Since the dawn of the America’s Cup, the role of the sailor has been ever developing and evolving in line with sailing engineering and the progression of technology.
We've come a long way from the grandeur days of sporting blazers and white chinos on board big yachts - fast forward to the present day and our America’s Cup sailors now appear as gladiators preparing for battle, and when you look at the AC50s it’s no wonder. These high powered, high speed catamarans can reach 60 miles per hour whilst flying above the water – a very different picture from the days of the J-Class yacht; a single hulled, 150 tonne beast which reached top speeds of 14 miles per hour.
As the design of the boats have evolved, the demands on the human factor have increased - the power and strength required by the sailors, along with their strategy, tactics and team work, are constantly being pushed to the limits.
Here are our top five facts about the 35th America’s Cup sailors:
1) It’s all about the weight – the crew can only weigh 525 kg in total so that’s 87.5kg per sailor. But there’s more to weight distribution than averaging. The power required to work the hydraulics requires a lot of muscle so the Grinders are naturally heavier. Although Emirates Team New Zealand have bucked the trend by opting for cycle grinders which means less muscle required and therefore an opportunity to redistribute weight or lose it all together.
2) The AC50 requires constant power and this has to be done with the smallest crew yet - just six can be on board. To put this into perspective, in the days of the J-Class yachts, you'd find a crew of 30 men on board and even in the previous America’s Cup a crew of 11.
3) During rigorous training sessions the sailors burn, on average, 7,000-8,000 calories a day. To burn the equivalent you'd have to swim front crawl at a consistently fast pace for 9 hours!
4) To deal with the high pressure environment sailors have been subjected to intense mental exercises and challenges. Jimmy Spithill told CNN that whilst training with the US Navy Seals the team took turns to be submerged in ice baths and could only be released when their exhausted team mates had correctly completed a complex puzzle. If they got the answer incorrect they'd have to sprint 50 meters and try again whilst trying to avoid being led to distraction by the sound of chattering teeth!
5) During a race, the average sailor will operate at 85-90% maximum heart rate - only the best conditioned athletes are able to exercise at this level for long durations. This is why the America's Cup team describe them as "beasts" stating that these guys "have the aerobic fitness of Tour de France winner Chris Froome and the anaerobic fitness of Usain Bolt."
And whilst we've pointed out some of the amazing physical factors, don't forget these sailors are also multi-tasking and so the cognitive demand is just as great as the physical. It truly is a unique sport and in only a few days time the world will witness these top athletes in action at the Louis Vuitton Americas' Cup Qualifiers and with only one thing on their minds; win!