America's Cup Diary - January 2006
Gavin Brady was one of two high profile resignations from BMW Oracle Racing last year, with tactician John Kostecki having left a few weeks earlier. Brady clearly wasn't happy with being moved off the helm to call tactics, while skipper Chris Dickson stepped up to the wheel. But despite his sudden departure, Brady wishes the team well, and hasn't ruled out the prospect of returning this side of Valencia 2007.
"Never say never," he told me in an interview in Hobart recently, after Brady had just completed the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race aboard the New Zealand Maxi yacht, Konica Minolta. "I left on pretty good terms with Chris [Dickson]. We're still good friends. But I wasn't enjoying it and I told Chris I wasn't going to stick around just for the money. If I was going to stay, it had to be for the right reasons."
It is clear that despite being on the outside looking in, Brady still has a lot of affection for the America's Cup and will be back in the game at some point. Asking his views on the forthcoming Cup, Brady sees Valencia as offering some very specific challenges to both sailors and designers.
Brady spent a lot of time training with BMW Oracle just off the breakwater on the Valencian sea-front, where the America's Cup finals will take place. "The race track is such that you can never start on port in Valencia," asserts Brady. In the middle of the day, the sun heats up all the black tarmac that covers the enormous container port nearby, creating its local thermal effect but killing any breeze close to shore. "So you've got the black tar-sealed container port," he explains, "plus you've got the backwash off the breakwater, and during racing you'll have most of the spectator boats on the right."
The upshot of these three factors is that to start on the right hand side of the course would be suicide, as the chopped up wind and water will leave you bobbing up and down while your rival sails away unimpeded on the left. "If you start on port, or if you are forced to tack away straight away, you're very unlikely to be leading around the first mark," he says. "So you've got a situation where helmsmen have got to be able to get good starts and live for three minutes on starboard tack, then you can look at tacking over to the right."
This comes in sharp contrast to the unpredictability of the Hauraki Gulf in Auckland, where anything could happen. To some, the predictability of Valencia sounds like a recipe for boredom, but for Brady it presents a fascinating challenge. "To me, it's an interesting Formula One situation where you've got to build a piece of equipment specifically for this track. It's not just catching Alinghi but developing something specifically for this race course. You've got to tailor-make the boat."
Brady says that any team that can win the right-hand side of the start and has good enough pace to stay there has a great chance of winning the America's Cup. Right now though, no surprises, the team most likely to be able to do that on current form would be the Defenders. "Alinghi have an amazing ability to hold height," says Brady, who has nothing but admiration for the dominance of the Swiss. "To gain height in a yacht, that's a difficult thing to do. Sailing low and fast is easy, anyone can do that. But to make a yacht go into such a high mode shows a lot of communication between the design team and the sailors. They're a very sailor-driven programme.
"They have an ability to accelerate very quickly, and then they are able to convert that into pointing ability. When they come out of tack they can get up to speed in, say, 30 seconds compared with most boats' 40 seconds. It's not just the keel, it's actually a very standard looking package when you see their boat, but it's their sails as well. The ‘aero' part of the package talks very well with the ‘hydro'."
Brady attributes part of their success to having a ‘live-in' designer. "When you see Rolf Vrolijk [Alinghi's chief designer] living in Valencia, full-time with the team, and going to work each day side by side with the team, that's very powerful. There's a big difference between being there and just visiting there."
Merely getting to the same standard as SUI-75, Alinghi's all-conquering boat of the 2005 season, will be hard enough for most teams. Meanwhile Alinghi are only likely to get stronger with their next boats. Transferring the good elements of SUI-75 to a new hull will be much easier than building it up from scratch as many of the challengers are having to.
Alinghi's ability to point high off the start line could be their killer tool. "They've already got that mode in their pocket. I suspect they'll be able to transfer that ability to their next boats. I think it's going to take the challengers a huge amount of effort to get to the high mode that SUI-75 displays." If Valencia really is as one-tracked as Brady suggests, then for the general public it may not be the most thrilling of spectacles. But it may also provide the perfect test for designers and sailors, and to sailing purists that is surely what the America's Cup is all about.