JIMMY SPITHILL AND TEAM FALCON CREW PUSHED TO BRINK DURING MISSION TO FLY ON WATER
In epic adventure to foil from New York to Bermuda, 35-knot winds (45mph) and waves up to 25 feet hammer 46-foot foiling catamaran on the open ocean
NEW YORK/BERMUDA (November 15, 2016) – What started in ideal foiling conditions out of New York on Saturday, Nov. 5 turned treacherous for some of the world’s best sailors, who had to fight vicious winds and unexpected conditions over 66 hours and three nights during a 662-mile (1,065km) open ocean flight over water.
“We went from pushing the boat for performance…into survival mode,” said Australia’s Jimmy Spithill, the ORACLE Team USA skipper who is a two-time America’s Cup champion. “I wanted to push myself mentally and physically further than I’ve ever gone before because the America’s Cup next year will be tougher and harder-fought and more unpredictable than anything I have ever experienced. It was exactly what I needed, to really test myself under extreme conditions. It’s only then, when the stress and fatigue levels climb so high and you need to make the right calls as a skipper, that you push yourself and your development. Ultimately, this will help me be a better sailor next year when the America’s Cup is on the line.”
Led by Spithill, the Team Falcon crew included Shannon Falcone of Antigua; Rome Kirby of Newport, Rhode Island, USA; Tommy Loughborough of Singapore; Cy Thompson of the Virgin Islands; and Bermuda’s own Emily Nagel, a member of Team Bermuda in the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup.
On the 46-foot “F4,” Team Falcon faced a complex stretch of ocean that turned treacherous, affected by the Gulf Stream and always-changing Atlantic currents. The adverse weather, and unpredictability of navigation and communication in the open ocean, added to the challenge of managing the boat’s finite energy supply.
The result of an eight-month engineering collaboration, Team Falcon sailed on the first-ever 46-foot hydro-foiling catamaran that was specifically produced for the open ocean. The boat reaches extremely high speeds and lifts off the surface of the water, literally hovering a few feet over swells on innovative foils.
The mission had been postponed several times by a hurricane, gale force winds and other nasty conditions. When the weather window opened, the crew left from New York – which in 1870 became the first U.S. city to host the America’s Cup – for Bermuda, where the 35th America’s Cup will be held in the summer of 2017.
Born from the vision of Falcone, an open ocean adventurer and former teammate of Spithill and Rome Kirby on ORACLE Team USA, the mission set out to prove that sustained foiling in the open ocean on a multi-hull is here for the avid sailor and adventure seeker – powered by wind, innovation and efficiency.
On departure, light winds quickly filled into a nearly ideal westerly flow of 15–18 knots (17-20mph). “Foiling out of Manhattan all the way to the Gulf Stream was awesome,” said Spithill. “It really proved this is the way forward in terms of performance and development. If the weather had stayed as forecast, we would have had a very fast trip to Bermuda.”
The team reached the Gulf Stream Saturday evening, but the headaches came Sunday morning when a new low pressure system formed rapidly. As the team departed the Gulf Stream, they reported 25-knot winds (29mph) and 2-meter waves (6.5ft), both well over projection. The F4 eventually reported winds between 35 and 40 knots, with 6–8m (20–25ft) waves.(40 knots is equivalent to 46mph/74kmh.) Safety remained the top priority, so minimal sails were deployed and progress was exceptionally slow. As had been the case for 24 hours, there was nowhere to go but toward Bermuda. When the team arrived early morning on Tuesday, Nov. 8, conditions remained fierce.
Spithill on what he saw in the open ocean:
“These were the biggest waves I’ve faced in a multi-hull and hopefully don’t ever have to experience again. Given how big the sea state was building and predicted to build, it was very concerning. Being responsible for the crew and boat, I knew we were going to be in for a long 48 hours. At night we didn’t have a moon, so it was very difficult trying to get through this. Some of the waves were breaking, which made it very challenging and extremely dangerous, and we had a few close calls at night.”
Spithill on preparing for the worst:
“We had to flick a switch and be prepared for the worst case, which would have been a capsize and get the raft and get everyone in it. Doing this at night, in a confused sea state and a lot of wind is another thing. Thankfully we didn't need to do this, but we were discussing how we would go about it.”
Spithill on teamwork & leadership:
“You always see the best team and people in the worst situation – this team was amazing. For Cy and Emily who had limited ocean sailing, I was impressed how they kept a cool head throughout the tough conditions. They have bright futures ahead of them. I also pushed myself in terms of leadership, what it takes to skipper in exceptionally challenging, unpredictable conditions, exactly the skills I’ll need next year in The America’s Cup.”
Spithill on open ocean sailing:
“I love ocean sailing, getting offshore and taking on Mother Nature. You have to be ready for anything – Mother Nature can turn, and when she does it can be awesome as well as terrifying.”
Emily Nagel on the experience:
“I couldn't quite believe I was on a boat with the ORACLE Team USA guys and Shannon. The learning curve of getting to sail with people with that kind of experience is just incredible. I learned so much about foiling and about offshore sailing. That, and just to experience it all, because I'd never really done any serious offshore sailing.”
Shannon Falcone on the experience:
“In 72 hours, we experienced more than a lot of sailors experience in their whole career. We had awesome foiling on the first day, but it turned to ultimate survival. I was so impressed with Emily, and the entire team bonded because of the challenges and adversities.”
Images for editorial use only. Credit: Matt Knighton / Rob Tringali / Amory Ross