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Our Ride on an AC 45

The proof, in case you needed any, that this editor got the short experience of sailing on an AC 45.

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

After a week of non-stop media and VIP outreach, Oracle Racing turned its attention to race practice for the first AC World Series in August. Latitude 38 Associate Publisher John Arndt and this editor were invited out to experience the AC45 yesterday. Although this mini heatwave we’ve been having left us wondering whether there’d be any breeze, by the time we were driving over the Golden Gate Bridge on the way to the team’s base at Pier 80, The Slot was already starting to breathe.

We got to the base in time to see Oracle 4 and Oracle 5 wheeled out of the shed, wings raised and in the water, ready to go, in what couldn’t have been more than 20 minutes per boat. Rows of shipping containers, Jet Skis and chase boats lined the dark, massive shed, that houses the team’s local operations, not to mention the wing from USA 17. If working for a Cup team is all glitz and glamour, you wouldn’t know it by seeing this temporary base. The team’s clothing and equipment container served as our changing room, and we managed to get out of there having resisted the temptation to nick an Oracle Racing belt or switch out all the gear in the box marked "L. Ellison" with extra-smalls of everything.

Because the team was on a tight schedule to get their practice going, we knew from the outset that our time on board would be limited. ACRM would be out there testing all the regatta systems, and you just can’t keep helicopters waiting indefinitely. So, instead of jumping on from a chase boat, we were able to leave the dock on board — Arndt with the ‘Facebookers’ aboard James Spithill’s Oracle 4, and this editor aboard Russell Coutts’ Oracle 5 with the ‘Flintstoners’. As we were preparing to shove off, word came down that Russell was stuck in a conference call and wouldn’t be joining the boat until later. So Aussie Darren Bundock — a double Olympic silver medallist in the Tornado and three time F-18 World champion — took over as helmsman. A couple former Alinghi/Team New Zealand sailors — and winners of multiple Cups — Murray Jones and Simon Daubney, rounded out the crew on Oracle 5, along with Volvo Ocean Race and AC veterans Matt Mason and Simeon Tienpont.

Leaving the dock in the small turning basin next to the shed, the boat instantly leapt forward, attaining a low hum as Bundock bore away down the channel toward the Bay. After a tow up to about Pier 17, where we finally found the breeze, the crew got to work, settling in for a long beat. The guest spot on an AC45 is behind the aft crossbeam where there are a couple "oh shit" handles between the running backstay blocks, and we nervously inquired about the loads on the runners as this editor is generally averse to putting his head, or any part of his body, near a highly loaded running backstay block. Jones told us that there’s a load pin on one end of the cable that runs from the prod to the dolphin striker and underneath the tramp back to the aft crossbeam. They’re winding 11.5 tons on that cable, although the loads on the runner are much lighter.

As we matched up side-by-side, I could almost hear Bundock thinking, "Why did I get the 105-kilo guy and Spithill get the 75-kilo guy?" as this editor’s contribution to (at that point, undesirable) transom immersion allowed Oracle 4 to shear off us as we trucked upwind in the low- to mid-teens in 10 to 15 knots of breeze; the boats are extremely weight-sensitive. After about four or five tacks, both boats popped out the Gate, and our short ride was over as the chase boat picked us up. When you get aboard an Oracle Racing chase boat, you’re likely to see a few faces you might recognize, and in this case it was design team member, coach and multiple Cup winner Mike Drummond who was taking video of the maneuvers while Volvo Ocean Race navigator Ian Moore worked away on a laptop. After a quick blast into the Golden Gate YC, our short day on the water was over, but our lasting impression is that the AC34 is going to be one gnarly ride.

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About to board our Alaskan Airlines flight yesterday morning from San Francisco to Puerto Vallarta, where we would pick up Profligate for a Baja Bash, we got the news the flight was postponed indefinitely.