Sunday, July 3, 2011

Liftoff Achieved.

I looked down at the sea foam gushing past us.

Way, way down.

The water is 15 feet away, I suddenly realized.

I thought I had boarded a sailboat. Instead, I had ended up on an aircraft. As soon as the starting gun sounded, the Artemis Racing Extreme 40 bore off, powered up, and I felt an adrenaline surge unlike anything I've ever experienced in 15 years of racing sailboats. The acceleration is really startling. No boat I've ever been on (that didn't have a massive engine on the back) has jumped forward with such ferocity.

Much like modern fighter jets, the X40's are designed to be as light as possible, and inherently unstable. This gives them the quickness and agility to race in the tiny, shifty, and fan-friendly venues the Extreme Sailing Series frequents.
(Lloyd Images)

The main achievement of the ESS has been to turn sailing into a true spectator sport. Many probably thought this was not possible, but standing onshore, the proof is right there in front of you. There are crowds. Cheering crowds. Heck, there was even a grandstand. 

I was lucky enough to be onboard with Artemis Racing Team of Sweden, who in addition to competing in the ESS, have also been a force to be reckoned with on the Audi Medcup and RC44 monohull circuits. With their recent entry into the next America's cup, which will be held in multihulls, Artemis has dived head-first into the world of catamarans.

Their skipper, Terry Hutchinson of Annapolis, Maryland, has been a longtime hero to me and many American sailors. There were only three Americans competing here today, out of 44 professional sailors on the water.
Terry Hutchinson (right) and Artemis Racing. (Lloyd Images)

And Terry doesn't just compete. He wins. Having devoted his entire life to monohull sailing, he got himself an A-Class singlehanded catamaran once the America's Cup multihull decision was announced, and went to work on basic skills. Just a few months later, he has unquestionably become one of the most competitive helmsman in the Extreme 40 class. It has been a truly amazing, and rapid, transformation.

Watching him operate on the starting line, you could see the same skills at work that made him so successful in collegiate dinghies as a kid: Perfect timing, strong communication, and decisive tactical calls. I wish the junior sailors I used to coach could see how the four guys on the boat worked so seamlessly together. Information is continuously shared in short, precise bursts. There are no awkward pauses. No dissension. Just harmony. It's like they have a hive mind.

Hopefully, I can use what I experienced onboard Artemis in my own future sailing endeavors. What I saw was the sport of sailing at its absolute best.


Our interview with Terry Hutchinson.

Will's Race Onboard Artemis. Great finish to catch Alinghi at the line!
 (Race #1, Coverage starts at 40:35):
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