America's Cup crews test British sea power on home waters

Fri Jul 22, 2016 12:38pm EDT
 
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By Alexander Smith

PORTSMOUTH, England (Reuters) - Jimmy Spithill bounds from one side of his America’s Cup catamaran to the other in a couple of strides, deftly dodging the edge of the huge “wing” which drives this state-of-the-art sailing craft.

Oracle Team USA’s boat, which lifts out of the water on hydrofoils even in the light breeze, is a far cry from the more stately schooner “America” which first laid claim to the cup known as the “Auld Mug” in the same channel off southern England 165 years ago and after which sport's oldest trophy is named.

Since losing in 1851, British yachts have failed in every attempt to win back the America’s Cup, a statistic Spithill hopes will not change next year in Bermuda when he defends the trophy he won in 2013.

During a practice race ahead of the latest America’s Cup World Series event, a build-up to the 35th America's Cup itself, Spithill’s four fellow crew members are constantly on the move, bouncing off the trampoline that joins their two hulls.

They also skip through a web of ropes and controls as they harness the power of the aircraft-like wing and coax the 45 foot boat out of the water and on to its foils.

Despite a relatively light wind and calm seas, the hum of the tension in the rig and the foils slicing through the water makes for an eerie sensation, combined with an extraordinary acceleration which can see the boat reach speeds of up to 50 knots.

Skipper Spithill, who said at the launch of this weekend's event in Portsmouth that he wanted to make amends for a disappointing fifth out of six last month in Chicago, gives little away on board, but constantly watches his rivals as they jockey for position at the start of Thursday's unofficial racing.

He keeps a particular eye on home favorite Ben Ainslie, the British former Olympic sailor who has set up his own team Land Rover BAR in an effort to bring the cup home and who won in Portsmouth a year ago.   Continued...

 
Britain Sailing - America's Cup 2016 - Portsmouth - 22/7/16
Oracle team USA during a practice race
Reuters / Henry Browne
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