The wind finally materialized in Vilamoura, Portugal, yesterday and the crew of the maxi catamaran Club Med continued its preparation for the upcoming start of The Race by heading out for two brief daysails with a barrage of media on board. Camera crews from Germany and France were joined by print and online journalists from the US, Spain, Italy, Japan, and the UK, and all were treated to an impressive performance that went a long way toward verifying the sponsors claim that this is indeed the fastest ocean racing sailboat in the world.
With winds of 10.5 knots buffeting the anemometer atop the 136-foot wing mast, co-skippers Grant Dalton and Franck Proffit, and most of the 13-person crew put the boat through its paces, tacking, jibing, and reaching. With full mainsail and jib, and a relatively novice helmsman on the wheel, the boat dropped from 12.3 knots of speed to 6.3 as it headed up into a tack, but then as soon as the jib came across, it began to accelerate. In 15 seconds, the boat speed had jumped to 10.5, and then 12.8 in another few seconds. This kind of acceleration is something Dalton, Proffit, and the rest of the crew take for granted on this machine, but for a first-timer, its suitably impressive. The boat has an instantaneous touch on the helm and its almost too easy to drive, which in itself is a gas.
The highlight of the day came when the boat bore away to jibe in a puff of breeze that reached 17 knots. The numbers on the boat speed dial arced up to 26.8 knots through the jibe. Speed like this is impressive not because it feels fast, but mostly because it doesnt. When the platform youre riding on is larger than a tennis court and youre an easy nine feet above the water, you dont feel the sensation of moving quicklyits very deceiving. Part of that has to do with the boats smooth motion, which was enhanced tremendously by a very calm sea state.
Still more impressive, however, is the caliber of the crew and the functional cohesion that these sailors have achieved. Each member of the on-the-water team aboard Club Med has an area specialty, but they work extremely well together and no one is above helping out elsewhere when needed. "You build trust in these guys," explained Dalton. "Its not just the sailing. Were together all day and then we do our fitness training together and go to dinner together and then were in the bar all of us, so if someone doesnt fit in, you find out about it right away."
In the late afternoon, the wind dissipated to less than four knots and Team Club Med called it a day. The crew put the boat away and headed to the field for a brief but intense 30 minutes of training led by strength and conditioning coach Thierry Barot. Fitness takes a priority on the teams agenda, but its just one of many areas of preparation. Tomorrow, the emphasis goes back to accommodating the media with another day of sailing. If one days interaction can be considered a fair basis from which to judge a sailing campaign, the Club Med syndicate is truly on target for success.
Club Med Update by Dan Dickison