The 36th America’s Cup is a contest like no other – it has taken the sport of sailing to places that it has never been to before and on board the remarkable AC75s, the teams’ athletes are pushing themselves to the limits too.
The sight of an AC75 – a 75-foot foiling monoholl – flying across the water is something to behold. After all, logic says that a 75-foot, seven-tonne boat shouldn’t be able to rise up out of the water and accelerate to speeds of around 50 knots really, should it?!
However, in the 36th America’s Cup, something that remarkable happens every day of the week and does so within a competitive environment too.
Out in the Hauraki Gulf and Waitemata Harbour, the contests between these multi-million pound AC75s are fast and furious. Games of chicken are played and as we’ve seen already during the competition, when teams are pushing each other (and themselves) to their limits, it can go disastrously wrong.
Every manoeuvre on an AC75 is complex – G-Forces hit team members during turns, waves crash water on board, and all of this happens while a team is trying to outsmart and outwit a competitor.
Needless to say, a position on an AC75 isn’t for the faint-hearted and for one role in particular, it means pushing yourself to your physical limits and staying there for 20 to 30 minutes, as Matt Gotrel one of INEOS TEAM UK’s grinders, explained.
As soon as you get on the boat, you’ve got to be switched on 100 per cent. You’ve got to be focused and ready to do your job, which is get to the red line and sit there for as long as you can. There are no shortcuts.
“Essentially, everything under the water-line is powered by batteries and everything above it, all of the controls, the sails, are powered by the men in the boat,” Gotrel said during one of INEOS TEAM UK’s human performance features.
“BRITANNIA will absorb all of the end power it’s given, there’s no limit in mind,” Ben Williams, the British team’s head of human performance, added. “It’s just all about keeping going and achieving more.”
For Gotrel, pushing his body day after day is something that has been part of his life for a number of years now.
After growing up on the international youth sailing circuit, he switched his hand to rowing while studying for an engineering degree at Loughborough University. Gotrel didn’t just dabble in rowing and row for fun either; he excelled and won gold at the Rio Olympics with the men’s eight.
Now, he’s back in the world of sailing and despite sailing being quite specialist and technical, having athletes move across from rowing isn’t uncommon, as INEOS TEAM UK’s team principal and skipper Sir Ben Ainslie told Sky Sports.
“The fact that Matt is a successful sailor, certainly de-risks [his move over].
“We wanted to bring in people from other sporting backgrounds with different experience and I don’t think there’s an environment that’s more professional than British Rowing… certainly the results have proved that over the last 20-odd years or more.
“It’s been quite common actually, in America’s Cup teams to bring in top sportspeople from different backgrounds. Steve Redgrave actually sailed back in ’87 in Fremantle with the British team. Quite a few rowers over the years have got involved with America’s Cup challenges; it’s always been quite a natural transition and worked well.
“You can see when Matt comes into the gym, he’s got that professionalism that he’s brought from the rowing squad… he’s there to train,” Ainslie added, while sitting next to his teammate on a video call from their base in New Zealand.
“It sounds obvious but there’s no trying to delay the pain of what he’s about to go through with his session. It’s that focus that he has. thinking, ‘this is the programme that I’ve been set, I’m going to get it done and I’m going to get fitter and the team are going to get fitter’.
“It’s quiet leadership and it’s exactly what we were looking for, in bringing someone like Matt in from another elite sport.
“I’m making him blush now probably, but he has had that impact and really our numbers are quite significantly higher in terms of the output of the grinders and their fitness levels between this campaign and the last.”
Not only are the grinders’ numbers higher, but they are testing themselves further and working on board with other elements to think about too, as Ainslie highlighted.
“For each manoeuvre that we do, the grinders are not only grinding, but they’ve also got a function with the control of the boat. So, the grinders are flat-out physically but also mentally they have to make sure that they’ve got it right.
“That’s the biggest thing that you can’t train for, really,” Gotrel added. “You’ve got to train on the water, you can’t just do it in the gym.
“The hardest part is being close to that red line, heart rate wise and physically, but then making sure that you’re fully switched on.
“If you get it wrong, these boats will come back and bite you. You don’t want to be at the wrong place, at the wrong time.”
For Gotrel and his teammates on board, who are working at maximum heartrate, the fact that they have Ainslie leading the charge as skipper and Giles Scott beside him as tactician means a lot.
“Ben’s been there and done it all. The biggest thing that you can see, on the water, in the gym and around the base is that he leads by example,” Gotrel said.
“Everyone on the boat and in the team gets pulled along by that, you’re expected to give everything that you’ve got, and nothing less will really do. It goes through the whole team from the top down. That’s what he brings, along with his experience.
PRADA Cup Final – Opening Weekend – Live on Sky Sports
“On the racecourse, it’s pretty impressive when you see both Ben and Giles get into their game.
“It takes a load off everyone else and we just know that we’ve got to do our job, when you’ve got guys like that at the back boat who are taking it around the course, you know that you’re in safe hands.”
Three teams left. ?? ?? ??
Three AC75's, Te Rehutai, Britannia and Luna Rossa.
Only one can win the America's Cup.
Who's it going to be? The Defender, or a Challenger#MakeYourPick pic.twitter.com/bXMRMa2Qwt
Right now, Gotrel, Ainslie and the whole of INEOS TEAM UK are preparing to take to the water for the start of the winner-takes-all, first to seven points, PRADA Cup Final on Saturday.
The PRADA Cup must be won in order to become the challenger to Emirates Team New Zealand in the 36th America’s Cup match, and the British team are taking on a strong opponent in Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli.
The final race of the round robins between the two teams gave us all a taste of what’s on the cards in this final, it was hailed by Ainslie as one of the most exciting races he’s ever been involved in, and featured no less than nine lead changes.
While INEOS TEAM UK developing race boat BRITANNIA, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli took part in the semi-finals against New York Yacht Club American Magic and looked slicker than they had done previously.
In short, both teams will have to push themselves and their AC75s, once again in order to prevail and secure that golden place in the 36th America’s Cup match.
Watch every moment of the America’s Cup challenge, live on Sky Sports. Coverage continues with the PRADA Cup final at 3am on February 13, live on Sky Sports Mix, repeated again at 8am.
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