2 May 2017

Wings of Oracle (Farr Two Tonner)

With the next edition of the America's Cup about to get underway soon, where the Oracle name is now synonymous with the event, not least of all as the present defender of the Cup, it is interesting to look back at where Oracle's involvement in sailing began.  The Oracle corporation had its first foray into top level international sailing in the 1991 Admiral's Cup. Oracle had sponsored the Royal Air Force Sailing Association's (RAFSA) Sigma 38 one design cruiser-racer, which had acquitted herself well in club-level racing in British waters during the 1990 season. 
Wings of Oracle - Admiral's Cup 1991 (photo Farr Yacht Design Facebook page)
For the 1991 Admiral's Cup, the RORC had decided that the event would be better served by requiring teams to field one boat in each of the One Ton, Two Ton and 50ft rating bands, introducing level rating into an event traditionally built around teams of mixed handicaps. Oracle put RAFSA in charge of a new Farr-designed Two Tonner to form part of the British team, to join the One Tonner Port Pendennis and the 50ft Juno V. Getting Oracle involved in the British campaign was no small feat in itself, and saw the British effort being fully funded, a first for the local team.
Wings of Oracle in fresh conditions during the 1991 Admiral's Cup
The new Wings of Oracle was based on Design #268, a 1990 development of #242 (Larouge) and which had yielded Shockwave (see previous post) and Japan's Donky 6. Like her US sistership Bravura, Wings of Oracle was an improvement on Larouge, the 1991 Two Ton Champion. Design #268 indicated gains in all-round performance, with developments that included subtle changes in hull shape to improve performance in waves, and a more efficient keel and rudder.
Wings of Oracle leads Bravura (left) and Unibank (right) during the 1991 Admiral's Cup
So the boat itself came with evident pedigree from a design perspective, and was well built by Green Marine, under the close supervision of Farr International. The boat carried a North UK wardrobe, flown from a Southern Spars NZ rig (with the successful Steinlager 2 campaign having given Southern Spars a significant jump in international profile). While the boat was being built, the Castro designed Turkish Delight (renamed Oracle Arrow) was chartered as part of an intensive training campaign based in Hamble.  
The ex-Turkish Delight being used for training for the Oracle sailing team

Oracle were, however, told that the lack of experience within RAFSA would let the campaign down, and the saga around the boat's performance preoccupied the British press for many months. When she under-performed in the Two Ton Cup, with questionable tactics on the race course, there was a call for significant changes to the afterguard. Eventually, and just three weeks before the Admiral's Cup, the original skipper (a Flight Lieutenant) was replaced by Stuart Childerley, then a 24-year old Finn sailor.
Wings of Oracle during one of the Christchurch Bay inshore races, sitting to leeward of two 50-footers - Italy's  Mandrake (I-11933) and team-mate Juno V (K-505)
Although she struggled throughout the 1991 series, the British effort started strongly, with both Juno V and Wings of Oracle second in their respective divisions to see Britain in second place overall. Wings of Oracle led the Two Ton pack early in the Channel Race, before being affected by seaweed on the keel that had been a particular problem throughout the season and in the Cup itself, and finished fourth.
Wings of Oracle (photo Farr Yacht Design Facebook page)
Wings of Oracle had a terrible start in the Second Inshore, electing to re-cross the startline even though she had not been recalled. She clawed back two places, only to be hit with a 20 percent penalty when the spinnaker touched the second weather mark during a set. Wings of Oracle finished poorly in the Third Inshore and was a lowly seventh in the Fastnet Race. Overall she finished as sixth Two Tonner, and Britain was fourth in the team standings.
Wings of Oracle sails back to Cowes Marina following one of the inshore races during the 1991 Admiral's Cup (photo Shockwave40 blog)
 

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