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Oracle’s close call in changing conditions

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Close call: Oracle Team USA nearly capsized during a training run on the Great Sound

This is a challenging time of year for training in Bermuda.

One day, the conditions will be summer-like, the next, it can be more like winter.

However, the variety in the weather is valuable. It allows an America’s Cup team to develop its skills across all the weather conditions that might occur next year during the cup.

A challenge for all of the teams at the moment is sailing in top-end wind conditions. In the America’s Cup, the upper wind limit is an average wind speed of 25 knots.

That’s quite a bit of wind for sailing — a small craft warning is issued at 20 knots — but for most experienced sailors, 25 knots is a wind speed that they and their boat can deal with.

When it comes to racing a light, powerful, wing-sailed catamaran however, 25 knots is more than handful.

Earlier this week, Oracle Team USA were out in conditions approaching the upper wind limit and came very close to capsizing.

The wind was out of the North, meaning a lumpy sea state in the Great Sound as well.

Nearly an hour into the training session on Tuesday afternoon, a strong gust pushed the Oracle Team USA catamaran over, over, over, but not quite into a capsize.

Tom Slingsby, the sailing team manager, was helming on Tuesday and said the team learnt a lot from the experience.

“It was blowing 22 to 25 knots. We did a bearaway, we were doing 42 to 43 knots of boatspeed. We got stable out of the bearaway but then we had a ‘bit of a moment’.

“We got hit by a big gust, got a lot of heel, and stuffed the bow into the waves. In that moment when you have a big nosedive, your natural reaction is to ease the sails, but it’s the worst thing you can do.

“Tom Johnson [the wing trimmer] did a great job. He called for the grinders to grind the wing back in and stall the wing. We ended up saving a capsize and learnt a bit more about what we can and can’t do in the boats.”

Typically, Johnson was modest when approached dockside at the end of the day.

“It wasn’t just me,” he said. “It was a team effort.”

Another lesson learnt and more data points in the pursuit to design, build and race the fastest America’s Cup boat ahead of next year’s competition.