Friday, August 27, 2010

Spithill, Ashby all tied up

BMW ORACLE Racing skipper Jimmy Spithill and sailing team coach Glenn Ashby were shaking their heads when they hit the shore.

“They’re just too fast downwind,” said Spithill.

“We keep looking around downwind going, ‘Look out, here they come!’” quipped Ashby.

Glenn and Jimmy

Despite the disbelief, the match-race final of the International C Class Catamaran Championship stands tied, 1-1. The winner is the first to 5 points.

Challengers Spithill and Ashby, aboard Alpha, won an exciting first race.

Defenders Fred Eaton and Magnus Clarke, aboard Canaan, won the second, pulling away on the second and third laps for a sizable margin at the finish.

The difference? The wind strength.

A beautiful 12- to 15-knot southerly blew for the first race and Alpha was able to pace Canaan downwind.

But Canaan, which sports a wing that is two and a half feet taller, is particularly devastating downwind in winds less than 10 knots. So when the windstrength fell to 8 knots at the start of Race 2 and 6 knots through its duration, Canaan couldn’t be touched.

“I’d say the crossover is more like 12 knots,” Ashby said.

Canaan is happy to have that speed advantage because Spithill and Ashby were dominant in both pre-starts. Spithill is a past match racing world champion. Ashby was the sailing team coach for the 33rd America’s Cup. Together they’ve reviewed enough film of match racing maneuvers to fill a vault in Hollywood.

So it was no surprise that Ashby, the helmsman, and Spithill chased Eaton and Clarke around the start box in both races.

The Aussies size up the Canadians during the pre-start of Race 2

In the first race, Ashby and Spithill gained a huge jump off the line when Eaton stalled out twice within a 70-second period. The Aussies led the Canadians by approximately 45 seconds at the windward mark, but at the leeward mark the advantage was approximately 20 seconds. Such is the downwind speed of Canaan.

With the windstrength dropping to about 10 knots, the two crews were on a yo-yo for the rest of the race. Ashby and Spithill made nice gains upwind, but Eaton and Clarke mauled those gains downwind.

Eaton and Clarke had a better performance in the pre-start of Race 2, although at times it looked like they were in serious trouble. But with about 45 seconds to the start Eaton and Clarke were on the line with a nice hole to leeward.

The Aussies (right) chase the Canadians, who are about to jibe, in Race 1

Ashby and Spithill were slow outside the boat end, and it seemed they’d be content to start to windward. But then the crew sheeted on and dug to leeward of Eaton and Clarke. The Canadians got slow again with the Aussies right to leeward, and moments after starting were forced to tack away.

Ashby and Spithill sailed a workmanlike windward leg and led by about 15 seconds at the first mark, but with the wind down around 8 knots it was only a matter of time before Canaan used its incredible ability to sail lower and faster while flying the windward hull. That’s the result of a taller rig with higher center of effort that enables the boat to heel more. (Read yesterday's post for more design discussion.)

Fred Eaton (helm) and Magnus Clarke show their devastating downwind mode

Late on the first run Eaton and Clarke were trailing Ashby and Spithill, but then found a fanning puff to leeward of the Aussies and sailed 20 degrees lower towards the leeward mark. The Canadians jibed in front of the Aussies and led around the leeward mark. There was little the Aussies could do at that point, and the Canadians gained a measure of revenge for the pre-start shenanigans.

Racing is set to resume tomorrow morning at 10:00 am local, an hour earlier than scheduled. The race committee hopes to find an early morning breeze to run races because at least another four are needed to determine the winner.

“Bring on 20 knots,” declared Spithill.

“It’s just nice when you can hook in and sail without having to go in and out all the time,” Ashby reasoned.

Canaan (left) has a rig that is two and a half feet taller than Alpha

Canaan leads around the second windward mark of Race 2

Glenn and Jimmy doin' the wild thing

(All pictures courtesy Christophe Launay)