the sheer excitement was the more overwhelming feeling.


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