Alinghi 5 and BMW Oracle Racing's USA await the wind
Alinghi 5 and BMW Oracle Racing's USA await the wind

No wind, no play

Alinghi meteoroligist Jack Katzfey discusses the weather after windless opening day of AC33

Monday February 8th 2010, Author: James Boyd, Location: Spain

No racing today on day one of the 33rd America’s Cup - as you may have gathered - and since the boats return to port it has started raining coinciding with Alinghi holding their post-race mix zone with the likes of Rolf Vrolijk, Ernesto Bertarelli, Dirk Kramers, etc outside...

This is of course the America’s Cup and thus a regatta traditionally prone to postponement, delay and much frustration. But this being a Deed of Gift match with courses significantly longer than we are used to, along with some unique wind constraints due to the boats being used, could well present some problems in the days to come. While the 15 knot maximum wind strength has been written out of the Sis, it seems unlikely that unless it is very flat water (rare over a course this size) that racing will take place in more than 15 knots. For normal monohulls this might constitute a problem, however as previously reported, these mega multihulls are capable of sailing when there appears to be almost no wind. The issue is very very light winds, the cause of no racing place today, is not that the boats can’t sail in this, but that when it is very light the wind doesn’t stabilise enough to set a course. On a 20 mile race track we understand that this involves reading the wind direction at the start and then setting the weather mark to that - regardless of the wind direction 20 miles up the course.

According to Alinghi meteorologist Jack Katzfey, PRO Harold Bennett was right not to attempt to get a race underway today. "At one point, right around 10am, the wind was pretty good, but not quite. The start boat never had any wind, so there was never a chance to pull off a good race," he says.

"At 10.00 there was a nice southerly wind on the southern part of the course, which did look like there was going to be a chance for a race, but it never made it to the start boat, so they were always down two knots. And then the wind weakened a little bit and never really came back in. It was close, but not really good enough conditions for a race.

"Two knots is really too flukey to get a race in, because it is really hard to get a consistent direction. But the rest of the race course was good. It would have been difficult to have had a race in those conditions."

His equivalent at BMW Oracle Racing, Chris Bedford, agreed: "We had a southerly breeze well offshore that was occasionally filtering into the start area. But closer to shore we had a westerly breeze for most of the afternoon. At times it was showing up to 14 knots at the top mark. So there was pressure (wind) trying to make it onto the course, but because of these two winds converging, we never had enough breeze over a 20-mile leg to get going… I think the Race Committee did a good job today."

Just a little more wind is Katzfey continues: "Even 5 knots is enough to get a consistent direction across the course. Even if it is 3-4 knots, provided it is consistent with the rest of the course, it is not a problem."

As mentioned previously, all Deed of Gift races are just one lap, the course cannot be changed after the preparatory signal, nor can courses be shortened. Harold Bennett has the facility to abandon a race, but only up as the boats are en route to the top mark. As the SIs state: “the Race Committee may abandon any race prior to the first boat rounding the first mark where in its opinion there is a permanent wind shift of 30° or more from the course direction advised by the Race Committee at the Warning Signal."

Once around the top mark the only way a race can be abandoned is if the seven hour time limit for the race is exceeded (hence why the boats are fitted with nav lights..!)

So no shifts of more than 30° over a 20 mile windward-leeward? How possible is that? "It is a little bit of quasi-offshore race, because it is so big, so you are not going to get the same wind conditions as you would on a 5 nautical mile courses," says Katzfey. "We had some practice races out there last week where it was actually quite good. There was some variability but you always get that even on a 5 nautical mile course - that is something the sailors have to deal with.

"We’ll get one off eventually. You might have to wait a while until to get the right wind conditions so that they can have a fair race. Harold [Bennett, PRO] is very good at trying to have a fair race. So he is trying to pick the conditions where the race will be fair with good wind conditions. We don’t want a crap shoot. So I think he is doing a good job so far."

Thankfully in the SIs it says that 'the Race Committee may abandon....' rather than ‘will’ abandon, thus making the Race Committee less vulnerable to protest. However as Katzfey puts it on how protestable decisions to abandon will be: "There is always that potential – especially this time around! I think if they get out and get decent wind conditions they should be able to get a good race in."

So race one of the America’s Cup has now been rescheduled for Wednesday at 10:06. And what is Katzfey’s for3ecast for this? "Windy. A front comes through tonight. Then it is supposed to clear up, but it is supposed to be fairly strong wind. Wednesday looks like fairly strong winds right now. It is a possible race. It will be windier tomorrow than Wednesday.

"There is a possibility that the wind goes too far around to the north – then there will be a little bit of swell coming down, so that is another concern for Wednesday. But that is two day’s out."
The latest GRIBs for Wednesday indicate 20-25 knot northwesterlies at start time dropping off to 15-20 over the next two hours. Some other services are indicating less, a more sailable day. If the GRIBs prove correct, it may be possible to get a race underway at around lunchtime, but ironically compared to today, all might be well at the weather mark, tucked in the lee of the land, but there might be too much breeze on the start line...

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