I have just returned to San Francisco after finishing my second and last session with Desafio Espanol 2007. People ask me if it will be hard to watch the Cup rather than participate. Not really. I know that it takes three years of total dedication to prepare a team to compete in the America’s Cup. For me, it has been important, during the past three years, to have at least some time at home with my family, especially my kids who are finishing up high school and entering university. There is a time for everything and some things can’t be rescheduled.
It was interesting for me to be on the inside of the AC game after a few years away. Some areas of the campaign have really been taken to new heights. Others are just the same. The main thing that is the same is that it is all about people. It is about the individuals you start with and the team you build with them. It is about making a strategy and managing the path you take in consideration of the constantly changing environment. And now, in the end, it is about taking what you have, whether it is what you had hoped for or not, making a “game day” strategy and winning the important races.
Desafio have a good team. Like many teams, they will need to continue to improve as the racing goes on. Probably no team is as good today as the winner will be in the final race of the Cup. So everyone has to evolve. To do that well, you have to be astute observers and then flexible to allow for some change. How much you attempt to change is another $200 million question. This is where experience comes in.
I found the performance analysis aspect of the campaign to be quite improved. The amount of data collected, the format developed for reviewing that data and the key people in the analysis department who lead the debriefs with the sailors; all were quite impressive.
The first week of April is a big show and tell week. On April 1st, the teams were required to unveil the underbodies of their boats. Anyone could walk into a base, within 3 meters of a boat, and inspect it. It is quite interesting to see what tradeoffs teams have made in terms of drag and righting moment and size of appendages for control. In addition, the last training regatta, ACT 13, got underway yesterday. It is a fleet racing event that lasts until Friday. This is a chance for all teams to gauge their performance against their rivals just before the all-important Round Robins start on April 16th.
Once the Round Robins start, it will be all over for 7 of the 11 challengers very quickly. Unlike previous America’s Cup’s, this Cup reduces the challenger group to four boats in three weeks. No time to make changes to your boat after learning something from a bit of racing. This favors the big teams that have had both time and good boats to do their own development in house.
As for me, I will be providing commentary for the Italian TV rights holder, La7. I will be working with Paolo Cecinelli who brought Il Moro di Venezia into Italian households in 1992. La7 has a good team in Valencia of over 80 people all up, so this is a very professional broadcast. This is a new challenge for me, to try to bring my passion and enthusiasm for sailing to the public. There is the added challenge of doing this in Italian, rather than English. So I will be in Valencia for 12 days a month, then back home in San Francisco for the rest of the month, throughout the spring.
If you are planning on following the Cup this spring, don’t wait too long, if you blink you will miss half of it.