19 Nov. 6th Man on board of Oracle Team USA Racing AC45 "Coutts" in San Diego
TAG Heuer has been one of the pioneering Swiss watchmaking brands to craft timepieces for sailing, yachting and diving. Back in 1949, the Company introduced with the "Mareograph" the first ever mechanical tide indicator timepiece, allowing sailors to keep track of tides and therefore of related currents, a major information to win or lose a regatta. Eversince TAG Heuer has become a benchmark of superlative and prestigious watersports watches and chronographs, both underwater and for sailing, with its iconic and legendary "Aquaracer"series, born in 1979, initially with the "1000 series" name, from Jack Heuer forward thinking, and eversince a major icon of the Brand. In 3 decades the Aquaracer has sold more than any other TAG Heuer collection and has become the epitome of casual chic "Art de vivre". With waterproofness ranging from 300 to 500 meters, the Aquaracer series embodies TAG Heuer unrivalled commitment to superior quality and timeless performances. Thanks to this unique know-how TAG Heuer has been a skipper's favorite and protagonist of several America's Cups since 1967, with in the last decade partnerships with Oracle Team USA-BMW in 2002, China Team in 2007 and Oracle Team USA Racing "Team USA" for the forthcoming 34th America's Cup in 2013 and the America's Cup World series 2011-12 and 2012-13.
As a former sailing instructor myself when I was much younger, I can only be passionate about the epic and legendary America's Cup history. It was first run in 1851, and as such is standing as the oldest and most prestigious trophy of modern sports history. Twice partner of challengers teams in 2002 and 2007 I had the amazing chance to be "tolerated" as the 17th man on both USA-76 and CHN-95, two giant IACC 25 meters / 24 tons monohull boats. These giant boats were more comparable to Le Mans LMP 1 prototypes than to Formula 1. They had an incredible ability to sail upwinds at stunning 16 degrees angles which on any other sailboat would mean standing still in front of the wind ! Even though the Cup was extraordinary, these boats raced quite far from the shores and had many races cancelled or postponed making the sport very difficult to broadcast and even to understand except for specialists. With their 19 tons bulb underwayer to ensure the upwinds performance, they were also looking very stable for the non specialist, somehow lacking the spectacularity mandatory to turn a sport global and broadly followed. Last, as the next Cup would be run anywhere between 1 to 5 years from the previous one, with no competition in between, the sport despite its great history and utmost performances remained a very marginal niche in comparison with Formula 1, despite similar huge budgets for the competing teams. It was not sustainable.
With Oracle Team USA led by Larry Ellison and Russell Coutts winning in 2010 the 33rd America's Cup and thus becoming he Defender in charge of the rules for the 34th America's Cup in San-Francisco in September 2013, everything has changed for the better. First, and in order to create on-going public intest, the America's Cup World series have been created, on similar lines as a Formula 1 world championship, with 7 events in 2011-12 and another 7 in 2012-13 prior to the Louis Vuitton Cup and 34th America's Cup. Then the heavy monohulls have left room for the series to ultra-light and ultra fast 1.4 tons only "all-carbon fiber" wing + sails powered multihulls, the AC45, all built in New Zealand from the same shipyard to reduce costs and ensure close performances. They are the fastest racing sailing boats ever built and compare by all means to Formula 1. Their unique combination of performances, technology and design make them natural partners for TAG Heuer. Then the racing rules have turned the races "TV and Public-compatible" with a combination of fleet and match races of limited timelenght and guaranteed starting time, which combined with the latest digital technologies, allows to follow the thrilling competitions as easily as a Formula 1 Grand Prix. Not to mention the racecourse close to the shore and allowing a large public, like we had in San Diego (more than 20.000 on shores), to watch the fighting boats from very close. These fastest sailing boats helmed by the best sailors ever in the world have started to compete in Cascais, Portugal in September 2011. San Diego was the 3rd round of the season. I had the chance to be there and compete for 25 minutes in match race on board of Oracle Team USA "Coutts" skippered by Darren Bundock, and competing against GreenComm Racing from Spain. What an experience !
As the "6th man", you mostly participate to the weight (max 100kg, being much lighter the crew had to add 20kg weights belts to the stern) and are kindly but firmly asked to lie down at the stern of the AC45 in a semi-rigid safety net and a small cord on both sides to try to cling to something and not fall into the sea. As a courtesy and for the sake of efficiency though, you work too, changing sides in ideally perfect sync with the crew each time the boat turns and change wind direction. For the rest you just open your eyes and admire the incredible manoeuvering of the team of 5 top professionals made of a skipper, a tactician and three members responsible for setting, grinding and regulating the sails and gennaker under the coordination of the skipper, Darren. 7 minutes before start, all 5 members set-up their on board computer and TAG Heuer Aquaracer Digi-Ana countdowns on 420 seconds, closely observing GreenComm boat and trying to figure out with the medium and fast changing wind the best potential options to gain advantage at the start which would allow to control the race. "5 minutes !", the tensions rises and everyone starts to concentrate and test manoeuvers to make sure of the perfect sync necessary for winning. A second lost means 10 to 15 meters, that is the boat length often making the difference between the winner and the other.....Accelerations are amazingly quick so much the boat is light and the combination of wing and sail powerful and responsive. like a supercharged engine with 800 nm torque ! The weak 6 knots wind is turned magically into a 19 knots speed ! In stronger winds, the AC45 can easily surpass 35 knots speed. Who said that wind energy has no future ?!!! One minute, thirty second, "Coutts" is already full speed towards the starting line with GreenComm arriving equally fast from a different angle. 5-4-3-2-1...the tension is extreme as crossing the line 1 second too early means a two boats length penalty seriously jeopardizing the chances to win. Hence the importance of the accuracy of TAG Heuer Aquaracer chronographs countdown precision. Amazingly Darren crosses the line less than a second after the "0" immediately taking a half boat length advantage over GreenComm so close that form the stern I can virtually shake hands with their skipper. Darren observes the ever changing winds to avoid taking a wrong option and forcing GreenComm to decide for an alternative route which Darren immediately imitates as the race leader to keep control. "Coutts" is now speeding at 20 knots with a 30 degrees angle (5 meters above the water level) towards the first race committee bow. The crew prepares the immense gennaker for the next downwind following our first upwind. 5-4-3-2-1-Go !, "Coutts" rotates on itself passing a few inches off the bow with the gennaker perfectly launched and already speeding up the boat towards the next bow under the scrutinizing eyes of the Race Committee boats, the Louis Vuitton Timing boats and the many "Protector" support speedboats used by Oracle Team USA, not to mention the hundredth of spectator boats surrounding the racing course. Amazing. We now have 5 boat length advantage and even if it's done, Darren as a top professional maintains a maximum pressure and concentration till the finish line to win with a stunning 48 seconds advantage. Waouh ! This is really an experience and the IACC boats by comparison look so slow and heavy. And today the race was only with the AC45 (for 45 feet). For the Louis Vuitton and America's Cup, they will move to AC72, that is multihulls virtually twice longer and more powerful. Larry Ellison and Russell Coutts have really changed the game for the better, to the great joy of James Spithill and Darren Bundock the two skippers. The America's Cup World series are really the "fastest boats in the world with the best sailors in the world". And TAG Heuer is proud to partner with the "fastest of the fastest boats and the best of the best sailors" namely Oracle Team USA Racing, Russell, James and Darren. A unique experience I will never ever forget.
Jean-Christophe Babin - President and CEO, TAG Heuer - the official chronograph and sunglasses partner of Oracle Team USA Racing / Team USA / Defender for the 34th America's Cup.
AC45 "Coutts" principal dimensions (all teams have similar boats)
- hull length 13.45 meters
- mast height 21.50 meters
- max draft 2.70 meters
- displacement. 1400 kg
- wing area. 85 sqm
- jib area. 48 sqm
- gennaker area. 125 sqm
- max speed. 40 knots
- crew. 5 (+ the "6th Man" or 100 kg lest)