Written by Magnus Wheatley
Photography by America's Cup
28 November 2023
With winds filtering down from the north-west, delivering a solid 13 to 15 knot breeze, blue skies, 32-degree heat and some decent swell that tested the sailors to the limit, the AC40s hit the water for a three-race practice session in Jeddah.
“Never win the practice race” is the usual mantra in competition sailing but to watch the fleet of AC40s hammering around the Red Sea in pitch-perfect conditions, offering zero quarter, this was as competitive as it could get.
In free practice before the racing flights begun, Orient Express Racing capsized just off the entrance to the Obhur Creek and sadly had to tow back to base but for the five boats left, it was a chance to establish an early pecking order and for all the teams to check back in on each other having not raced since September in Vilanova at the first Preliminary Regatta.
What we saw on the water was a step-on in technique from all the teams with everyone showing flashes of speed, all the teams at times leading races and all the sailors making mistakes in the warm waters of the Red Sea.
Maintaining a 100 percent flight time and avoiding splash-downs through the manoeuvres was paramount but not easy and Jeddah proved to be an unexpected test on Monday afternoon.
Picking the right side of the beat upwind was tricky. The right, nearest the shore, was a false dawn that appeared to be favoured with the pressure and a wind bend but the tack back onto starboard and out into the Red Sea was a tough angle. Those that hung out left and came back either on the boundary or up the middle, appeared to fare better.
Downwind, the phenomenon was reversed and with the Committee Boat and leeward gate set inshore, the starboard gate at the windward mark more often was favoured with a bear-away towards inshore and a judged gybe down onto port.
Fascinating tactics and interesting to see the sailors take alternate sides to try things – this was practice after all.
Iain Murray and his team on the Race Committee did a sterling job with perfect courses and the autonomous marks holding station. It was a practice day for the overall management of the regatta, but it felt like a whole lot more.
The official Practice Race starts at 1.30pm (local time in Jeddah) on Tuesday 28 November with another three races scheduled.