No one could have been more excited to receive an invitation for a day afloat with Britannia – not last century’s royal racing cutter, but the recently launched AC75, on which the hopes of a nation to return the Auld Mug to its rightful place depend. Such invitations don’t come often and everything else in the diary gets cancelled to reply in the affirmative. I had been to her launch a few days earlier; now I would see her under sail.
The invitation, however, wasn’t for a ride on board – that experience is reserved for team members only in this Cup – but that’s perhaps just as well, because from our chase boat I was able to observe that it was anything but a soft ride, and from conversations with the crew subsequently, I was appraised of the battering through which they had to go. And it was not a short day by any means. It began with a long tow from the INEOS TEAM UK Portsmouth base to the west Solent, and that took the best part of an hour. My seat was aboard an inboard-engined launch with full cabin facilities. While I envied the sailors, I knew I was going to stay dry and warm.
Only after the tow was any move made to make sail. The two-ply mainsail was hoisted slowly up the one-design mast of this new class with its twin luff grooves and we watched while this process slowly evolved. It was, like progress, a mighty slow process. Each side had to match the other. Even when the halyard locks were set, there was much to do. For us, we observed that it had taken 27 minutes to complete and we could also see for the first time the ‘badging’ on the sail – from top to bottom, an America’s Cup design, atop of “presented by Prada”, and the Union Flag. Beneath all that, just above the boom, in large letters is INEOS. Such things matter to the lifetime Cup observer.
Once that was set, it was time for the headsail. The black sail, not the biggest available, was set from the root of the bright orange bowsprit and it sported two of INEOS’s subsidiaries – Belstaff and Grenadier.
And then the fun began, with Sir Ben aiming first to raise Britannia clear of the water and secondly to maintain her in full flight on the foils – the foil arms and the foils showing clearly, white against the black of the hull. That, not surprisingly, took some time to perfect, and then came the maintenance of this situation. All the while it was watched by a ‘spy’ from the New York YC’s team – Ian ‘Soapy’ Moore – carefully noting every aspect of the INEOS team’s boat.
Back and forth went Britannia, closely attended by her tender, and it was obvious that the object was to keep her ‘flying’ for as long as was possible on each flight.
Speeds were in the region of 23-26 knots (judging by the speedometer on our launch). After half an hour, the decision was made to change to a bigger jib, which was set from the end of the bowsprit, and it was instantly noticeable that it produced an increase in speed and clearer foil riding – the speed went up to close to 30 knots.
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