Too Big To Sail: Cup Race Canceled Again

The America’s Cup sailboat race’s first round has once again been canceled due to the fickleness of winter weather crossing the North Atlantic to the Mediterranean.  On Monday, it was a lack of wind off the coast of Valencia, Spain, today, it was too much wind, over 15 knots, which was causing waves 4 to 6 feet high, or up to nearly 2 meters.  The winds Wednesday were gusting up to 25 knots. ( A knot is 1.15 miles per hour, aka .514 meters per second.  per wikipedia, 1 meter per second = 2 knots is a fast way to make the conversion from European meters per second, when they use it to describe windspeed.…  )

Since these fancy, triple hulled sailboats used to compete in the Cup can attain top racing speeds of up to 3 times the wind’s, the race is not allowed to proceed with the insurance company’s blessings unless the wind is under 15 knots, to keep the boats at 45 mph or under, and the wave chop needs to be 3 feet or less.  The America’s Cup race goes 40 miles at a time, 20 miles out, turn, and 20 miles back, for 3 races to determine the winner.  The Swiss are the current defenders of the Cup, with their boat the “Alinghi” and an international team formed by Ernesto Bertarelli.  (Alinghi is an invented name and does not translate into something cute from Italian.)

A photo of the United State’s entry, the Oracle trimaran, at dock can be seen here. Note the size of the outrigger to the right side, and the thickness of the center sail mast rising out of the middle:…

Another photo of the Oracle, under sail and airborn except for one outrigger touching the water (why one does not want big waves to be smacking the thing under speed) can be seen here:…

An excellent story on the effect of even tiny variation in wind speed on these 2 huge, swift, but delicate racing machines can be found here:…  

If the boats can’t withstand the weather-  the mast can snap at the base, and the sails can literally fall off.

Under normal sailing conditions, the load at the base of the mast on Alinghi V is 100 tonnes, equivalent to a fully laden Boeing 757 sitting on the top of the mast that is supported on a metal ball barely bigger than the tow hitch on a family car. Even a modest gust of wind or a small wave can see this load rise dramatically.


For Alinghi’s opponents aboard USA-17, BMW Oracle Racing’s radical trimaran, the issue is more about the complexity of the 230ft wingmast that towers above the boat. Arguably more suited to stronger winds, its Achilles’ heel lies in the number and complexity of components that are required to control the wing. A small failure could quickly lead to a chain reaction and a catastrophic failure.

The race will again be attempted to start on Friday.…… (subscription required, merely linked for attribution)


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  1. …. damned dog thought it was funny to whine piteously and want to go out 3 times since 3:30 am and indulge his inner livestock guardian and bark at nothing.  

    Since I was up anyway…..

    • Xanthe on February 10, 2010 at 17:40

    They’re not pretty, are they?  What’s the point of having these boats if they’re not allowed to go at top speed?  

    Do you know where they’re constructed?  

  2. this is a joke.  But the AC has always been a joke compared to most other races.  

    Here’s my kind of sailing race:

    • TMC on February 10, 2010 at 23:51

    I’d be in Valencia right now but I got side tracked. 😉

    Dr. TMC asked if I’d rather got to Valencia this weekend rather than New Orleans. I told him this afternoon but that at this rate we could do both but New Orleans was still my first choice.  

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