Eleven, just like a football team. Or, if you prefer, an orchestra where everyone has to play at just the right moment. The AC 75 requires a crew which differs completely from that of the boats used in the previous America's Cup competitions: besides, it is a total ‘break’ away from the multihull boats used in the last editions and has nothing to do with the monohulls of the early 2000s. The foiling system - the set of foils which, in ideal conditions, allow the hull to ‘take off’ from the water - offers unprecedented performance levels in the history of sailing: 40 knots when close reaching, 50 knots when running downwind. In some simulations, it would seem that the AC75 reached speeds five to six times faster than wind speed. Many argue that this is an edition where the vessel counts too much in relation to human abilities. In fact, absolute control on the part of the crew is required: to sail faster than the opponent and to avoid accidents.
A complete project
This is why the make-up of the crew and the team in general was chosen by Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli, with painstaking care and a keen eye on the future. “We created a project such as New Generation to scout young Italian yachtsmen in view of the next America’s Cup – explains Max Sirena, the skipper and technical director of the challenge – I received a whopping 700 CVs, and called in a hundred youths for testing and eventually picked those who were not necessarily the best or most capable, but rather the most suited to team life”. And you shouldn’t presume that those on board are limited to a single role: each one has at least a couple, of a technical and logistical nature. Starting with the helmsmen, who are fundamental since the first design of an AC 75. “Once upon a time, there were the engineers, the designers and the skippers: three clearly distinct roles. These days, the person ‘piloting’ the boat is very actively involved in its design. The winning helmsman is also the one who knows how to set up the fastest vessel” stresses the patron Patrizio Bertelli.
Five and six
So who are the crew of the Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli? There are five men on the right side of the AC 75, and six on the left. There are two helmsmen, who will also have the role of ‘flight controller’ to confirm that this class literally takes off from the water – thanks to the foils – and can therefore also indulge in using aeronautical terminology. On one side, there’s the Australian James Spithill (winner of the regatta, in two editions, with BMW Oracle), on the other, Palermo-born Francesco Bruni, who was one of the great specialists of the 49er, Olympic skiff on which he competed in four editions of the Games. There are two of them because while one holds the helm, the other adjusts the foils and is therefore paradoxically decisive in the trim of the hull. Another ‘veteran’ of the 49er, Pietro Sibello from Alassio, is instead the main sail trimmer: he has the important task of controlling the most important sail of the AC 75 and is the only yachtsman who changes position during the regatta, depending on the side. Curious fact: he holds a veritable joystick, which he uses to control the adjustments of the main sail, using the energy pumped into the hydraulic system by the grinders.
The tactician has disappeared
The new class has effectively abolished the role of the tactician, which was once vital. “Tactics are no longer decided on board, like in the classic regattas, but in advance, up to just a few minutes before departure – explains Vasco Vascotto, one of the most successful Italian yachtsmen ever, on the Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli for the first time – my task, on board the dinghy, is just to check together with the helmsmen both the current and the wind in the Hauraki Gulf, how to attack the opponent in his weak points or on which side to sail after departure. At speeds that the vessel reaches in a flash, there is no room for creativity on board.” The crew of the AC 75 is completed by eight grinders: these men – of undoubted physical strength – drive the winches composed of a tower with the two characteristic side cranks. Like the other yachtsmen on board, they are fitted out with a helmet and an intercom to communicate with one another: the former became a must-have piece of protective equipment in the America's Cup when the catamarans arrived, while the latter was first used in the edition in Auckland, in 2000, where the Luna Rossa won the Louis Vuitton Cup and was subsequently defeated in the final by the hosts.
On board the boat, the grinders will be Matteo Celon, Umberto Molineris, Enrico Voltolini, Emanuele Liuzzi, Romano Battisti (who won silver medal at the 2012 London Olympics in Double skulls), Gilberto Nobili, Nicholas Brezzi, Pierluigi De Felice. They are more decisive than you might think, because except for the movement of the foil arms (there is an electric motor), everything is regulated with the hydraulic system and every time the trimmer moves something, a signal warns them that they need to put pressure in the system. Two grinders (one on each side) then have the task of adjusting the headsail, which is less complicated to manage than the main sail: only two separate winches are required to perform “normal” tacking: a mainsheet is eased and the other is hauled, just like on a pleasure boat.