| This article originally appeared in the April 2013 edition of Sail Racing Magazine. |
Catamaran supremo Darren Bundock has been fascinated with the America's Cup for a long time. Finally, the move to multihulls has given him the chance to get involved and it was no surprise when the double Olympic Tornado silver medallist and 14 time world champion was snapped up by defenders Oracle Team USA to help coach their AC72 crew.
We sat down with him recently in San Francisco to get an insight into what it is like to sail an AC72 and to find out more about Oracle team USAs progress towards defending the Cup.
SRM: First of all, tell us about your role with Oracle Team USA?
Darren Bundock: I guess I have been moving more towards the coaching role, but I am still doing lots of sailing on the AC45s when we are doing foil testing.
Whether I ever get to steer the 72, I don't know about that [Laughs]. Obviously Jimmy [Spithill] is the primary helmsman and we have also got Ben [Ainslie] in the team now - a great backup helmsman and might potentially steer the second boat as well. Except for Jimmy, no one's role has been defined yet - everyone else is still working for their spot.
SRM: How did you go about setting up a coaching programme for a boat which is so cutting edge?
Darren Bundock: The primary coach is Philippe Presti. I am there helping him and primarily looking at the boat handling aspect.
We put a lot of focus on crew manoeuvres and how everyone moves across the boat, making sure everyone is efficient. We use video to help us with that, so we always have at least two Go-Pro's going on the boat at any one time.
We study timings, when people are crossing the boat and how to make that the most efficient when people are running back and forth. It's about making sure everyone is in rhythm - if someone is running from one end of the boat to the other we are trying to make sure it is from one job to the next and they are not tripping over one another.
SRM: It sounds like a time and motion study?
Darren Bundock: It is, actually. It's sort of choreographing how the crew work all fits together.
SRM: Describe a typical day for you in your coaching role?
Darren Bundock: Well first off it all starts in the gym. The coaches also need to make sure we are fit as well - in the hope that one day we might get on the boat. [Laughs].
Then there is the morning briefing and the sailing team meeting where we go through what we want to achieve for the day.
That would include a debrief from the previous day as well. So we would go through the video footage and try and highlight one or two points. The important thing is that the guys watch the video and we debrief off that. it's much easier if they can see what they have done wrong and work out how they can do it better. It's better if they point it out but if they don't pick up on it then we can highlight something we have noticed.
Then there is a review meeting with the designers and the guys who record all the data as well, where we go through and say what we are trying to get out of the coming day. That might be straight line testing, gybing, foiling, or whatever the focus might be.
The boat is usually always rolled out between nine and ten o'clock in the morning and then it is a little bit weather dependent on what time we hit the water. We are more quality focused rather than quantity focused when it comes to our training, so if we know the breeze isn't going to be what we suitable for what we have targeted for that day, we will stay on shore and do other things. There is always plenty of work to do in the shed, helping out the shore crew.
But if we get the weather we want, then we get out there. The tactician normally runs the check list of what we want to do for the day. Four or five hours later we bring the boat back to the dock and put her away again in the shed. it's usually dark by that stage and so we Philipe will go through the video footage and we will compile a list of items ready for the morning meeting the next day.
SRM: You described your coaching work as choreography earlier. To put that in context, can you help us understand the length of time it takes to tack or gybe the boat from starting to finishing?
Darren Bundock: It's getting quick. I guess we are looking at about 20 seconds.
The focus recently has been on the manoeuvres and getting that all in sync. So that means lots of tacks and gybes and looking at the video. The footage is just golden - you can see everything that happens. Then you can put a timing on it and see where people go and see when they get to where they are supposed to be. If they get there early and they are standing around waiting then they can leave later.
SRM: So the goal is to shave off seconds in the tacks and gybes?
Darren Bundock: Absolutely. With multihulls, you always want to keep as much weight on the rail as possible for leverage, so keeping the guys on the right side of the boat for as long as possible is important.
So if we can see they leave at 15 seconds and get to the other side and then stand there for three seconds before they need to start grinding, then next time they are going to leave on 12 seconds.
SRM: The individual crew roles are very different on the AC72s from the old AC monohulls. Can you break down what the 11 crew are each responsible for?
Darren Bundock: Well there are 11 guys on board and basically 10 of them are grinders.
Everyone is grinding, the boat is so physical and because everything is happening so fast as well, everyone just clicks in and grinds it in. Nobody is really just dedicated to one role. All the grinders can switch into everyone's winch so they can switch back and forth. So for a hoist or something they can all just click in and grind.
You have got one trimmer but he is still grinding in the gybes as well. The two guys at the front are responsible for grinding for the jib or the gennaker, but usually it is four guys at least to grind it in. For example, the wing trimmer, he grinds during the gybe for the gennaker too.
The next ones back are grinding the hydraulics for the boards - grinding the boards up and down and back and forth is all hydraulics and that needs grinding power to fuel it.
That's the biggest difference between the AC72s and the old AC monohulls - you on every tack or gybe you spend a lot of effort getting the boards up and down. You basically have two sets of guys on a tack or gybe, one set on one side grinding a board up and another set on the other side grinding their board down.
On our boat there are two guys behind the helmsman. One is a tactician but they are both grinding - one is a dedicated grinder but the tactician is also grinding as well. Their main function is controlling the wing.
Then you have got the helmsman and he is the only one who is not grinding, but he is multitasking at times and as he has to hold the wing sheet for the bear aways and some of the downwind.
SRM: it seems like the footage we see of all the teams training involves more straight line work than anything else? Come the actual racing, how long will the boats spend sailing in a straight line before they have to tack or gybe?
Darren Bundock: When the boats are racing, there are going to be a lot of manoeuvres to get the boats around the course. Everyone now knows where the course is going to be on the city-front and there will be boundaries keeping everyone inside of Alcatraz Island.
So it's going to be 45 to 60 seconds maximum in a straight line - that's upwind. Probably downwind, now that the boats are foiling and sailing a lot deeper angles, the straight lines will be longer, but they are still going to get to those boundaries pretty quickly.
SRM: So it sounds like when the boats are racing the grinding will be pretty much non-stop?
Darren Bundock: Oh it will be for sure. The sailors will be working at max heart rate the whole time and that's why in Team Oracle our focus has been on fitness.
Especially in the down time when the boat was still being put back together, the focus was to get the fitness up to a high base level and now we are working on strength as well. So everyone is pretty damn fit up there. We are all doing at least one or two gym sessions per day.
SRM: The physical demands on the sailors sound brutal?
Darren Bundock: They are. That's why you are now seeing a lot of younger, really fit, lean guys coming into it. And then they have to be agile because there is a lot of running around the boat.
The key is to be able to get from one side to the other quickly and on our boat you have the pod that you have to jump up onto on the way. Do that 30 times a day and you will know about it.
SRM: Do you have any idea on how many calories the crew are burring during a four or five hour training session?
Darren Bundock: I don't, but the gym instructors do for sure - and they are the one's who pack the daily bags with the snacks and lunches. If we can leave after lunch then we always have a hot lunch at the base, otherwise sandwiches or burritos or whatever it is are packed for the day.
You just can't eat or drink enough during the day. That's why every time the boat stops you will see that the food bags go on and the guys or always drinking or eating.
SRM: Tell us about how the verbal communication works on the AC72? It's a big noisy boat, so is everyone wearing headsets?
Darren Bundock: Yes, everyone is wearing headsets. Just due to the speed and the wind noise you can't hear anything on that boat. I mean the two guys sitting directly in front of the helmsman can't hear him so headsets are a must.
Not everyone can talk though, but everyone can listen. Usually it's the helmsman, trimmers, guys on the boards, bowmen, who can all talk. Everyone else is just on 'push-to-talk' or they just listen.
SRM: Is the 11-man crew spilt down into smaller groups, like a bow team, pit team etc?
Darren Bundock: I guess it is. You have got your bowmen everyone is dedicated to a pedestal, two guys dedicated to the boards, the two guys behind the helmsman are dedicated to the wing trim, and then you have got your trimmers, helmsman and tactician.
SRM: Looking specifically at the wing trimmer, how does he control that?
Darren Bundock: Well in it's basic form, he is holding a rope just like any other trimmer would. But then he has a set of button that control the shape of the wing - the camber and twist. But the difference is that those buttons trigger the hydraulics and the hydraulics are powered by somebody grinding. Every time he presses a button it spends some of the hydraulic pressure and that has to be topped up by somebody grinding.
SRM: So we understand about the need for the boards to go up and down but talk to us about how the boards are used to get the boat up on the foils?
Darren Bundock: When we are sailing we have target numbers and those tell us what the right boatspeed should be and when to get the boat up. The lift is controlled by the fore and aft rake of the boards. So when you want more lift you put more rake on the board and put more angle on the L-bits and up she goes.
SRM: So that would be a call from the helmsman?
Darren Bundock: Yes, the helmsman and the wing trimmer is controlling that as well. Actually, we are still experimenting with who will actually play the foils. Right now its the helmsman and the wing trimmer - oh, and the tactician at the back also has a panic button when she takes off!