Lessons learned after Swiss capsize in Barcelona
Alinghi Red Bull Racing's first ever AC75 sailing day was always going to be a milestone moment in their America's Cup campaign but it turned out to be memorable for other reasons too
Alinghi Red Bull Racing’s first sailing day aboard their AC36-generation AC75 training boat and development boat in Barcelona, Spain on the final day of August this year was always going to be a milestone moment for the revamped Swiss America’s Cup syndicate.
As it turns out though the team will remember the day not so much for their first tentative 15 minutes of AC75 sailing – including just two tacks in displacement mode – as for the sudden intense micro-storm system that engulfed them as they were about to head back to shore.
Battered by winds up to 35 knots and pelted by hailstones later described as being the size of oranges the Swiss crew had a fight on their hands to control their boat which was tied alongside one of the team’s support ribs on the port side.
As the wind rose further and the swell increased the boat started to pound on the waves before heeling precariously to leeward. At this point damage was sustained to the boat – believed largely to be caused by contact between the port foil and the rib.
The rib was disconnected and a bow line was set up, but before the tow could put in action the AC75 was blown completely over with its mast laid flat on the water. A number of the crew ended up in the sea but were quickly retrieved by support boats.
It took a few attempts to right the boat – only for it to be blown over for a second time. Eventually though the boat was pulled upright and towed back to the team base.
Maxime Bachelin – a past Swiss 420 national champion and top flight 49er sailor and now a member of the ARBR ‘driving team’ – was on board the AC75 during the incident and described the experience to Cup Insider.
“We were heading back ashore. Dropping the sail had worked well – it had been fast, so we were happy. Then suddenly we were hit by a huge storm and we capsized.
“Before the capsize I was on the back of the boat looking after the movement of the boom, so when it happened I was able to stay safe there holding on.
“We had practised our capsize drill beforehand and what worked well was that the safety crew and all the sailors knew what to do. But you learn more when you experience it rather than a drill.
“By going through this experience we learned a lot about how to get the boat back upright after a capsize. It is important to stay calm and go step by step through the process of getting the boat back the right way up.”
Back ashore and secure in the team’s hangar the Swiss AC75 was pored over by the shore team eager to assess the damage.
“The team saw almost the worst thing that can happen and everybody came out of it safe,” said Nils Frei, Alinghi Red Bull Racing coach.
“In one sense we are almost more confident for the future. We will take lessons to try to avoid such things but if it happens [again] for any reason, we know what to do.”