Justin Chisholm of Sail Racing Magazine
interviews Anthony Kouton of GC32 Argo Racing on the rigours of life on the GC32 Circuit.
Although the GC32 Class might not get the sort of media attention it’s larger cousins in the America’s Cup attract, fielding 11 teams on the European GC32 Racing Tour makes it the biggest fleet of large high-performance foiling multihulls in the world, currently.
Many of the teams are owner-driver campaigns but the circuit is far from amateur with plenty of well-known names from the Extreme Sailing Series (which made the switch to the GC32 this year) and the America’s Cup dotted around the fleet.
This season the French, Swedish and Kiwi AC syndicates have all used the GC32 circuit to ramp up their sailors’ competitive foiling hours.
As well as five sailors most teams have as many people again in their coaching logistics and technical support squads. On the water every boat has a good sized RIB constantly on hand for safety during racing and maintenance work between races.
With up to five races per day sailed around America’s Cup style courses the pace of a GC32 event is not for the faint hearted. Particularly daunting is the blistering reach from the start line to the first turning mark; frightening enough just to watch from a spectator boat and a true white knuckle ride for the competitors.
US Virgin Island sailor, Anthony Kotoun, who sails aboard the only American GC32 – Jason Carroll’s Argo Racing – gives us a taste of a typical day at a GC32 event.
Generally in Europe the racing doesn’t start until around midday to give the thermal breeze a chance to establish. Our sailing team meets for breakfast at the hotel around 09:00. We run through an hour of video de-briefing from the day before with our coach before heading down to the boat.
Once we arrive we get in the way of the shore crew and annoy them until we get told off. Then we go seek some shade, eat some more, then eat some more again, while we try to get a handle on what the breeze is doing, argue whether it’s big jib or small jib and talk about general rig tune. Then we have some lunch then head out on the water.
In case you didn’t pick up on it – eating is a key part of the day in this fleet if you want to survive the racing.
Once we are out on the water we focus on finding where the hot spot compression areas in the wind are and we get into all the normal fine detail that you would with any sailboat regatta.
It will come as no surprise that with the America's Cup-style reaching starts you can do yourself a lot of favours by winning that first reach. If you can get out in front, it's like fresh powder downhill skiing, but if you get stuck back in the peloton you can get really blocked.
That first reach is pretty hectic. My job is grind the mainsheet so I'm looking up wind and I'm trying to call the puffs and our speed relation to anybody that's starting above us. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I'm definitely always keeping a wary eye to my left in case somebody in front of us plugs it. If that happens you just have to get low and hang on.
For sure though it’s a very exhilarating part of the race. You can't believe you're doing it sometimes and that all the teams are getting along that well on the reach. It's very, very, very fast.
Like in all racing your decisions are not often dictated by yourself but by the action of others around you. So we talk a lot about ways of breaking free if you do get stuck in the peloton.
The tactics and strategy of that reach are straightforward: if you start high, generally you have a better angle, but you're sailing more distance. If it’s lighter, then usually you have a better angle from the leeward end of the line and there’s the added advantage that you're on the inside when you reach the turn. Usually though the race committee knows this and they offset the top of the starting line or the reach buoy position so that there's always some strategy to it.
In terms of starting technique it seems like there's definitely two thoughts. One way is to line up and edge closer and closer to the start line in the final minute, before you pull the trigger to pop up on the foils at the gun.
Then there's what in America we would call a “Vanderbilt Start”. This obviously originates from way back in the day and is where you come blasting through from behind at 20 knots while everybody on the front row is static in that couple of seconds before they have got up on their foils. Often there’s not enough real estate behind the line for that so it can be a bit of a risky option.
The point is that, although a lot of people are afraid that the move to foiling in events like ours and the America's Cup has meant a turn away from tactics and strategy, they couldn't be more wrong – there’s tons of tactics and strategy, it’s just different to what we were used to.
Once you are off and running - like always in sail racing – it’s all about sailing fast and clean and avoiding huge boat-handling mistakes.
There’s generally five races per day, sometimes six of them. By the time it’s all over you're pretty cooked. Back ashore the first priority is food and plenty of it. Often we will debrief the day’s racing but it tends to be a relaxed chat over beers.