Wednesday, May 4, 2011

John Craig on AC 45 Testing

The two week testing period for the AC 45s is almost over in Auckland, New Zealand. SailBlast caught up with John Craig, PRO, who had nothing but positive things to say about the progress made on the water over the past few days. While the weather has been variable as New Zealand slips into winter months, the breeze has held it's own. Said Craig, "We had a tornado come through yesterday - we got off the water before it got to us so we actually got a bunch of racing in - it was a great time for testing!"

SailBlast: It seems like the biggest bug to have come out of the past week’s testing is simply getting used to the equipment - your comments?

JC: It’s equipment that people aren’t used to. It’s a new way of doing things - communication through text and communication through radio comms. There are no flags or big clocks on the side of the committee boat like we’re used to, so some of the equipment here is very much in testing mode. An example is we originally had the display placed close to the helmsman but he had to look over his shoulder to see what the RC comms were doing for the penalties etc. That wasn’t working so we’ve since moved those forward in the boats so that the teams can have multiple eyes looking at them. That’s been an improvement.

The other thing has been the boundaries, which are virtual, so they’re using that (virtual) instrumentation to figure out where the boundary lays. It’s been pretty tough figuring it out so yesterday we attached kind of a strobe light forward of the boat so that when they were getting closer to the boundary, the strobe light would begin to speed up and the closer they got, the faster and faster it would go. Reviews on that are still out so we’ll see what happens there.

The other piece is that what we’ve essentially created is an arena or a sand-box with this virtual boundary to keep the guys back in the middle of the course. The spectators will line up probably 50 to 75 yards outside of that which will create a corridor which will hopefully give a bit more definition to this virtual boundary for the teams. We’ll run the coach boats, media boats, teams boats and all that will run up and down that corridor. Hopefully that will give a harder definition or line to give the guys to figure out, “Here comes the spectator fleet; the virtual boundary is close by.”

SailBlast: Has this testing helped clarify what it may mean for the spectator fleet in San Francisco?

JC: Yes, it’s definitely put some shoulders around what it’ll look like. We’re experimenting with all different types of courses - we’re looking forward to the next three days as we’re not anywhere close to having anything locked down to what the course will look like. Once that gets firmed up, then we should have a better idea of what the spectator fleet boundaries will look like and then what the virtual boundaries will look like from that.

SailBlast: The 45s stop and start pretty quickly - how much can they handle in the start, and what will the start sequence be?

JC: I was kind of skeptical. In all honesty I thought, “It’s going to be catamarans match racing. It’s not going to be like it has been." But, it’s been amazing. The first day they just fully locked up and got at it and started chasing each other - it’s been really, really good. The quality of what these guys are able to do and how quickly the boats can stop and start lends itself really well for match racing. Right now, it’s a 5-minute sequence, the starboard end is coming in at 3 minutes and the port end comes in at 2:50. They’re fully locking up and it’s very cool to watch.

How will you adapt what you’ve learned this week to the World Series?

We’ll basically take what we've learned here with the feedback from the teams and then refine what that is. Stan (Honey) will do his magic and make the equipment more robust and user friendly - all the things the teams are looking for. Leading up to Cascais we’ll definitely look for race committee opportunities to further test the equipment and to put it through its paces. The umpires will be doing the same, looking to try and make sure that the software is doing what we want it to do.

SailBlast: What will the racecourse in Cascais look like?

JC: We should have a pretty good idea by the end of this testing because we're bound to protocol - we have to have the sailing instructions out 30 days prior to the event in Cascais.

SailBlast: What’s your safety plan on the water?

JC: We’ve got two, jet-driven purpose built medic boats which will each have a medic team on board. Additionally, the teams have really taken it on as a concern. We’re finding that a lot of the team boats are much better equipped to deal with medical emergencies than previously, for example, Team NZ had a medic on their RIB yesterday. Teams are wearing life jackets, helmets in some situations and we see that developing more as the racing heats up. It’s something we have a concern about and trying to address with as many resources as we can put at it.

SailBlast: Will extra wings be easily accessible to teams in the event of crashes?

JC: It’d be pretty tough because the race period is going to be fairly small. We don’t see racing more than three or four hours and for a team to recoup from a blown up wing, get back in and get a new one, then get back out, isn’t going to happen. What we do see is that when they do damage the wings they are able to be back on the water the next day - they’re doing that very effectively. It’s been a pleasant surprise to see how quickly the teams can reapply the film that wraps over the wing - initially it was taking them a long time to apply that stuff but now the teams are getting pretty good at it!

SailBlast: If a 72 flips on the Bay mid-race, will it be a case of race over?

JC: In a match race or a fleet race, if a boat flips, they’re going to need a tow boat to right that so they’ll be receiving outside assistance so that’ll be their race for them. We have a feeling that if the crash is slow that they may be able to right the boat with no damage to the wing. If the crash is violent, or if its wavy, it seems that the waves on the wing with powerboat wash etc., sometimes cause damage.

SailBlast: You’ve been on board for a while now - how’s it feeling to be involved in something so revolutionary?

JC: (LOL) - it’s been very cool. It’s been really busy and we’ve been learning tons as the stuff unfolds. Because it’s so new and experimental, things are changing daily. Everybody’s been really good. The teams are working together well as a group. We’re all in the same base and so we’re all sharing the same stuff. Everybody’s tripping over everybody but it’s been good that way. The guys from ACRM have got really good skills with the wings etc., and they’re chipping in wherever they can, there’s a lot of back and forth between the teams so right now it’s very family, cooperation, “let’s go out and figure this out together”, which I think is unusual for this kind of event. I am sure as we get further down that the camps will become a little tighter.

Photos: Gilles Martin-Raget


  1. Hopefully they won't need the tow boats a lot. Great interview Mich!

  2. Michelle, good interview with John. Gives us good insight into what we might expect. I am going to post your interview on our AC group site so we can have a great discussion about all this.