Reuters - Thu, 28 Jan 16:51:00 2010
Alinghi helmsman Ed Baird admits his crew will be in unchartered waters when their America's Cup showdown against BMW Oracle gets underway, weather permitting, on Feruary 8 in Valencia.
Steering a giant 90-foot catamaran at peak racing speed with the America's Cup at stake is not for the fainthearted.
Alinghi 5, which will go up against BMW's wing-mastered trimaran in a best-of-three Deed of Gift match, has a beam equal to the width of two tennis courts set side by side and a canting mast that towers over 17 stories.
BMW say their boat is the equivalent size of two basketball courts. Both are far removed from the keelboats that contested the last edition in 2007.
"There has never been anything like it. Size, power... it's beyond anything that has been created before," Baird (pictured holding the 2007 trophy) told Reuters in an interview.
"You have to really be prepared to take off when you pull the sails in and you need all your senses to be on high alert. The size and potential of this big boat is really fantastic... Boy, you just feel everything that happens, it's really exciting."
The 51-year-old American steered Alinghi to victory in the 32nd America's Cup three years ago.
The build up to that event, also hosted by Valencia, could not have been more different. A host of warm-up regattas and challenge series gave all teams the opportunity to fine-tune and test their boats in 2007.
This time, Alinghi and BMW Oracle have been locked in a long-running legal battle that put the venue and the time of the event in doubt. Consequently, both teams have had little time to road-test their boats.
"We have not had an opportunity in any way to race the boat, it's something that both teams are wary of and concerned about and we just have to do our best to simulate race day," said Baird.
"What both teams have to get right right now is reliability... more than in most America's Cups in the past. If we race in relatively light conditions it's probably not as big a deal as if we were right up on the edge of things.
"You just never know with these boats. We've seen them (BMW) break a number of things, a few things of our own have gone wrong... if that happens at the wrong time it's race over."
Preparations this week have been hampered by poor weather in Valencia, with both crews stuck ashore due to strong winds and choppy seas.
"The weather controls the sport and in the winter time it has a larger control over us than summer," added Baird.
"We've had a few good days of sailing here but we've had more days of being stuck on shore and we're just looking for the opportunity to get out in better conditions."
Baird predicts a close contest with BMW and is quietly impressed by their rival's boat.
"They certainly have an aggressive piece of equipment. The boat and the wing mast they have made are very impressive... we look at them and realise we have a very worthy opponent on the starting line.
"What we don't know is the very specific details of what they are able to accomplish... we don't know exactly what angle they sail to the wind, we don't know the speed they can do... you only really find out when you get beside each other."
Both teams, Baird said, have to hit the ground, or water, running.
"If you find out you are not doing the job in race one there is a very limited amount of things you can do in race two, if you haven't figured it out by then you are done."
Watch the America's Cup on British Eurosport (Sky 410 / Virgin 521) and Eurosport Player.