(Nov 15, 2012) The following is the long version of the interview that published at http://www.sailingworld.com/blogs/racing/americas-cup/onward-and-right-side-upward.
Brad Webb, one of Oracle Racing’s longest standing crew members, signed his first contract with the team in November 2000. He was bowman on BMW Oracle Racing ‘s monster tri USA-17 that was victorious against Alinghi in the 33rd challenge for the America’s Cup. A Kiwi now living in the San Francisco Bay Area, Webb was on Oracle Racing’s AC72 when it recently capsized - and wrecked - on the Bay.
Can you give a quick download of the capsize?
BW: Even prior to the capsize we always thought this was possible and made a lot of assumptions about how we would recover from something like this. We also made a lot of assumptions about the boat so we haven’t just analyzed the capsize and recovery itself. We’ve looked at all the other bearaways that we did earlier that day, the conditions, the decision making that lead up to the capsize, what factors contributed to the capsize and we’re still putting a lot of time into the recovery effort and the hours that followed the capsize.
A lot of it was based on very little knowledge of the boat. Unfortunately we probably pushed it too hard and got bitten. If nothing else, it’s woken all of us up, including the other teams to the potential for disaster and also the plans that we had in place that would get us through this.
As far as the capsize itself, it wasn’t one contributing factor. It was windier than we’d ever been sailing before. The ebb was starting to build. We’ve analyzed the turn - the rate of turn - and the apparent wind and all the other data that was being fed off the boat at the time and we’ve taken a good look at that bearaway compared to the five previous ones. We’re still going through that. We can’t single it out to one single factor.
The one encouraging thing is that through all this, the boat was reliable so know we’ve certainly got the hardware to go out and win. But it was only our 8th day on the water so we were still learning.
What was the damage & what's being rebuilt
BW: We were almost in good shape in the first ten minutes following the capsize, but we made the assumption that we could right the boat based on the 45s. We hadn’t identified the outgoing tide as quick as we should have and got the boat out of harms way. But after we were swept under the Bridge, we were still trying to right it. The boat filled up with water through all its nooks and crannies, we just couldn’t do it. It was a five knot ebb - even the rescue boats couldn’t keep up with it - it was huge. Ultimately the boat ended up rolling back nose down again and slowly but surely the bashing and crashing from the ebb and the swell was too much to take, so the only thing on the main element that was left was the spar connected to the platform, which even at that time was in pretty good shape, but once the rig broke and she fully capsized, with the crashing and bashing, that’s when a lot of the damage happened - the fairings blew off, we ended up with part of the main element on top of the upturned platform which did a lot of damage to the hull.
Obviously the wing is a right-off - we kept a lot of key pieces which we could potentially use to build a new wing and obviously a lot of the hardware off it but the big pieces and the flaps and the frame were scattered across the ocean. There has been a lot of damage to the hulls and the pods just from the bashing/crashing of the main element when it ended up on top of the platform. But that’s all fixable and we’ll ultimately get that boat sailing again.
So, you’ve got the hulls and platform which you’re rebuilding, and constructing a whole new wing?
BW: We wont reconstruct that wing at this point - all our effort is going into wing 2. Most of those elements are under construction in Auckland and the plan is to have that here in January so we’re ready to go sailing again - so that’ll be wing 2 on boat 1 - perhaps late January.
What’s the status on Boat 2?
The schedule is as it was - we plan to launch that sometime around March or April and there's still the same amount of manpower going into that. We’re a wing down. Wing #3 will begin construction soon if it hasn’t already - I know they’re a long way down the line engineering wing 3. Most of the elements are done in NZ but construction up here obviously because they’re big to move.
How's it watching Team NZs progress?
BW: They’re sailing and we’re not! We all know that time on the water is huge. They’re going through a boat mod right now, they’re definitely ahead of us as far as time on the water goes. We’re definitely keeping an eye on them and what they’re doing and trying to learn from them and what we may emulate or compare to our ideas. That’s all that we can really do right now. We’ll be doing the same with Artemis as they get going here on the Bay.
It’s pretty painful but all we can do is sit and watch. We are continuing with our testing program on the 45s which we know does have a very close correlation with the 72 and the tools that were developed for the 72. Ultimately time on the water with 72s are what these other teams are going to be ahead of us with. But there’s nothing we can do about it.
If there was one blaring technical issue, what was it?
BW: There’s really no technical feature - the fact of the matter is that it was windy - 28 knots, it was the windiest bearaway we’d ever done. We just stuck the bows in and over we went. Perhaps we would have had more lift on the boards or borne away further or had a faster rate of turn…there’s no real standout for the cause of it - just a number of things that were due to us just not knowing the boat as well as we ultimately will. It was 28 knots - we’d done a number of runs down the Bay where we were flying - literally - and having a ball. The breeze was building - we just hadn’t taken into account that it was just getting windier and windier. We were doing 33 knots when we capsized.
How can you benefit from this time?
BW: All the clichés have been banded around, like it’s an opportunity for us to bond and that this cloud will have a silver lining - it’s all true. We were going to do mods to the boat anyway. It’s really now all hands on the tools, we’re all under this diversity and pressure and it’s an opportunity to come together as a team and dig ourselves out of this. We’ve learned a huge amount about the boat, the class and sailing these boats in big breeze in general. I think the biggest thing that’s come out of it is that we’ve had the ability to share with all the teams what we've learned about the performance of the boat and leading up to the capsize but also how to respond to that especially in San Francisco which is extremely unforgiving. Once we get to the point where we have a strong package and solid plan in place, we’ll take that to the other teams so that if it happens to them - we’ve all got friends on the other teams and it was huge that nobody was injured and I don’t think a day goes by where we aren’t all thankful for that. The potential for injury is extremely high and preparing for that is a priority.
Did you have a safety plan in place?
BW: We’ve discussed a lot among ourselves and as a sailing team. We did have priority lines in place, an evacuation plan in place, a head count plan in place - all of those things. On board we knew that we had a little bit of an advantage in that we have cockpits in our hulls and we discussed as a team that if we were going to go over we would just go hide down in our little foxhole and see what happened which is ultimately what we did. So the racing crew on board were all in cockpits at the time and none of us were really in any danger beyond the obvious. The guys who were strapped on the net were the two who were in most danger. As the boat was going over we just got lower and lower then the rig hit the water all of us were pretty much below the gunnel line. We braced ourselves in the cockpit by pushing against the side wall. All the cockpits are linked so we just started climbing down all the cockpits to the lowest cockpit then just leaped off the board. Thankfully our boat led to alleviating a lot of any possible injuries.
ACRM are taking a good look at their guest racer position and how they are going to deal with that. The original idea was to have a pod on the back where they strap themselves into but it’s become pretty evident that if we pitch-poled, that’s the worst place to have a guest racer. That’s all being all re-thought. The other silver lining is that it’s all very well having a race crew on board but how do we do a high level evacuation of somebody that we’ve gone and strapped on the platform somewhere. Another thing is are they going to build into the design of the wing a requirement that in the head of all the wings that they will be separate to the wing weight and the measurement weight that all the teams have to have something that can keep the wing afloat.
How has your role changed in this campaign?
BW: We’re all grinders, so my primary position is grinder. We haven’t really nailed it down - there’ll be a lot of job sharing. Each cockpit has a different role whether it’s trimming or grinding hydraulics or grinding the jib or the code zero or grinding the wing, we’re still in that phase of figuring out where people need to go, where we need the most power at any given time. The great thing about this boat was that within a couple of days we were already throwing it around the race course whereas as you know with the trimaran we didn’t start doing that until about three weeks before the Cup. The boats are very raceable which is extremely exciting.
The roles that we used to have on the monohulls have kind of gone away. It’s really turned into this very physical sprint, especially given the short length of the racecourse, It’s a very physical high energy radical boat that we’re all going to be a part of getting around the course.
Will you train with Artemis?
BW: I have no idea at this point. We don’t know what their program is. Traditionally the challengers have kept to themselves but if that’s all we’ve got and the other teams haven’t arrived yet then I’m sure there may be an opportunity for us to go out and maybe do a couple of days together.
Will winter Bay weather heed your ability to get time on the water?
BW Not really, we still get some great winter days here with enough breeze for us to go out and test things. Obviously it’s not the same as July to September but we’ll pick and choose our days and get as much from it as we can.