Life after Luna Rossa

This week Chris Draper has been doing sterling work on a GC32

Friday April 24th 2015, Author: James Boyd, Location: United Kingdom

Chris Draper this week is standing in for absentee helmsman Flavio Marazzi on board the ARMIN STROM Sailing Team GC32 at the Marseille Test Event for the 2015 Bullitt GC32 Racing Tour. Having the opportunity to do this would have been unimaginable just a few weeks ago, but since then Patrizio Bertelli has announced the withdrawal of Luna Rossa from the 35th America’s Cup and Draper – along with the former Italian challenger’s 80 or so other staff – finds himself now with more time on his hands…

“It was a big shock to us all,” admits the British 49er Olympic medallist. “It was obviously very disappointing for all of us, but, understandably, Patrizio was very unhappy about the situation. It was a great shame, because we were in a very good position and we had changed the feeling within Luna Rossa from being a 'competitive' team into a 'winning' team. We were really doing some lovely work and the design team was working fantastically together - you’d regular hear them say ‘this is the best design team I’ve ever worked in’. The sailing team had great confidence in them and we had a great shore team as well. So we had everything we needed and it was such a shame to throw that away. But at the same time it was about Patrizio and about him being happy. He has been doing it for a long time and he runs a massive company. He has to do what is right by them.”

Traditionally Luna Rossa has always been slow out of the blocks with its Cup campaigns. For the 34th America’s Cup it joined forces with Emirates Team New Zealand, buying the Kiwi technology package and building a boat that a sistership to the first ETNZ AC72.

However for the 35th America's Cup the Italians wanted to get ahead of the game and was this time first of the teams to crank up its campaign. According to Draper they had their first design meetings in November 2013 and the campaign was cranked up fully in February 2014. The team took the decision to add foils to its two AC45s and not to ‘turbo’ them (as Artemis Racing and Oracle Team USA subsequently did) in order that they could get out on the water sailing as soon as possible.

“We wanted to get on the water earlier. It was about validating the design tools, rather than trying to go as fast as possible,” Draper explains, the aim being to be able to press the button on the design of their new boat – at that point still undecided – whenever it was announced. “Obviously in hindsight with the way it’s gone, it would have been a better decision to go for a wider boat that looks like the new boat, but we didn’t know that at the time. But that is the America’s Cup – it is constantly changing. It is a challenge and you have to respect the decision of the people who are paying the bills…I am gutted, but at the same time, there is no point dwelling on it. We’ll look for other opportunities.”

Initially there was the thought that Bertelli was bluffing and briefly, following the announcement of Luna Rossa’s withdrawal, it was felt that there might be the possibility of Bertelli doing a U-turn on his decision. “At first I thought it was a smoke screen, but pretty quickly it became apparent that it wasn’t, unfortunately,” says Draper. “But Luna Rossa has been great to me and I‘ll have great memory of all the time I spent with the people there and now I have to find a good opportunity for the future.”

Of course the conspiracy theorists have been suggested that Luna Rossa may have been left out in the cold deliberately. Certainly in terms of making a successful defence, Oracle Team USA, has now lost one of its strongest challengers and similarly the other challengers have lost one of their biggest and most advanced rivals. As Draper says: “We were working very well and we were ready to initiate the design of an AC 62. I don’t know how close all the other teams were to that. I think everyone would have been on the water at the same time, but some people would have been a lot more rushed than others.”

While rumours were that Francesco Bruni – Draper’s tactician for the 34th America’s Cup - was getting the nod to be the Italian challenger's helmsman for the 35h AC, at the point the team was wound down, Draper says they were both jockeying for this position. “We had a nice relationship. We were both pushing super hard and we both wanted to drive. We both hoped that if one of us didn’t drive, we’d be the tactician. We bounced off each other very well, because I was possibly a little bit quicker at sailing the boat and he was a bit better at the starting and we were working to make each other better. That was happening throughout the team.”

So now he is not part of Luna Rossa, how does Draper personally feel about the latest developments with the America’s Cup and the decision to adopt a smaller boat? “I don’t know - it is a hard one. I see there being a lot of pros [to it] for the future, but at the same time the America’s Cup has always been about quite grand boats, big boats and owners. So it is shame to lose that. But at the same time in the real world we live in these days, it would be great to have more teams. Whether that will happen from the change in boat – I guess we’ll have to wait and see. But I think the racing [in the 48s] will still be incredible. The boats are still going to be awesome. The 62 would have been amazing.”

Draper observes that America’s Cup sailors have been become an increasing rarity since 2007 when the ACC v5 monohulls sailed with 17 on board, down to six with the latest iteration of foiling catamarans. “As a sailor it is pretty brutal, but you still need the same amount of designers and shore team – possibly more. So the ratio has changed a lot and I’m not sure that necessarily makes it cheaper. But then it is what it is and you have to deal with the playing field there is if you are going to sail in the America’s Cup.”

However it seems very likely that Draper will get snapped up, an obvious choice being with his fellow countrymen at Ben Ainslie Racing or with Masayoshi Son’s alleged new Japanese challenge Softbank via the Kansai Yacht Club. In fact one wonders if the Japanese challenge won’t simply just snap up all Luna Rossa’s asset as, as Draper points out, time is now getting short. “You need to be getting ready to build you boat in four or five months’ time - that’s not much.”

So surely the majority of the R&D carried out on an AC62 would be a valid for an AC48? Draper agrees it would. Bertelli’s beef over the change to the smaller boat seems to have been one of principle.

And the length of a foiling catamaran doesn’t make anything like the amount of difference to performance as it does on a monohull. On a foiling catamaran the principle performance driver is righting moment rather than length.

As to the GC32, the smaller one design foiling catamaran, designed by Martin Fischer (who was part of Luna Rossa’s design team) which he is racing this week – Draper is clearly pleased to be back in the saddle in a fleet larger than two boats. His last ‘race’ was the Moth Worlds in January (where he finished fifth of 158 boats and was second Brit behind Chris Rashley) and the previous time racing before that was at the Moth Worlds in Hayling Island last July. However Draper has done a ton of two boating in the AC45 which more recently had descended into some all guns blazing racing against Bruni.

On Thursday’s opening day of racing, ARMIN STROM Sailing Team demonstrated herself to be the class act, although this is not solely down to Draper - the team won here at Marseille One Design last year with Flavio Marazzi on the helm. There are many similarities with America’s Cup racing, especially the courses with the reaching starts and finishes, albeit it without the course boundaries and Stan Honey's electronic wizardry to police this. But the courses are substantially larger than say the Extreme Sailing Series' with a target race length of around 30 minutes. “I thought the length of the races was nice,” said Draper. “It was just enough that you could get settled on the downwind – it wasn’t gybe-gybe-gybe. Obviously the boat is a little slower upwind which was longer.”

In six races, ARMIN STROM won four on Thursday, mostly out of the start. Draper said that generally he had been gunning for the boat end of the line and felt that if the race committee was going to run six AC-style courses in a row, then it would be better to adjust the start line angle orientation to the first reaching mark. As a guideline he suggests: “When it is windier, the angle wants to be wider and then when it is lighter it tends to get a bit narrower. It all depends on wind speed. But it was good fun - it was really good racing.”

Compared to the other foiling cats he has sailed, Draper says that the GC32 is by far the most stable, thanks to Martin Fischer’s foil design. “They have very, very forgiving foils. For sure it is the easiest foiling boat I have ever sailed, which I think is a great thing for the class – without slowing it down. It would probably go a bit faster upwind if the foil was a bit more critical, but with the rake system being so simple I think it is a good thing that the foil is so forgiving. It also allows a wide range of people to drive the boats.”

Plus the GC32 is a joy to helm. “It is super well balanced. For me it feels like I haven’t got much to do - I am used to driving with a wheel and using the rake all the time. It is quite pleasant just concentrating on steering and being able to look around a little bit more. The way the Cup is going, it is hard for the helm to look around because the more critical the foil is, the faster you go, but the harder it is to sail, so the helm is quite tied up.”

Surely that’s all displayed in your sunglasses? “We tried all of that, but it is all about the amount of concentration necessary to keep the boat going fast in a straight line.”

Otherwise the GC32 is a little slower to tack, partly because of the friction in the blocks providing the purchase for the up-down control lines for the boards. “The distance you need to tack and cross is more than you think for sure.”

With Luna Rossa’s assets now up for grabs and seemingly with no possibility of coming back - watch this space in terms of where Draper ends up.








Latest Comments

  • Mats Ohlsson 26/04/2015 - 21:56

    The AC is now just another sail race on steroids, all the classical aura is gone. I think they have spoiled it.

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