Friday, January 29, 2010

Sailor Profile - Dirk de Ridder

Dirk de Ridder (NED), known by his nickname of 'Cheese' on the team, has one of the coolest jobs on board the USA.

"My role on the boat is as wing sail trimmer. I operate the functions and the sheet on the wing sail, and make sure it has the correct shape. To do that, I work closely with helmsman James Spithill to make sure we have the right balance and loading on the boat," he explains.

Trimming the largest wing sail ever built is a long way from the family keelboat he used to go on sailing holidays with in the Netherlands with his parents.

"I started sailing very young with my parents on a 33-foot keelboat, and then started sailing small dinghies. That turned into sailing at national level in keelboats and I went on to sail around the world three times - getting two seconds and a first place. Then, the Olympics in Sydney and several European and World titles in anything from a Maxi yacht to a small keelboat."

The round the world win came with illbruck in the 2001 Volvo Ocean Race, the Olympic Games experience with Roy Heiner, who proved to be something of a mentor to de Ridder.

"I've had the pleasure to sail with a lot of the big names in the sport, but the guy who really took me out of Holland was Roy Heiner, who helped me a lot."

So how does sailing with the wing sail differ from sailing the trimaran with soft sails?

"The biggest change is that there is no load involved with the wing sail. With a traditional mainsail, you're really involved in the loading of the whole boat and it's very easy to overload these types of boats. But that whole aspect has gone away, which makes my job much easier. It's almost like going back to sailing a small catamaran - that's how easy the whole wing sail operation is."

"The surprise came when we started speaking about the initial design with the designers. They tell you the difference, but it's hard to comprehend how different it is. But then we started sailing small boats, the C-Class and A-Class and it's really impressive. The similarity between the small wing on those boats and the big one is they are basically identical. We have a better control system on the big wing sail, so we can do more with this than the small ones, but the way the air flows over it and the way it works is much the same."

And now, after sailing on board USA with the wing sail, will it be difficult to go back to sailing more conservative monohull designs.

"The difference between this and one of the old America's Cup boats is the difference between driving a lawnmower and a Ferrari. You can't even compare the two. These boats are so extreme, the speeds are extreme, the loads are extreme and there's an endless ability to go fast.

"So it will never feel the same, but it would be nice to have some competition because we are sailing around alone. The boats are impressive, but you get used to the speed, to the loads, to flying on one hull. I think it would be nice to have 10 or 15 boats next to you competing. That's something we've all missed."