America’s Cup: Taming the beast

Published on December 28th, 2020

Roger Vaughan, Sailing World, takes a look back at the America’s Cup 33rd chapter, a tale of two egotistical billionaires, two marvels of yacht design, and three races to declare a winner.

It didn’t take long for the sailors to begin referring to their big tri as “The Beast.” The media were calling it Dog-Zilla, a play on the acronym for Deed of Gift. Everything about it was big, heavy, beastly.

Today’s computerized design tools will tell you everything you want to know about a boat’s performance in all conditions and configurations, so while the data that registered about loading revealed no surprises, the numbers were sobering when they represented larger-than-life-size realities sailors had to contend with hands-on.

There was a 75-ton compression load on the mast step, 32 tons on the forestay with the mainsail sheeted on, 24 tons on the mainsheet. The wingsail would tame that to 4 tons.

Bowman Brad Webb, who previously sailed with TAG Heuer in 1995 and America True in 2000 before joining the original Oracle team for the 2003 Cup match, said the first day they sailed in Anacortes they had five jibs on the boat and a crew of 16.

“Things were heavy and hard,” Webb says. “Sails weighed around 300 to 400 kilos each (660 to 880 pounds). It took five people to move them. We craned them on board at the dock, and used halyards to move them to and from chase boats.”

Joey Newton, who worked the mid-deck, had the job of getting sails aboard before leaving the dock. He says it was a huge logistical operation just getting off the dock. “It wasn’t like a normal boat where you can grab five guys and pick up the main,” Newton says.

“We needed cranes and special booms to pick up the sails. Just to put the cable in the luff of a gennaker we had to get a 10-ton truck and two forklifts to get enough tension on it, then get the sail coiled and lashed up on the dock. Getting sails on board in the morning while other guys were busy at their jobs on the boat at the same time was dangerous. I had horrible thoughts of halyards or clips breaking.”

For several months, the whole crew sailed wearing hard hats and life jackets. “I was terrified on a daily basis,” Webb says. “The first day when we did load testing, we had stuff falling out of the sky and missing people. In San Diego, we had blocks tearing off the deck and strops breaking.

“There was always something breaking. As much engineering as there was in the boat, it was on the hairy edge. It’s the most extreme sailing craft ever put on the water. After a while, we got used to what might break, what looked right and what didn’t, where you could stand at any given time and be safe. So we finally got rid of the hats and jackets to reduce weight and windage. But we still couldn’t account for surprises.”

John Kostecki says “terrifying” is the right word. “Let me put it this way,” Kostecki said, “I was more scared on this boat than I was at any time during the Volvo Race. It wasn’t just a little scary; it was scary.

“We had great designers, great engineers, great sailors all coming up with a boat that was changed radically along the way, everything was as light as possible, it was incredibly loaded, there were unknowns here and there, we didn’t know how hard to push, and we had only a certain amount of time with the new design configurations. Yes, it was scary.” – Full story

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