America's Cup: Riding on the White Tiger

By Jonathan MorrisBBC News, Plymouth

The America's Cup sailing competition has been drawing thousands of people to the Plymouth Hoe to see the action.

But what is it like on one of the nine catamarans racing around Plymouth Sound?

The America's Cup is in Plymouth - the latest stop on a global tour before the finals in San Francisco in 2013.

But this time it is all change for the America's Cup.

Instead of single-hulled yachts, the competition is being fought for the first time with a one-design catamaran, the AC45, with a wing sail.

The 85sq m (914 sq ft) wing sails give massive amounts of power down the race course, or the "track" as organisers call it.

But such is their power that they can pitch-pole boats from stern to bow, digging the hulls into the water and catapulting boat and crew forward.

Chris Draper
Skipper Chris Draper - elated at first win for Team Korea

I put on a helmet and took up my place perched at the rear of the boat, an America's Cup novice trying to appear cool about what might be in store - the second race of the day on Wednesday.

Team Korea itself had capsized on Sunday in strong winds and another entrant, Team China, had pitchpoled on Tuesdayexternal-link after entering the so-called "death zone".

It is when the boats bear away from the wind, creating a heart-in-mouth moment when the increased power in the rig drives the bows of the boat down into the water and putting it at risk of a pitch pole.

The Team Korea boat is called White Tiger after the sacred Korean beast and it is lively to say the least.

The team, which is entering the America's Cup for the first time, had a good start - the tiger-striped carbon fibre hulls chattering over the chop before lifting skyward on the windward side as the boat picked up speed to about 25mph.

"Respect the bear away," shouted British skipper Chris Draper as we rounded an upwind mark before the boat leapt forward with an awesome surge of power.

"Deploy, deploy!" came the shout from Draper again as the crew manhandled the giant gennaker sail into position.

And this was in mellow conditions with a gentle, but changeable breeze blowing across the Sound.

Such is the efficiency of the wing sails they can drive the boats forward at three times the speed of the wind.

The crew of fiveexternal-link are working constantly to keep the charging beast on the right track and out of the death zone.

Draper, a world champion and Olympic medallist in the frisky two-man skiff known as the 49er, is well-versed in handling tricky conditions.

He decides tactics and is assisted by a crew of four - wing trimmer Troy Tindill, trimmer Mark Bulkele, bowman Matt Cornell and float Chris Brittle.

Brittle's job is to supply the muscle power on the "coffee grinder" winches and make all manoeuvres as quickly as possible.

The match races, which last about 20 minutes, are a test of nerves as the catamarans reach towards the marks and then bunch together alarmingly as they jostle for position.

At one mark Team China is bearing down on us at full speed from the other direction, the air is filled with shouts for right of way.

Team Korea
Team Korea battle to regain their position around a mark

All the while the crew have their eyes on two red lights at the bow which flash when the boat has crossed the race boundary line, incurring a penalty.

Team Korea lost a few places and then moved back through the fleet with a series of well-judged mark roundings in tricky conditions.

Just seconds before the finish line, the team edged out Team Emirates New Zealand - one of the favourites in the competition.

It was the first race win for Team Korea in the AC45s and at the end of the day, the team was placed 3rd overall.

The White Tiger had been tamed.

"We had a really good day, great sail and boat handling by the lads," said Draper.external-link

"I'm just keen we keep on capitalising on it and keep moving forwards."

Brittle said: "It feels really good. It was a really hard race.

"To come out with a win after all that effort had made us really pleased."

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