Alinghi head trimmer Simon Daubney Alinghi head trimmer Simon Daubney


Now on his seventh America's Cup Alinghi headsail trimmer Simon Daubney tells about his role

Thursday January 28th 2010, Author: James Boyd, Location: Spain

No America’s Cup is complete without Alinghi uber-headsail trimmer Simon Daubney, originally part of Russell Coutts' Cup winning posse that made the transition to Switzerland from Team New Zealand after the Kiwi’s successful defence in 2000. Impressively Daubney is now on his seventh America's Cup following his debut on board the ‘plastic fantastic’ KZ7 in Fremantle.

Compared to his previous experiences, Daubney is finding the defence of the 33rd AC very different. "Normally at this stage as a team we’d be so comfortable on all our crossovers and all our ranges, what is our best sail upwind and our best sail downwind, etc and we are still learning fast here. It is all coming together now, but normally we would be ‘working on how to get out of a dial up in 2.5 knots and below' and we'd spend a week working on that. Now it’s a case of forgetting all these fine little points, because we have been pushed for time with this program." He adds this is one of their chief fears they have about their American counterparts – they have had almost a year more than them training on the water.

Aside from the difference between the relative preparation times of the teams, and their choice of weapon, the Swiss boat having two hulls and the American one having three and a phenomenal solid wing rig, Daubney reckons that when it comes to the outcome of the 33rd AC a lot will still come down to the sailing. "The conditions we have seen out there can vary a lot on a 20 mile leg, so positioning the boats on the course is going to be key. If you get it wrong and the other boat has even got a little bit more breeze than you, they are gone. The handling is a huge part as well: If you get a tangle in a sheet in a gybe or something, you have lost 2km by the time you have settled down and get going again. I read a quote from Russell [Coutts] that ‘the fastest boat will win’, and that has certainly always been the case, but with this one because of the conditions and the longer course and the fact that it is the best of three, maybe that won’t necessarily be the case. It will be interesting.”

Daubney says they are regularly practicing their boat handling and when out training have been walking the courses, albeit generally on around a 50% scale and particularly the race two format with the two reaching legs replacing the run.

He agrees it will also come down to which boat breaks least. "Even though they are such big boats and huge platforms, the weight is so critical and the scale of the boats for an inshore course has not been done before, so it has been a huge task for the designers and engineers to build stuff that will hold together, but won’t be too heavy," says Daubney. "You could argue it is even more critical than on the Version 5 boats. There are some things that cannot break, that would be catastrophic. We have looked at those and upped their safety factors. But I am just full of respect and admiration for the designers and engineers: How you come up with a boat like this from a clean sheet of paper is fantastic. It is the most fun sailing I’ve had."

Talking to the team over the last months, we have gained the impression that with the huge load sensing fibre optic lattice, its tiny tentacles reaching out to all the key areas of Alinghi 5 and the accuracy to which the team have got their alarm system to warn them of impending disaster, this has taken some of the magic and intuition out of sailing the boat. Daubney acknowledges they have got to the stage where are used to the characteristics of the boat that they can second guess when alarms will go and when they have to back off. "We have got better at it, so that when an alarm goes off now we know what it is and that we were on edge. The other thing is that you get dynamic spikes in the load that might trip an alarm. You might be working within the safe working load and the loads will suddenly spike and the alarm will go off. So you have to balance that a little bit."

However he warns that the loads on board are not to be trifled with. "That is the strange thing about sailing on the boat: It is quiet, it’s graceful, it’s smooth, but if you want to get someone’s attention just ease the jib sheet 5mm and just watch everybody jump! The loads are just unbelievable and they have done a great job of keeping it all together."

Daubney of course spends most of his time on board looking up at the headsail, and his job this time is slightly different because he gets to push a button rather than yell at grinders. Otherwise, disappointingly, he says his job is much the same as it has always been. "I’ve got the same numbers on my display as far as targets and true wind angles and the optimum settings. I guess in some ways with a multihull you follow the mainsail trim more than on the V5 boats, where often you’d just look after your own sail, independent of the main. With this boat, when the traveller is going down I am going outboard and twisting and when the traveller is coming up I’m coming inboard and closing the leach up again to get the whole sail plan working as one, more than you would on a V5 boat.”

As to the aim, he says: “you are trying to control a constant heel angle, as you don’t want the hull coming up. So you try to work in unison more and that’s also because things are happening faster with the gusts and reactions. And the other thing is that even though it is such a big boat you can trim dynamically, to effectively reduce the rudder movement, which is basically a brake every time you adjust it. And the other part is just keeping an ear out for what the tactical implications are and what’s required. There is a huge range of speeds you can get: for a small 3-4 degree change in TWA, it might be a 4-5 knot difference in speed. So there is more variation and you have to know about the mode required, so we have been working on that as well.”

Obviously the amount of apparent wind being generating on board is colossal compared to a Version 5 boat. On board multihulls like Alinghi 5 there is constantly a near gale force wind passing through the slot. Thus trimmers have to react faster, but Daubney says this is compensated by having the hydraulic winches that provide instant power.

Due to the apparent wind there is also no sense of being ‘cracked off’ when turning down wind. "The apparent wind upwind and downwind is very very similar, so we have a few different options there - you can go a little deeper and flying lower or not flying or putting the bow up a bit and going faster."

On Version 5 boats, crews had the ability to adjust mast rake on the fly, but on Alinghi 5 they can also cant the towering wingmast up to weather - and it is rig specialist Murray Jones who has this responsibility on the Swiss cat. Typically Daubney says they have the rig fully canted whenever they are in hull flying conditions. This positions the mast vertically or slightly to weather. "We also put some cant in when we are going upwind non-flying as well, just to take some of the stretch of the rigging out and making sure that the rig is upright or a little over the wind," he adds.

The AC33 multihulls are probably the fastest sailing boats in the world upwind, certainly inshore, and Daubney says that they have been trying to analyse how the BMW Oracle Racing solid wing will perform compared to Alinghi 5 and what they can do to counter it. "We have set the boat up so we can get very good upwind VMG, but we have also been developing a fast mode as well. We realise that the wing will be a pretty good tool for them in terms of being able to sail in different modes and being able to depower when the apparent comes forward, and to be able to instantly change. Theoretically, when you are depowering with the wing it should have less drag and on these boats you start depowering pretty early, but exactly where that cross over point is I’m not too sure."

Also different this time will be the number of sails carried. Compared to the 15 or so sails lugged around the course on the heavy weight Version 5 boats, on Alinghi 5 they are likely to just carry three or four. "We have to make sure that there is a lot of range in each code. The chance of the breeze being 3-4 knots more or less than what you started in 20 miles on up at the top mark, is high," Daubney warns.

Their upwind headsail is hanked on and it is a case of making the call before the start of each race as to the wind speed and the choice of sail, they won’t be carrying out sail changes, although they have the option of quickly going to a light wind furling headsail, the G0, if the wind goes really peters out. Conversely if the wind pipes up it will be a case of the crew hanging on and doing the best they can. "We are just going to have to twist it off and go outboard and get on with it," says Daubney.

Another reason for being reluctant to make sail changes is also because the sails are just so heavy and have so much windwage due to their size that they cannot afford to carry a large wardrobe on board.

Despite carrying less sails on board, development of the sail wardrobe has been as intense as it always has. "When the breeze comes up, the windage and the sail drag gets really high, so we have been experimenting with smaller downwind sails and what sails you need for different modes. We have got a few options. We are learning pretty quickly about that," he says.

Generally Daubney has thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of developing the giant cat - an experience that has been far more fun than the monotony of perpetual speed testing Version 5 boats. "We are like kids with a new toy," he admits. "The constant refinements for tiny little gains on the V5 boats and the hours and hours of endless testing that you need to do to make a decision or to get some data to lead you to making a decision is painful, particularly after you have been doing it for a few years. With this you wake up in the morning and you can’t wait to go down here to go sailing."


This is the first time we have seen Daubney since the 32nd America’s Cup and in the intervening period he has been found guilty of doping and been banned from sailing for two years. Daubney failed a routine dope test run on him, and other members of the Alinghi sailing team, on 23 June 2007, the opening day of the 32nd America's Cup.

A Canadian sailor pleaded guilty when they positively tested for cannabis in December last year, but otherwise we are not aware of any other sailors who have failed a dope test. According to Daubney, dope tests have been a regular part of his sailing career, right from the outset when he was part of three Soling campaigns for the Olympics.

“It was just the worst thing which has ever happened to me and I sat through three different hearings which all found that it was likely that I was the victim of spiking and yet I still got a ban because of the way that the rule was :written that I had to prove that there was no fault and negligence on my part. I was basically found guilty of being where I was at the time when my drink was spiked. I passed a lie detector test and got right to the end and still got the ban. It was just a horrible horrible time."

Fortunately, he says, that since he was found guilty, the rules have changed slightly, for a case of his type at any rate. "For you to show no fault or negligence on your part, you have to tell them [the jury] how the small traces got into your system and you have to prove how that happened. But how can you prove spiking? It’s impossible, but you still have to put a case about how you thought it was. And I don’t know about these things and how long it stays in your system or how it can be passed on. Now you don’t have to prove it. Now there is less emphasis on having to prove that there was no fault or negligence on your part."

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