We are in Le Bouveret, the temporary base of Alinghi, the 33rd America’s Cup defender, situated on the easternmost point of lake Geneva. Alinghi 5, the team’s brand new catamaran, has now been undergoing the first sailing trials and tests for 11 consecutive days and on the eve of her “parade” to Geneva we talked to Murray Jones, strategist of the team in the 32nd America’s Cup and now coordinator of these tests.
Valencia Sailing: How have the first 11 days of testing been?
Murray Jones: They have been very well. We have been working through a brand new boat and totally new systems and concepts. Working through all these aspects and debugging has been our main priority and it has been going quite well. We could have done with a little bit more wind, we were lucky in the first few days but then it got lighter. We have had from 0 to probably 11 knots and we could do with a little bit more than that to press up the boat a little bit harder. It would be nice to have some breeze between 10 and 15 knots.
Valencia Sailing: How steep has the learning curve been for you so far?
Murray Jones: In one way it was steep but in another it wasn’t. I didn’t have any experience on big multihulls beforehand but being involved with the conception of the design and every step of the design the rig and the entire boat all the way through in the last 18 months I know this yacht inside out. Now it is about applying these things on the water and there haven’t been too many things that were surprising.
Valencia Sailing: So, could you say that what you’ve seen so far is what you were expecting a month ago?
Murray Jones: Yes. When you look at the design and the loads everything appears huge but when you sail on that yacht you don’t quite appreciate the loads that are there and I think this is one of the dangers of sailing such a yacht, underestimating the power of the boat.
Valencia Sailing: How dangerous will it be racing on these yachts?
Murray Jones: I think it will be dangerous because you never know what could break and there are hundreds of things that could break. As a result, we warn the guys onboard to look after themselves and be in a position so that they can look around themselves, not be in a fine line of a block look what is loaded and not be in the way if something broke.
Valencia Sailing: Have you come close to a situation during these tests that could even be dangerous?
Murray Jones: No and we didn’t break anything important. We just broke a halyard but that was due to a slight crew error. That was the only thing that broke and we are pretty satisfied with that.
Valencia Sailing: How far have you pushed the yacht in these tests?
Murray Jones: We pushed her as far as we could possibly do with the wind speeds we had. Our top speed was in the twenties and as I said before we just need more need to push her harder.
Valencia Sailing: Do you feel like a kid in a candy store sailing on Alinghi 5?
Murray Jones: Absolutely, but not just sailing. It’s a fantastic project to be associated with. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to be involved with such a new project where there are no rules and you are free to do whatever you like. There are obviously budget limitations for us, just like in any project.
Valencia Sailing: Was your budget the only limitation you had?
Murray Jones: Yes, basically it was time and budget. We obviously had a limited time, the Cup will take place in February and in addition there were a few moments in the last 18 months that it could have been earlier. There were some projects we would have liked to take on but we decided we wouldn’t because there was not enough time to fully develop them. There were time limitations and budget as well. We haven’t gone overboard since there were financial limits.
Valencia Sailing: Having no limitations other than time and budget is there anything on the yacht that could be considered revolutionary?
Murray Jones: I think the S-foils are quite revolutionary. It’s a pretty clever idea for a catamaran, a nice solution to the problem of sailing upwind and trying to optimize downwind as well.
Valencia Sailing: Are there any advances that will eventually trickle down to monohull racing yachts like conventional America’s Cup boats or the TP52′s for example?
Murray Jones: There are many, many things that will trickle down to yacht racing. I’m sure that in the next few years we will see lots of them, the rigging being one of them. It’s incredibly strong, light and low windage. There are a lot of smaller things where extensive research has been made and that will be adopted by other classes of yachts.
Valencia Sailing: Are these yachts more physically demanding for the crew, compared to the ones used in the last Cup?
Murray Jones: No I wouldn’t say that. The sails, the gennaker are quite bigger but this is not an aspect of high priority in a Deed-of-Gift match. In such a race the chances are you might put the gennaker up only once and that will be it. You might not even have to drop it until you get to the finish line. The boat handling aspect of the project hasn’t been a high priority for us; we concentrated on speed and how to trim the boat for speed rather than handling the boat.
Valencia Sailing: One aspect that certainly changes from the past is the engine for the hydraulic systems. Putting any legal issues apart, was it a gamble? Have you had any problem so far?
Murray Jones: We’ve had some problems as the engine, like the entire yacht, has been specifically developed for that purpose but they will be tuned as we go. It’s a much more sophisticated system that just a simple engine, it’s controlled by a computer and there is some very high-level technology in it, the way it operates relatively to the loads that get applied. There will be a continuous tuning during the next few months.
Valencia Sailing: Would you, as a sailor, like to see it implemented in the future America’s Cup class?
Murray Jones: I’m not sure, it depends on the size of the boats that you will sail, let’s say 100 feet long.
Valencia Sailing: Would you have included it in the AC90 for example?
Murray Jones: You could but I don’t think you would because it’s still a manageable size of boat. In the AC90 the jibs weren’t that big and I don’t think it would be necessary but on a monohull over 100 feet long then you could consider it. It’s definitely an improvement for trimming the boat and you get more out of the boat speedwise because you can trim the sails much quicker than you would manually, using pedestals and grinders. In that aspect it’s more interesting for the trimmers because there is much more you can do to get the speed out of the boat but obviously the grinding aspect and the physical side are big parts of the sport of sailing.
Valencia Sailing: Shorter term, you have the “boat parade” on Saturday and then what is your schedule?
Murray Jones: Just a few more days of sailing and then we will pack up and move to the Mediterranean.
Valencia Sailing: Is it going to be a logistical nightmare to move the yacht over there?
Murray Jones: We surely hope it’s not. It’s pretty scary to see the big boat being airlifted by the helicopter. When we brought her from the boatyard to the lake everybody in the team were holding their breath, especially when she was put down on the water. Obviously taking the boat from here and flying her all the way across the Alps is not child’s play. We obviously don’t expect any problems, but then there is the mast and lots of stuff we will have to take with us in Genoa and set up again over there. It’s been great sailing here in Switzerland and it served its purpose by being close to the boatyard in order to carry out all modification we wanted to do.
Valencia Sailing: Have you carried out any modifications yet?
Murray Jones: It’s an ongoing process and there will be modifications done between now and when we sail in Genoa. We have found that sailing on the light is quite light air and the lake can get quite small for this size of boat. It will be nice to have more room and be able to sail in one direction for quite longer time. It’s difficult to simulate a 20-mile leg of the Deed-of-Gift match on the lake. You can have 3 different wind directions in 20 miles.
Valencia Sailing: Why didn’t you then fly directly from the boatyard to Genoa?
Murray Jones: Because we wanted to shake out and sort out the systems close to the boatyard where she was built. There are thousands of components on the yachts and we can have them built the same day or the next day, if required. We are finetuning the boat here rather than doing performance analysis but when we get on the Mediterranean we will have more space and that’s when we will start looking at the performance. That’s when we will have more space to go in one direction and in a steadier breeze.
Valencia Sailing: Has the boat been optimized for a light-air venue?
Murray Jones: We have obviously thought about the wind range we designed the boat around but it’s not a narrow band, not at all. When we designed her we didn’t have a venue at all. We will be equally competitive in 15 knots of breeze.