Glenn Ashby, BMW Oracle sailing coach, on his team's preparation
[Source: BMW Oracle] With the BOR 90 being handed back to the designers and boatbuilders this week for some planned modifications, Glenn Ashby, the team's sailing coach, took time out to talk about how the sailors are preparing for what is sure to be a unique episode in the long history of the America's Cup.
The 33rd edition will see, for the first time, two enormous multihulls engage in battle in a 'back to the future' type of competition. By that we mean that this edition of the Cup is a nod back towards the early days of the America's Cup, in the sense that the match will be held under the terms of the 'Deed of Gift', between just the two teams - Challenger and Defender.
But while the governing rules for the event may be over 120 years old, the boats each team has built couldn't be more cutting-edge and futuristic. BMW ORACLE Racing has been testing and trialing BOR 90, an enormous, 90-foot trimaran, off the coast of San Diego, under the watchful eye of Ashby, a multiple world champion and Olympic silver medalist in multihulls.
Testing on BOR90 continues. Video copyright BMW Oracle
Ashby has been working hard with the sailing team to translate their talent and experience in more traditional America's Cup monohulls, into the skills needed to succeed on board a lightning-quick trimaran, a process he calls ‘taming the beast’. So how fast are his charges learning their lessons?
"Surprisingly quickly," Ashby says with enthusiasm. "It's been a short, sharp learning curve, but they've all taken it on extremely well and now they're mixing it up and beating many of the best multihull sailors in the world."
Indeed they are. Earlier this year, Ashby won his sixth A-Class catamaran world championship in Australia. But James Spithill, the man charged with helming aboard BOR 90, finished in a remarkable sixth place (out of 94 starters), an impressive result for a relative newcomer to the multihull discipline.
"They are very good sailors on this team and a good sailor on any boat will be able to turn their hand to a lot of different styles and techniques of sailing. It doesn't come overnight, but they've been prepared to put in the time sailing the smaller multihulls to get their hand in it and that makes a huge difference."
In the BOR 90, the team is dealing with a boat that is being designed and built on the limits of materials and technology, so testing and development are a big focus. But Ashby has been called on to focus on the team's sailing techniques, to ensure that refining the team’s sailing skills doesn't get sacrificed in the push to develop the fastest boat possible. He thinks finding the right balance between the two is a key to overall success.
BOR during her summer sailing tests. San Diego, 17 August 2009. Photo copyright Gilles Martin-Raget. BMW Oracle
"The development of the boat never stops," Ashby says. "In this case, there are two giant multihulls preparing to go head to head, so the performance side, the boat speed side, is naturally, and rightly, very high on the priority list.
“But at the same time, teamwork, co-ordination of the trimming and steering, is still important. That's where I've been very proactive, in terms of keeping the guys focused on the actual sailing of the boat itself rather than it just being a technology race. At the end of the day, it's all well and good having the best tools in the world, but if you don't use them correctly, you're wasting a lot of energy. So I've been very passionate about keeping the guys focused on the correct trim of the boat and pushing the boat really hard. That's how we're going to sail fast."
While the focus will remain on testing the boat when it returns to the water next month, the sailors will soon have to think about how to sail a match race between two monstrous multihulls. The difference between approaching the start line in the races in February, compared to previous America’s Cups, is like comparing chalk and cheese. How does Ashby see it happening?
“Hopefully very carefully,” he says, laughing. “I think both teams will be very sensible in their approach to the safety side of things. To be honest, I think the maneuverability of both of the boats is going to be such that the boat-on-boat, traditional match racing pre-start stuff isn't going to be as tactical as what it has been in the past.
“However, as always it will be critical to get off the starting line in good shape and without any penalties. So I think the first part of the pre-start might not be so exciting but I think the final minute before the start will be something that's absolutely incredible, with both boats coming in at very high speed, side-by-side, very close to each other. There could be some very interesting situations. But it's not going to be traditional match racing, as we usually see in the America's Cup.”
The sailing team for BMW ORACLE Racing, under Ashby’s tutelage, will return to the waters off San Diego in October, as the countdown to the 33rd America’s Cup continues.