Thursday, November 17, 2011

Chemistry On & Off the Course for America's Cup Team Korea

I have to say Team Korea has piqued my interest this past few months and it’s not just because the average crew age is 30. Chatting with skipper Chris Draper (GBR) reminded me of conversations I’ve had in the past with Grant Dalton, the drive behind Emirates Team NZ - the most successful team in the America’s Cup. Like Dalton, Draper leans into the conversation fully engaged and straight to the point. And like Dalton, Draper is massively driven by competition.

I was curious to learn how this first-ever Korean entry have put together a first class team who are doing really well holding their own - mid-fleet - in the inaugural America's Cup World Series competition.

Cliché or not, the phrase, “there’s no ‘I’ in team”, comes instantly to mind when talking to Draper. It’s clear that he’s hand-picked his guys - he wanted skilled, hard-working sailors with a winning chemistry, and he’s pretty sure he’s headed in the right direction.

Currently on board, starting at the front, is Matt Cornwell “Catflap” who has worked with Areva Challenge and GBR Challenge and more recently, Team Origin. He was Ben Ainslie’s bowman on Ben’s match racing tour winning team last year. “Matt brings a lot of Cup racing experience with him as well as a lot of match racing experience,” Draper said. “He’s very relaxed and great to spend time with.”

Next up is Mark Bulkeley, a silver medalist at the Tornado world championships and a representative in the Tornado for GBR at the Olympics. He was also Draper’s mainsheet trimmer in the Extreme 40 series when they won in 2009. Bulkeley was also Draper’s best man and is a very close friend. Bulkeley’s taken on the trimming role and doing an excellent role, Draper said. “He’s got a good physical presence at about 95kilos is very strong and fit.”

Next back is Chris Brittle who’s the float, 110 kilo aerobic machine - he can do 2000 reps on the ergo in 6 minutes flat. Draper says he’s an absolute weapon but that sadly Team Korea is about to lose Brittle as he’s moving to Artemis (Team Korea weren’t on fixed contracts so he made the decision to move to them). “With Cup experience on +39 and Team Origin, he has a huge work ethic and physical presence plus he’s a really nice guy to spend time with, Draper said.”

Team Korea’s wing trimmer is Troy Tindill who has been working with the AC 45s from day 1. It was suggested to Draper that it would be a good idea to have Tindill involved with the team. “It was quickly apparent that he knew a huge amount the boats, plus he’s also great to be around. He’s been a huge asset - without him we wouldn’t have picked up the boat as quickly as we have. He’s a young guy learning all the time, and helping us learn as well,” Draper said.

33-year old Draper knows all too well how important chemistry is to success on the water. He’s sailed Olympic classes for the past 10 years, and before that came up through the classic youth sailing program - Optis, 420s, then sailed the 49er for 10 years, going back and forth between being 1st and 2nd in the world. He took a break from that after missing selection for Beijing, and started doing Extreme 40s in ’08-09.

“I then gave the 49er another shot with a different team mate for the London Olympics which didn’t really go to plan, as we just never quite jelled as a team - the chemistry wasn’t quite perfect, although we had some good success, winning the Europeans last year, he said”

As that plan didn’t work out, Draper started looking for opportunities he knew existed in the Cup because of his background. Enter Team Korea.

Like himself, Draper says there’s a new wave of people coming into America’s Cup sailing who have been Olympic campaigning full-time for the last 10 years and who are used to working with a team-mate who they’re with everyday perhaps spending 200+ days a year with training etc. and who have come to understand the importance of good relationships.

“From the brief glimpses I have had of past America’s Cup teams, personalities can be quite abrasive and I think we’re trying very hard at Team Korea to make sure we have people who get on well and who will work hard and give it their all, and feel good that the person sitting next to you is watching your back, or if you make a mistake, they’ll back you up - that’s an ethos we’ve started for this campaign and we’ll try to maintain that all the way through.”

Draper knows that he’s got some good youth, enthusiasm and talent now but wants to make sure he backs that up with experienced Cup winners. “There’re plenty of those guys out there, a lot of them are people I’ve sailed with who are not involved just yet. We’re also very aware that the design and production of an AC 72 is a huge project and we need as much help as possible with that. We still want to maintain the youth & fitness but make sure we have the balance.”

Although this is his first Cup campaign, Draper thinks while there’s a lot less time to build and plan a strategy for AC 34, nonetheless, the boat-handling is still a massive part of it. “With these one design classes is it’s about refining and getting the most out of the boats sailing as quickly as possible but it’s also about doing the maneuvers well enough that you’ve got tactical options.

We took the approach that we wanted to have the top tactical options but that we might be a little bit on the back with the input to make those tactical decisions. We’ve had a few times where that’s fallen down. But, it’s exciting racing, quick decisions, you have to be thinking fast and I think more and more it’s those that can make those quick gut instinct decisions who are doing well.”

And, Draper likes to think he’s in that category.

“It’s what I’ve been doing for the last 10 years and that’s what I love about the sport - I love the physical aspect of the boat handling, steering the boat to make the boat handling easier and I love the communication to make everyone’s life easier to be able to make good decisions that can be executed quickly.”

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t know Draper but just in talking to him I guessed he was extremely competitive…

“Yes, I’d say that!” Draper laughed. “I think if you look at any of our races when we have a bad race we’re seriously upset when we’ve made a mistake and managing that passion is also hard but being young and enthusiastic sometimes doesn’t help that. We’re trying to develop maturity and be unflustered but what I see that people I’ve always thought don’t seem to be flustered can get pretty wound up at times! But yes, we are very competitive, I’m hugely competitive . I really like to win, whatever it is!”

For this regatta, the top three things on Draper’s to-do list have been to work on starts, try out some new sails, and further develop the Team’s strategy for the future.

“We’ve been trying to improve our boat speed but haven’t had a huge amount of time to get used to the new sails but they seem like an improvement - they’re a little bit different to use. We’re also working on where the Team is headed which I have to admit has made it a harder to focus on what we’re trying to achieve here on the race course. But that’s just part of the Cup and the territory.”

Draper expects that after San Diego the Team will probably go to Valencia, which is where other teams are headed. Down the road he’s hoping they’ll have some additional training boats to work with also, citing that a few more AC 45s would be nice but a cheaper alternative is most likely.

“There’ll be a good group to sail with in Valencia so we’ll all develop and move forward. I think if we step away from that and let that happen without us we could potentially lose ground,” he said.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Great Commentary Makes a Difference in the America's Cup

Peter Isler needs little introduction in sailing circles. Internationally renowned sailor, motivational speaker and author, he’s been inextricable from the America's Cup since winning it as navigator aboard Dennis Conner's Stars & Stripes in Australia in 1987. He’s sailed in five Cup campaigns (most recently with the BMW Oracle Racing Team in Valencia, Spain), winning it twice.

He was an analyst for ESPN's Emmy Award winning coverage of the America's Cup in '92 & '95. For the '03 and '07 Cups Peter both sailed and announced on TV. In my books, he's one of the best commentators in the sport and it’s great to have him in the role as racing in the America’s Cup World Series gets underway on Wednesday in San Diego. SailBlast chatted to Peter about the differences working as a commentator under the new Cup format...

What’s different about the way commentating is happening now?

I just got three days in Plymouth, and I’m here in San Diego now so I’ve had just a taste of it. I’m actually not out on the water working but in a little booth - I’m really watching television watching the same video image that the viewers are watching. Sometimes we have two shots in our announcement booth but usually just the feed - so we’re watching the feed, we’re not watching the whole race. But we have a monitor that’s linked to race management and the umpires - (referred to as STOWE, name of the manufacturer) - it’s like watching an instant messaging screen - it gives us all the race data, all the mark rounding is recorded, every protest flag - every time a button is pushed for protest, every umpire decision - all on this official screen. We’re relying on our directors who have all the different camera shots to choose from to pick the right one to tell the story and that’s part of the fun, you’re really part of a team.

Does it make your job easier or more difficult?

Put it this way, I’d say it’s absolutely essential when you’re a commentator for television broadcast to talk to the picture. One of the things that is risky for an expert sailor coming in and doing the job is the tendency to talk about the important thing that’s going on in the race that may not be in the picture so having that image is great.

That said, it’s also very helpful to have a 2-dimensional overhead view of the entire racecourse which we will also ultimately have so that you can follow the racing and you know what’s going on outside of the visual range of the camera shot. But the great thing is that there are sailors in the directors’ chairs calling the shot changes etc., so normally the story that’s on the ACTV is the story a sailor would want to be following anyway.

Talk about the equipment and tech now involved in the sport of commentating?

Stan Honey, my college room-mate, is running the LiveLine technology and those guys have wired the racecourse and the boats technologically for sound so that they can do their graphical images on live video, which is their expertise That was their mandate from day one and is different to what we have previously enjoyed in America’s Cup TV coverage which is the computer animation with the information on it.

Now we have the actual real video with the technical information, like the three boat lengths, the wind direction, the protest status etc. For the commentator like me, it’s just amazing, it’s unlike anything ever been done before. While too much info can be dangerous, but information does allow you to make better decisions. I think we’re really just using how to use it to its full potential.

Is it challenging keeping up given how quickly everything happens now?

Because the races and the legs are shorter there really isn’t a lot of time to go off talking about a random subject. You really have to stay, as a commentator, on topic and basically call the race. It makes it a lot of fun. Those of us who enjoy other sports, for example tennis, there’s drama in every shot, or every play in football there’s another exciting thing to watch.

In sailing, it’s been, ‘now they’re on a 25 minute leg and they’re going to tack once or twice’ - there’s a lot of time to ramble on or listen in on board which has been fun. But here, like those other fast-paced sports, there’s a technical sports move happening - like just deciding positions - every few instances.

What do you think about the AC45s for the A-Cup in general?

I’m a big fan of the America’s Cup s - I’m a Cuphead and I take the broad picture of not only appreciating the America’s Cup for the spectacle it is here in San Diego this week and the great sailboat racing it is but also its historical place in international sport. So, for me it’s great to have been a part of it and to continue being part of telling the Cup story but I’m in awe of the America’s Cup and it keeps changing and it continues to evolve. It’s unlike any other event anywhere and that’s the thing about the Cup. It’s not just about a sailboat race, it’s not just a race about boat design and technology - it’s more than all of that. It’s bigger than all of us.

* A former Collegiate Sailor of the Year at Yale University, Peter resides in Southern California. He co-authored the best-selling book, Sailing for Dummies (Wiley) and wrote the acclaimed business book, At the Helm: Business Lessons for Navigating Rough Waters (Doubleday) with Peter Economy. His most recent title, Peter Isler’s Little Blue Book of Sailing Secrets (Wiley) was published in 2011.

He is president of Isler Sailing International, Inc. When at home in San Diego, Peter enjoys time with his two daughters and playing guitar and keyboard in a variety of bands.

Photo Credit: Bob Grieser/America's Cup

Pic 1/2: Peter at work in the booth

Pic 3: Peter & former pro basketballer Bill Walton, at the ACWS opening press conference today.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

If You're Coming To San Diego...

Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt editor and publisher, has compiled the following VERY USEFUl guide to getting around next week during the World Series San Diego...

Attending sporting events is risky business. When to get there? Where to park? Where to sit? So what do you do with an event that has never been held before?

You wing it, which is what spectators will be doing in San Diego for the third stop in the inaugural America's Cup World Series (ACWS) on November 12-20, 2011.

Here are some tips to help enjoy the experience:

The first weekend has mandatory practice races. No races are scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, but expect the teams to either be on the bay for practice or in the pit for prep. The planned competition is Wednesday through Sunday, so expect bigger crowds those days too. Click here for details.

For car parking, a pay lot is a block away from the Event Village and there are coin meter spaces on the adjacent street. However, get there early to avoid getting shut out. Safer options could be to use bikes, pedicabs or taxis, or drive to a San Diego Trolley station and take the train to the downtown station a couple of blocks away. Click here for details.

Watching the races by boat will be limited due to course boundaries and the speed of the AC45s. Watching the races from the Midway Museum, Navy and Broadway piers are closest to the course, but there may not be bleachers so prepare to stand in crowds (or buy a VIP package). The ends of the race course are adjacent to G Street Marina and Harbor Island, which both have limited parking and space to sit.

Hot tip is to have lunch at The Fish Market (nice) and Top of the Market (nicer) at the leeward marks (SE of Navy Pier), or at C Level (nice) and Island Prime (nicer) near the windward marks on Harbor Island. Click here for details. Another hot tip is to listen to race commentary from the broadcast on your phone (see below).

The AC Village has closed Harbor Drive at Broadway and Navy Piers, and will be hosting live music, DJ's and local California cuisine and shops and specialty stands. The village will have a large screen for race viewing, plus host interactive entertainment such as the America's Cup Experience, a racing simulator that offers a taste of what it's like to sail on a high-speed catamaran. Prize giving and team interviews will be on the village stage. Hours are 10a-6p on Nov. 12-15 and 10a-10p on Nov. 16-20. To enter the AC Village, there is a requested $10 donation to support the AC Healthy Ocean Project. Click here for details.

Despite the propaganda from San Diego Convention and Tourism Bureau, it does begin to get colder and wetter in November. And winter winds are hit or miss. The forecast currently calls for rain and big breeze on the first weekend, with clearing skies and calmer winds expected through the week.

The America’s Cup YouTube channel will be streaming the event live online Nov. 16-20. Look for the broadcast schedule to begin 30 minutes before racing begins each day (see schedule above). And for the first time, there will be live streaming to mobile devices through the AC YouTube channel. Also, a recap of the event will be broadcast on the Versus cable channel on November 22 at 5:00 P.M. ET. Streaming live here:

Teams began training on Tuesday, and the America's Cup World Series Event Village will be open to the public on Wednesday, Nov 9th. Get an insider's look of the village after 3:30 pm and you'll also get to see the AMERICA'S CUP TROPHY. Unveiling the trophy will be Tom Ehman, Vice Commodore of Golden Gate Yacht Club, who will be joined by Ian Murray, Bruno Trouble, and Terry Hutchinson for 'Cupdates' at 4:00 pm (youth sailors) and 5:30 pm (open). No RSVP necessary.

* Scuttlebutt blogpost:

Photo credit: Gilles Martin Raget/America's Cup

Pic 1 - ACWS San Diego - skippers
Pic 2/3 - Training Day 1, San Diego

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


In a media call today, America’s Cup Regatta Director Iain Murray and CEO Craig Thompson commented on the exciting confirmation that indeed, long time Cup favorite Prada/Luna Rossa is back, this time collaborating on boats and such with Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ).

Said Murray: “For those with a keen eye who spotted Luna Rossa in and out of the ETNZ team base in Plymouth have been adding two and two to get four, the answer is obvious today and presents a very strong group of people who I think will have enhanced chances in the America’s Cup going forward. It seems like a positive, strong move for the America’s Cup.

Luna Rossa will take delivery of their AC45 in early December subject to branding and hull painting etc. The destination of it is unknown at this stage and where they’ll actually sail it the first time. They will be competing in events for 2012 and sure, they won’t be scored for the AC World Series round 1 which concludes in Newport, RI, next June but I don’t think that’s their highest priority. I think they’re keen to get their boat and get out there and start to learn about sailing wing-sailed catamarans."

Murray also confirmed that there’s no limits on where Prada can take its AC45 to train, however the team'll be seriously considering where it’ll get the best bang for buck, “Probably the biggest thing with taking an AC45 for any AC team anywhere is generally in most countries you will incur taxes. NZ presents an opportunity for them but there’s taxes to pay when you go to train for certain periods of time which is a discussion Luna Rossa will have to have with the various authorities of that country. Other than the taxes, they can go wherever they like until the first event.”

Thompson added that today’s news from Italy may not be the last with regards to more teams joining.

“Today we have another major competitor coming into the competition and this has got to be good. I hope it’s going to put a lot of pressure on Oracle and that they’re going to have to make some response to this. It’ll be really interesting to see what happens when Luna Rossa gets on the water. From a story telling and competitive aspect, it’s great for the Cup. And, we are still in discussion with some very serious parties who are still trying to come in.”

While on the subject of new teams entering and timing, there’s still a big void in events between San Diego (November 12-20, 2011) and Napoli (April 7-15, 2012), which AC has yet to resolve.

Said Thompson, “We are in discussions for still having an event in late Jan early Feb but honestly it looks doubtful right now before Napoli in April. We are disappointed about this because we will take a hit to frequency/regularity. The good news is that we’re going through the winter months where it’s a downtime for sailing but nevertheless we would have liked to have an event during that time. We’re still hoping something may materialize. We do need to figure out what the teams will be doing during this time.

Hmmm - I think the winter months are a great time in the Southern Hemisphere for sailing, and discussions have in fact been going on in Australia and New Zealand as possible World Series venues, according to Murray.

“The discussions with Australia have broken off with both sides agreeing that what we were trying to achieve wasn’t attainable. New Zealand has been in discussion for some time and there are further discussions going on. Whether today’s news adds some enthusiasm to those discussions, we’ll wait and see."

Either way, teams will have access to their boats for training, Murray confirmed. “We will designate a place that we will deliver the boats to. It’s our responsibility to take them out of America and if we are going directly to Naples we will probably make arrangements to take the boats directly there. If the teams wish to make alternative arrangements they will be allowed to do so as long as they’re brought back to Naples,” he said.

BTW, the protocol lays out different times for the event schedule relative to where the AC is at now because it was envisaged a series in 2011 and a series in 2012 and it was considered that the boats would be going to the 72s in the second season. But the protocol did say there would be a minimum of three regattas in the first series and five in the second.

There is no written deadline by which teams may be denied entry to AC34, just obviously a practical deadline with the requirement to have a 72 and a valid challenge, said Murray. Teams must have an AC72 by July 4, beginning of the Louis Vuitton Cup.

Murray reviewed the estimated build time for an AC72 which involves multi-element construction. He figures that with a breakdown of all of those components, the boats could be built quite quickly, probably not in less than six months but eight months would be about right. In the case of Prada, Murray said that he read today that they planned to build their center sections and structural pieces in New Zealand and other components in Italy.

“It’s obviously probably more efficient. Oracle is doing a similar thing I would suggest.”

* Prada announcement: