A Very Deep Hole

Large feet on the netting of a large tri: Photo by Kimball Livingston

Wuzzat above? Big feet on the netting of a big boat: © Kimball Livingston

In San Diego, as I write, Larry Ellison’s BMW Oracle Racing Team is showing off the 90-foot trimaran that they say will be their boat for an America’s Cup match six months from now, and Ellison is explaining that, in his view, Hillary didn’t climb Everest “because it was there, but because he was there; he was there on his own voyage of discovery.”

No doubt it’s been that and more for Ellison. Also on the bill is Harrison Ford, the actor, who notes, “I am distinguished in this company by knowing little about sailing and very little about the America’s Cup. I’m here for the ride. The little I do know about sailing I learned from my friend Jimmy Buffet, who explained to me that a boat is a hole in the water and you pour money into it.”

He gives a little nod to the big tri in the water behind him.

“It must be a very deep hole.”

Call this event a commissioning, though already, in a tent alongside San Diego Harbor, the team has built new floats (the outer hulls) for this machine, and it’s likely that newer-generation floats and who knows what else are in the pipeline. Wing masts?

“We’ve obviously been looking at wing masts,” was the allowance from BMOR CEO Russell Coutts.  “They achieve a higher lift coefficient than a soft-sail setup. However, they are complicated. It would be a huge challenge.”

Notice he didn’t say they wouldn’t go to hard sails. Everything in this game is a challenge. One announcement today was that James Spithill will helm (Coutts will be aboard, he said, “if it’s best for the team”).  Spithill’s take on the overall process is that, “All the members of the team, from designers to engineers to the sailors have been doing things they’ve never done before. ”

BMOR will certainly, however, install an engine and powered winches. The team leaders say they don’t want to do that, but it will allow them to race with fewer crew (“loing my mates” Spithill called it) and now that Alinghi has gone down that road, they have no choice.  Coutts also voiced the opinion I’ve held for some time, that there is a chance for this to be a spectacular match, when we actually get two boats together. Here’s Coutts again regarding the BMOR trimaran and the Alinghi catamaran: “The two boats are within a couple of meters of each other in beam, and perhaps a meter and a half in length overall. There is every chance that we could see exciting, close racing.”

Alinghi has announced tiny Ras al Khamaih in the United Arab Emirates as the venue for a match in February, and that is still an open book, apparently. Ellison commented, “We think nothing bad about the UAE, but we are concerned about the suitability of this particular spot.” Russell Coutts expanded upon that, saying, “We do not believe the UAE is rules compliant, but we’re going to look at the conditions,  and look at the logistical support, before we decide whether or not to oppose the choice.”

On Sailing a Monster Tri

It’s no surprise to find that Spithill will be at the wheel for the racing, but now that it’s official, it’s of interest to hear him say that, “Everybody who sails these big boats knows that you have to be on edge to be going fast. Without a doubt this is the best sailing I’ve ever done. We’ve seen speeds in the forties.”

At which point Tom Ehman interjects, “Tell them about going faster than an ACC boat with the mast alone.”


The team will probably go to the gunfight with three rigs of different sizes. “We’ve been sailing with the big rig for a few weeks now,” Spithill says. “It’s a handful. “The thing I notice is how windy it is [the boat is always going fast] and the wheels are a long way from the trimmers. What you want to do with something like this is carry as much sail as you can, upwind. Downwind you just hang on. It’s all about getting that middle hull out of the water. Sea state governs how you sail, because if the waves get up, you have three hulls pushing through the water. ”

Russell Coutts puts in a final comment about sailing angles: “What is remarkable is how narrow the wind angles are, both upwind and reaching. A normal boat [normal high performance boat, I think he means] might look at 20 degrees upwind. In these boats, that’s normal downwind.  And when the boat is really at speed, it’s out of the water riding on the foils. There’s an opportunity to have a spectacular event. This won’t be like 1988.

“A monohull is more suited to America’s Cup racing – you shouldn’t mess with the America’s Cup too much, but a different series, say we had 10 of these boats on the line – the sport needs that.”

And, this being live, you will have read this after I wrote it first person, but what the heck. I’m being called to the boat. Wanted to put up more pics but—

Hit publish. Hit publish. Bye bye.

Suns New Jerseys