Tuesday, 24 November 2009

LVT: The Best Eyes in the Business

Emirates Team New Zealand's decision maker, Ray Davies, has some of the best eyes in the business looking for breeze from up the mast - Adam Beashel

Australian Adam Beashal, of Emirates Team New Zealand. Image copyright Frank Socha/Louis Vuitton Trophy.

by Chloe Daycard

One of Emirates Team New Zealand’s big strengths is longevity. The length of time and the number of races that the afterguard has been working together. Aside from skipper/helmsman Dean Barker, two key players at the back of the Kiwi boat are tactician Ray Davies and windspotter Adam Beashel.

Where Beashel’s priority is to find the best breeze across the race course, from high up in his perch on the top spreaders of the mast, Davies has to balance the most favourable breeze against the tactical considerations of where the opposition is. This has been a particularly challenging compromise in the light winds of Nice. “It’s always a tough balance playing the boat or the wind,” says Davies. “In light airs it’s near impossible to cover someone downwind. There’s a crossover in the windspeed where you can’t afford to cover someone the way you can when it’s windier. You can’t afford to match someone tack for tack or gybe for gybe. Sometimes you’ve just got to go your own way.”

With starboard tack holding right of way over port tack in the Racing Rules of sailing, this puts an emphasis on going for the right-hand side of the course. “On these short beats you’ve got to protect the right,” says Davies. “The second race of the morning is the tough one, when you get the end of the morning breeze. Sailing after 10 o’clock here, you’ve got to forget about the other boat and just sail the breeze.”

Some people might have been surprised at how much separation across the course crept in between the Kiwis and the trailing Russians on Synergy during their semi-final showdown on Saturday for example. “We had quite a bit of discussion in the race against Synergy when there was a lot of separation,” Davies recalls. “We knew we were in reliable wind where we were but we reckoned that if we gybed back we’d get stuck between two different breezes. It would have been tempting to try and get back and them cover them. As it was, it was a huge gain for us down the run, but I bet they were hoping we’d come back and try to protect which would have dragged us back into the no-wind zone. We just had to back ourselves and stay with our plan and not cover the opposition, but there’s definitely a time and a place.”

Emirates Team New Zealand tactician Ray Davies said of the first semi final race against Synergy: "Yeah, it was pretty tense on board. You have to expect close races in this round. We're down to the best teams. You have to expect close, ding-dong races otherwise they wouldn't be worth winning." Image copyright Frank Socha/Louis Vuitton Trophy.

When making those brave calls to go the other way from the opposition, Davies is relying heavily on Beashel’s judgement to see the breeze from up the mast. It’s a job that Beashel has done for some years now, and one that he’s grown comfortable with. “People talk a lot about local knowledge, but when you get up the rig you work things out pretty quickly. Sometimes your first picture is your best picture. I don’t like being up there before a start, because you can overcomplicate things. I like to get up there just 10 minutes before a start and get a snapshot, and say, ‘this is what is going to happen for the first beat.’”

Maybe the other reason is that, as Beashel admits, it can be a lot colder being 100 feet above sea level than down in the shelter of the cockpit below, especially on these early mornings in autumnal Nice. “It’s pretty cold up there, so it’s another reason to stay on deck,” smiles Beashel. But the heightened sense of awareness that you gain from being up high is one that he wouldn’t be without. “On the last race against Synergy, going into the finish, just as we gybed I could smell smoke, so you just had to look for the fire and you could tell where the wind was coming from.”

Louis Vuitton Trophy

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