First Impressions from Valencia

I have taken a consulting position with Desafio 2007, the Spanish America’s Cup team, through March 30. I arrived a week ago and have to say that walking into a program like this, when it is up and running on all cylinders, is quite impressive. In all my past America’s Cup involvements, I have been there from day one and helped build the team and program. When you are on the inside of one of these programs since inception, you are unaware of the complexity and level of detail to which every task is carried. It is just the norm. Walking in cold from the outside is definitely a different perspective and one probably worth being registered as the number of days left to prepare becomes very few.

As the days are limited, it is time to focus on what will make the difference in the races. The Louis Vuitton Cup will be fast and furious. There are 11 challengers who will race two round robins in one month. After that, seven teams are eliminated. That is a harsh reality. Hopefully my experience can be of use in helping decide what is worth spending these valuable last man days on and what is not.

Desafio has been in operation for about two years. They bought the assets of OneWorld from the 2003 Cup and this was a smart decision as it gave them a great platform to start the program on – two very good boats, all the workshops, tenders, etc. They were sailing immediately after pushing the “GO” button.

The team composition is multinational. This is the case with most teams as they strive to acquire the best talent regardless of nationality. But it is a factor that has to be managed. Integration of different cultures and languages is something that requires cultivation just like cultivating boat speed. I think this has been one of the biggest challenges for Desafio and it is something that gets better every day. Ultimately, what every team needs is good communication in order to operate effectively, but also a good amount of solidarity in order to keep the team together in the tough times. With the competition as tough as it is this time, no team will be immune from bad days. One of the factors of this Cup will be which teams can come back from a “bad day” and put their “A” game on the next day, without any lingering hangover from the days before. Again, this is an area that I can hopefully contribute to in my time here.

My first impressions about the boats are how slow they are. It isn’t really a fair appraisal I suppose as I just finished sailing 35,000 miles on a boat that goes 35 knots on a regular basis. It is a different game sailing these boats. It is quite a chess match to position your big heavy beast between the destination and the other boat. Once you occupy a certain space on the race course, it is very hard for the other boat to get around you. The boats are very narrow, longer than in 2000 and it seems they have the displacement pushed out more to the ends. This makes for a boat that wants to go straight. Turning sharply creates so much turbulence that it can park the 24 ton boat very quickly. The boats have very short cord rudders, which are very balanced and give little “feel”.

The sails have continued to evolve. The mainsails have a “gaff” batten at the top, which give the sail a big flat top and nearly parallel leech and luff. The genoas have battens that increase their horsepower tremendously. These facts, coupled with 1 ton less displacement, give the boats greater acceleration over the boats in 2000.

Even though there have been some changes to the boat, these are relatively small and my feeling is that the design space has been narrowed quite a bit, especially when it comes to the hulls. I think sails are still an area open for improvement and we may see differences there.

In the end, I think most races will be decided by the team that sails best on the day. The start, controlling the correct side of the course and executing maneuvers perfectly under pressure, are what will make the difference between a “W” and an “L”. And that is the way it should be.

Our daily schedule with Desafio works in one of two ways. Normal day: Gym at 0800 and dock out at 1130 or “Bandera Roja” which means dock out at 0930 and gym after sailing. The “Bandera Roja” days are used when there is wind in the early morning that will fade as the day goes on. The gym is in the base and we shower and eat breakfast there too. Very efficient!

A general impression is how professional all the campaigns have become. The physical structure of the America’s Cup Port and all the bases is impressive. A lot of money has been spent here. What will happen to all of this if the Cup leaves? Probably the only team that’s committed to keep the Cup in Valencia should they win is Desafio 2007.

I had dinner with my old friend Francesco de Angelis Friday night. He has been working on the America’s Cup, with Prada and now his own team called “Luna Rosa”, for 10 years straight. That is a big chunk of life. In the America’s Cup life is fully consumed; you barely come up for air during the three or four years dedicated to a challenge.

I have to say that I am happy for the other experiences I have had during the last ten years….two times around the world, one America’s Cup, one Olympics and time to spend with two great children who are finishing high school and heading off to university. The clock keeps ticking. Each of us has to think about the big picture.

Paul Cayard