While competitive sailing is undoubtedly anchored in tradition and prestige, evolutions in technology and design have made the sport faster, more physical, and—we’ll admit it—sexier, demanding more power, athleticism, and responsiveness from the sailors than ever before.
Nowhere is this more true than in the America’s Cup. Founded in 1851, it’s one of the world’s oldest yachting competitions, and awards the oldest trophy of any international competition. But when elite sailors from around the world assemble in Bermuda next May for the 2017 America’s Cup, they’ll be hoisting sails on vessels that hardly resemble the wooden schooners of the past. Since the summer of 2015, these elite crews have been honing their skills on specialized catamarans capable of “foiling”—meaning they rise up and skim over the water—in the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series event circuit, a competitive preamble to the main America’s Cup.
The defending champions, ORACLE TEAM USA, have been hitting the water (or, rather, skimming above it) in experimental 45-foot long and nearly 90-foot tall AC45S catamarans. The boats are huge—hoisting an AC45S in and out of the water requires about 20 to 30 people, plus the help of a crane.
But the AC45S catamarans are also nimble, elegant machines, capable of astounding speeds and hairpin turns that seem impossible for their size. With their onboard crew of 11 and a strong wind, the catamarans can easily fly through the waves at 45-50 miles an hour. In the America’s Cup, the U.S. team will compete on a new AC class 50-foot catamaran, which is markedly smaller than the ORACLE’s 72-foot catamaran that capsized on San Francisco Bay in 2012.
Crewing the ACs is extraordinarily physical and mentally taxing, since even the slightest mistake can flip the whole catamaran. (Check out this video of the team capsizing in Bermuda just last month. No injuries.) These sailors need the endurance and strength to handle extreme loads and serve as literal engines for the boat, turning the handles of the catamaran’s grinders and perpetually making miniscule adjustments to eke every ounce of energy out of the wind. Even the boats themselves are a work in progress: At ORACLE TEAM USA’s Bermuda basecamp, the crews race against one another and hone new designs for hulls, centerboards, and rudders to find the formula for the lightest, fastest vessel.
In addition to their regular sailing work, the ORACLE TEAM USA crew does a variety of strength and conditioning workouts (i.e. boxing, sled tows, swimming, weight lifting) every day, fueling up on quality protein from lean meat and True Protein powder (sorry, not available in the U.S.—yet), and carbohydrates like kale and potatoes.
Check out this video of ORACLE in action, plus interviews with the team’s head athletic trainer, Craig McFarlane, and head physiotherapist and nutritionist, Scott Tindal:
Interested? ORACLE TEAM USA is set to compete in point-scoring races on the weekend of May 7-8 in New York City. (Practice racing is on May 6.) Here’s their upcoming schedule:
New York: May 6–8, 2016
Chicago: June 10–12, 2016
Portsmouth, UK: July 22–24, 2016
Two more Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series events are set for Europe (in mid-September) and Asia (mid-November).