Saturday, August 03, 2013

Buff's America's Cup Adventure 8/13

Falafel and foiling

Turned out there was nothing to drink on-board, just water. Jeez, if I’d be planning things would have been very different.

There wasn’t even a cooker so it was all cold, and vegi at that. Buff wouldn’t have said no to a nice steak sandwich at this point but it was a wrap with brown balls inside, balls that opened up to some sort of green mush. Falafel they called it, and seemed to like it too, plus all the rabbit food and sauce around it. Homemade hummus dip followed by some sort of lemony sticky cakes and more water, the drink of last resort.

Over this lightweight meal I got chatting to the others such as Isaac, a tech-head who’d spent the last six months skipping engineering lectures at Auckland University to head out on a RIB to watch, video and learn from Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa’s training program.

“They thought I was a spy for Oracle” he grinned.

Then there was a pair called Ghazi and Samer I had trouble distinguishing which was which so I mentally called Tweedledee and Tweedledum. One was a fisherman and the other a farmer but jeez, who knew which was which. They both had cream coloured slacks and thick black beards.

One seemed to keep to himself: Gideon looked like a surfer dude with curly hair, wrap-around sunglasses and obligatory shorts and t-shirt. He’d grab a bit of food then head for the prow to watch the leeward hull slice the water in two.

As I grabbed another of those lemon cakes (rather moreish they were too) Ali introduced me to Doha.

“Buff, I’d like you to meet my sister” he said.

Sister! Maybe I’d been so taken by Rachel I hadn’t noticed there was another woman on-board. She’d been in the background, quiet, helping out in a dozen places, and I’d only seen the back of her head.

She shook my hand. “You must tell the world” she said, before turning back to tidy up the dinner.

Baffling: woman are like that.

Rachel and Ali returned from the foredeck where they’d been inspecting the dagger-boards and foils. With the setting sun behind them they’d been little more than silhouettes, cardboard cut-outs against a glittering sea.

“Is it time?” asked Michael.

“I want to foil” said Rachel, her eyes sparkling like the water, and Ali, watching her, nodded.

“We should lower the foils then bear away” he said. “We are out of sight of land and our new easterly course would be safe deep water all the way.”

Michael nodded.

“Do it” he said.

Ali’s seemed to smell the wind, feeling for its angle - which was a bit like putting your head out of car’s window while driving at 30 mph - then called out to Gideon who abandoned his vigil on the prow and bounced over the netting to the port hull and winched down the foil, locking it into place.

There was a slight upwards lurch, but there was still not enough lift to bring to hulls clear, not yet, we were not sailing fast enough.

“Ready” said Ali to Michael.

The big man looked apprehensive, a bit like Brian Blessed about to go on a first date. Gingerly he turned the wheel, and the yacht, a flying building his to command, turned to port; slowly at first, but controlled. Rachel looked up at the wing and gave orders to bearded twins Ghazi and Samar who slowly winched, opening out the wing, increasing its lift. Isaac and Gideon were at the other coffee grinder, letting out the headsail.

For a moment Luna Rossa seemed unsure, like a horse when its stable door has just opened, poking its nose cautiously outside. Then as if released from chains it bolted forward, straining at an invisible leash, hulls breaking through waves with clouds of spray. Michael kept his focus, adjusting the helm rapidly from side to side, holding Luna Rossa to its track. There were a couple of bumps as the speed increased, the showering sound amplified a thousand times and then it was like the boat had been lifted by a giant, maybe Neptune himself. Upwards we rose, hoisted into the sky by the foils under us. As we climbed we accelerated as if a rocket was attached to our tail until we were well over 40 knots, racing smoothly over the waves rather than through them.

It was astonishing: we were going twice as fast as before but much quieter. It was less like sailing and more like sitting on a train, looking out of the window at the sea apart from the gale in one's face.

Doha came back to the stern to stand by me and Michael, grinning broadly.

“This is amazing” she said. “Whatever happens later this was worthwhile.”

I didn’t know what she was talking about, but she was right. It was am-az-ing!

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