The first visit of the GC 32 Extreme Series cats to Australia in December was a wild adrenalin ride, writes KEVIN GREEN.
Foiling at speeds of 39kts and weighing a mere 975kg, the Extreme Series earned its moniker as the wind charged through the eight boat fleet at 29kts during day one in Sydney. The international five man crews were seen struggling with the foils, the mainsheets and simply holding on to these carbon rocketships. Some did not succeed. Team Australia’s veteran skipper and local multihull pioneer Sean Langman slid off the back along with crewman Seve Jarvin. Earlier Sean had told me his aim of keeping the mast pointing at the sky, but perhaps should have included his own head. A multihull record holder on this Orma 60 Australia One, Langman knows about fast cats and I’ve personally raced with him while doing 34.5kts on that beast on the harbour. Langman expressed his interest in more racing on the GC32 and with a boat already sailing in Queensland there may be fledgling fleet at some stage.
But these boats aren’t for the faint hearted, as even the pros were finding out, as the first season of the Extreme Series with these foiling cats was reaching a spectacular finale in Sydney. For the first time there was major wipe-outs among the fleet. Aboard the upturned GC32 catamaran Visit Madeira the five crewmen dangled from the elevated hull and one slid down the foil to hold on grimly as the 32ft boat slowly inverted. Just behind my media boat the British entry had done a huge nose plant as it crashed off its foil before it had capsized, spilling its young rookie crew from the Land Rover BAR Academy into Sydney Harbour. Other teams had near misses and semi pitch-poles as they screamed down the course. But even the capsized ones were quickly righted and checked out before returning to the fray, as BAR support crewman Harry Speading explained to me. “Generally no damage is done and the rig doesn’t even go out of tune,” said the Englishman.
The last of eight events that has seen eight teams compete across Europe and Asia, the Extreme Series attracts elite sailors who are often Olympic champions, America’s Cup sailors and class winners. They race courses of windward/leewards and crowd pleasing stadium style racing during the four day events. So, as the small crowds gathered around the hosting club, the Royal Yacht Squadron and surrounding bays of Sydney Harbour, even the most basic smartphone camera was close enough to capture one of those speeding catamarans and hear the unusual whine coming from its forestay. Alternatively the analytic screens supplied by technology giant SAP could be viewed which showed computer generated modelling of the race in real time; allowing viewers to watch the windshifts, fleet tactics and the boat data.
Prior to this third visit to Sydney, the Extreme Series had been using non foiling 40 footers – upscaled Tornado style boats designed by Yves Loday – until this year when the GC32 fleet was assembled. It’s the kind of spectacular event that puts Sydney on the international map Maritime Director Angus Mitchell told me when we chatted at the Squadron. “We’ve been really pleased to be involved for three years and happy to facilitate the event on Sydney Harbour, despite it being challenging navigation for all the vessels around the Opera House and Circular Quay.”
Winners on that extreme first day was the Swiss boat Alinghi, which went on to sail strongly for all four days in the Sydney event under the command of Moth sailor Arnaud Psarofaghis. The double America’s Cup winning Alinghi team (2003 and 2007) have dominated the Extreme Series under owner Ernesto Bertarelli and claimed their fourth Extreme title in Sydney. Among the rest of the fleet, the wildcard Kiwis won the local competition against Team Australia by showing tremendous skill in sailing their boat RNZYS Lautrec Racing under the command of Chris Steele to a sixth placing, just behind the Land Rover BAR Academy team. Third overall was the highly consistent Red Bull Sailing Team, skippered by Olympic double gold medallist Roman Hagara. The former Tornado champion told me he loved racing in Sydney but 29kts was pushing these boats to the limit. “We focussed on being defensive but good starts were so important on these short courses,” explained the Austrian sailor. “Rounding the top mark to bear away and foil with the kites hoisted is a critical part of the course for these boats,” added Hagara. And so it was as even without kites the bear-aways proved spectacular and for the Oman boat, catastrophic when it capsized after nearly colliding with the SAP Team.
GREAT CUP 32
Designed by foil expert Dr Martin Fischer, the Great Cup 32 is part of a revolution that is taking over the sport after the AC72 catamarans flew around San Francisco Bay in 2013.The simple equation of adding powerful rigs while seeking to reduce drag has led to the introduction of hydrofoils that lift the hulls clear of the water. This in turn creates the need for aerodynamics – as the parameters of lift, windshear and sheeting loads change – including unheard-of apparent wind speeds, that has also improved wing-sail technologies. I’d seen the GC32 hull builds underway at Premier Composites when visiting this high tech yard run by Max and Hannes Waimer. The German brothers have successfully transferred their car manufacturing skills to boat building, first with the DK Yachts Malaysia brand and latterly to their vast yard in the heart of Dubai.
Now in its mark two evolution – organised as an ISAF class through the GC32 International Class Association founded in 2014 by Laurent Lenne, Flavio Marazzi, Andrew MacPherson and Christian Peer – the GC32 is strict one design boat aimed at fostering international regattas. The first boats used smaller double S foils which reduced displacement but the success of the America’s Cup foiling boats led to development of the fully foiling mark two boats in 2014. Rather than a full wing mast with consequential higher costs and specialist skill requirements, the GC32 rigs are aimed at a wide variety of sailor skill levels. The GC32 has five crew plus a guest sailor (the latter allowed on only in light wind) who operate the high aspect rotating carbon rigs with furling asymmetric spinnakers. Given the lightness of these boats, maximising crew weight and distribution is a key handling parameter.
The GC32 has ultra lightweight carbon hulls (975kg) with drag reduced by using curved dagger boards or J-foils that lift the lee bow 2m high in 8kts of more of pressure. Once foiling the angle or rake of the J-Foil is then moved to trim the boat and the twin rudders have T-foils on their bases for lift and trim. The GC32 has an upwind sail area of 99.17m2 and a downwind of 143m2 when their asymmetrics are unrolled. When the power-to-weight ratio is considered and the vastly reduced drag, these can literally become flying machines. To get a feel about these boasts I asked one of the few professional woman sailors who has raced one, Dee Caffari, what it was like to control a GC32. “Really exciting boats to sail and once you’re on the foils everything goes strangely quiet,” explained the former Vendee Globe sailor. “It’s essential that the foiling crewman sets the J-foil before the bear-away otherwise the pressure on it becomes too much,” added Caffari who was in Sydney to commentate for the Extreme Series.
The 2017 Extreme Sailing Series begins in Muscat, Oman, from March 8-11.