Taking flight with Team New Zealand
Monday 4 Mar 2013 2:42 p.m.
(Photo: Team New Zealand)
A cameraman’s crotch is not a place of refuge.
Yet this was where I unfortunately found myself – an awful combination of gravity and momentum had left me wedged between Billy Paine’s burly thighs.
I cackled with laughter and righted myself, just in time to watch the twin hulls rise out of the water, and the boat we were on once more to take flight.
We were on the first run of Team New Zealand’s Boat 2.
It is a marvel of design, engineering, and technology – one of the fastest, most advanced boats on the planet… and we were holding on for dear life.
For several months now the team have been testing Boat 1 on the sparkling waters of the Waitemata – practising, fine-tuning, and always improving. Now, everything they’ve learned has been poured into this boat – and on it they will try and win back the America’s Cup.
We’d barely entered the harbour before we were given a sudden and furious introduction to the mind-blowing capabilities of the AC72. As the massive wing above us caught hold of the wind, the boat burst forward, accelerating from 10 to 30 knots in a matter of seconds.
The acceleration was phenomenal. The speed was staggering. We should have been shaken to pieces, bits of left us floating in the water to be nibbled on by little fish. But the massive boat was smooth, steady… and unbelievably fast.
As we turned slightly to collect the wind once more, the massive boat – around six tonnes – gathered speed, shuddered a little, and lifted itself completely out of the water.
We were flying.
The wind noise dropped, the sound of waves hitting the hull quietened, and everything around us seemed silent as we skimmed across the Waitemata.
Neither Billy nor I could stop smiling, and the two of us whooped into the wind as the spray blasted our skin and stung our eyes.
I looked over and spotted team manager, Grant Dalton, doing a stint alongside the beast-like grinders, with an equally huge smile spread across his face.
All that was keeping us from seemingly flipping and flying off into the sky beyond were the foils – two little wings attached to each hull. This phenomenal technology means these boats can fly – yes, fly – about three times the speed of the wind behind them.
Suddenly Boat 2 lifted. Both front foils were out of the water, hulls pointing increasingly skywards, before we smashed back down into the water. We’d just experienced what happens when the boat gets pushed a little too hard, but the crew had responded so quickly and professional that potential disaster was easily averted.
Once the boat – and our nerves - had settled back down the team tactician announced we’d been maintained a speed of more than 40 knots on that last run – around 80kmh.
“3…2…1… TACKING!” Skipper Dean Barker yelled out the manoeuvre, and giant grinders lightly skipped across the webbing, their delicate, deliberate steps belying their massive physical presence. In contrast Billy and I awkwardly rolled around like a couple of fish flopping on the bottom of a dinghy. It was brilliant.
I glanced over and excitedly yelled something at Billy. I don’t know if he heard me. Instead, he looked back, blank-faced – and promptly rolled across the deck as momentum took its turn on him.
The boat shuddered again, and its massive bulk once more started to rise above the waves.
Grant Dalton – no mug when it comes to all matters yachting – had earlier called the AC72s the fastest class of yacht ever built on the planet.
As we gathered speed, and the blue waters beneath us became a blur, I gripped the mesh, biting my lower lip with excitement and anticipation.
It was hard to argue with the man.