The learning curve just gets steeper for Team New Zealand as their premier sailors debut in the demanding conditions of San Francisco, scene for next year's America's Cup.
Dean Barker and his crew start the second season of the world series regattas there this week, sailing in the smaller AC45 catamarans.
It's a hectic period for the Kiwis. They've just started testing their giant new 72-foot catamaran in Auckland and are under pressure to get their analysis completed before they build the second edition they are likely to sail in the Louis Vuitton Cup elimination series in San Francisco next year.
Now five of that 11-man crew are back on the 45-footer, getting their first taste of conditions off the famous American west coast city.
It's a juggling act, as Emirates TNZ tactician Ray Davies explains.
“There's a huge amount going on. The design deadlines for the second big boat are coming up quickly. Before very long you aren't going to build anything new, you just purely run out of time. So the next couple of months are absolutely critical in terms of coming up with your final concept.
“The big cat is a whole new animal. There is a huge learning curve - just the size and speed that it travels at. And with the limited number of days we have to sail it we have to make the most of it. Initially it has been checking it structurally and it seems to be fine. So now we can hone in on the performance of the boat.”
But right now it's San Francisco that occupies the minds of Davies and skipper Dean Barker.
“It's our first time here and we need to learn as much as we can about the venue,” Davies said.
“In a sense it's an easy place to sail but the difficult things are there's a very strong current and tide - there's a difference across the course, so learning about the current is important.
“The wind is generally in the range of 15 knots to the high 20s so we need to get used to sailing in the extreme conditions. When the wind and tide are opposed to each other it can get lumpy.”
Like most of the crew, Davies is having to get to grips with multi-hull sailing after a long and distinguished career in monohulls.
“We have all had to make a big transition. It's given us a bit of an injection of adrenalin really. It's put a whole new lease of life into our sailing career,” said the 39-year-old of having to learn new tricks.
“Once you get to the extreme of monohulls it can be a bit ho-hum but now it's a whole new game. It's very challenging, especially in the extreme conditions that we are going to have.
“But a lot of the elements don't change, you just have to get used to the angles and the speed it all happens at.”
The course this week will be a smaller version of next year's America's Cup course, running from Alcatraz Island to the St Francis Yacht Club.
Hosts Oracle, who pipped TNZ in the last world series, will be the team to beat. Swedish syndicate Artemis, one of the confirmed challengers next year, have already been testing in San Francisco and this week's regatta is spiced up by the debut of the Ben Ainslie Racing team, headed by Olympic yachting's most successful sailor who just won his fourth consecutive gold medal at the London Games.
- © Fairfax NZ News