Wednesday was a statement day for ORACLE TEAM USA. The team sailed both of its AC72s on San Francisco Bay, becoming the first America's Cup team in this cycle to go two-boat testing.
It represents a massive achievement for the shore team as well as the sailing crew. While Emirates Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa Challenge have lined up together before, in-house, two boating allows for more sharing of valuable performance data. It's a big step forward.
“It was the best day of the campaign,” said skipper Jimmy Spithill when he returned to shore. Spithill, like the other sailors on the team, was beaming. “It has taken a lot of work and a lot of energy to get two full crews up to this level, to operationally get to this level, to launch and have two boats ready to go. A lot of credit goes to the shore and build teams."
Remember, this is a team that couldn't even launch and sail one AC72 as the year came to a close just six months ago. The defender had capsized and seriously damaged its first AC72 in October. At the time, it's second boat was months from being ready to sail.
But now, with the Summer of Racing just around the corner, and with the challengers preparing for Louis Vuitton Cup competition beginning July 7, ORACLE TEAM USA has shown that it can have its own race series at a time of its choosing.
See more images of ORACLE TEAM USA two-boat testing
"We have two competitive boats,” Spithill said. “That’s a good position to be in as you never know what’s around the corner. For us to have two boats, with two race wings, and have a lot of depth in our sailing team, it certainly gives us a chance to produce more boat speed. And, from a racing point of view, it allows us to really learn the race track and build a playbook.”
Spithill was at the helm of one boat, with Olympic champion Ben Ainslie at the wheel of the other. Conditions were moderate for San Francisco Bay, with winds in the 9-12 knot range, and the sea state just about as flat as the Bay will ever be.
“It was foggy at the beginning," said Ainslie. "It was a bit eerie as we were sailing together and at one point you couldn’t see the other boat. But, the fog cleared and we had some fantastic conditions. We learned a huge amount.”
For the challengers, I would expect the sight of ORACLE TEAM USA whizzing about the Bay in two boats will not be a welcome sign. The defender its flexing its muscles. The challengers will be no doubt be eager to see over the coming days how much real strength lies behind the muscular pose.
- Peter Rusch