America's Cup - July 2011

After months of very little information about the new challenger teams, recent weeks have seen a glut of announcements as the new teams rush to get ready for the inaugural event of the America’s Cup World Series in Cascais, Portugal.

It’s interesting to note how the new kids on the block, the Chinese, Koreans, Italian and French teams, have recruited largely outside of traditional America’s Cup circles. The big established teams on the other hand have kept with their existing keelboat sailors and retrained in the high-speed art of multihull racing.

For Cascais, the defender Oracle racing will be fielding two teams skippered by Russell Coutts and James Spithill. Calling tactics for Coutts will be fellow Kiwi veteran Murray Jones, while Spithill will be paired up with the experienced American, John Kostecki, who also sailed with Spithill in the 33rd America’s Cup on board the giant trimaran. Interestingly, Murray Jones was sailing for Alinghi last year, but is one of a number of former Alinghi employees now working for “the other side”.

With keelboat experts also at the helm of the two leading challenger teams, respectively Terry Hutchinson for Artemis and Dean Barker for Emirates Team New Zealand, these sailors have done an excellent job at reskilling themselves for fast multihull sailing. Goes to show that you can teach old dogs new tricks about fast cats.

These teams have decided that it’s easier to stick with a proven team and relearn the technical skills. The new teams, however, have decided that if you’re starting from ground zero, you might as well recruit from the ranks of sailors who already understand what makes high-speed boats tick.

The two French teams are built around the experience of their many offshore multihull veterans, who will not be scared of the high speeds or the dangers of pitchpoling. When you have sat on the upturned hulls of a 60-foot trimaran in the middle of the Atlantic, waiting to be rescued, then you have tested the limits of fear and the limits of multihull stability already.

Team China’s crew is also drawn from the ranks of multihull sailors, but under the guiding hand of Australian Olympic Tornado medallist Mitch Booth, he has recruited a number of fellow former Tornado sailors, including the American Olympic medallist and sailmaker Charlie Ogletree.

You may recall our delight a few months ago to learn that the Venezia challenge had appointed its art director, Alfonso Granieri. Well now we are delighted to learn that it has also appointed a helmsman, the young Australian match racer Torvar Mirsky, although at this stage other crew details remain sketchy.

The other Italian team, Green Comm, has recruited a group of young, fit, strong Finn sailors. Among them are 2008 Olympic silver medallist from the USA, Zach Railey, and Great Britain’s Ed Wright, the reigning Finn World Champion. Listed as Green Comm’s helmsman is Vasilij Zbogar, a double Olympic medallist from Slovenia.

Another Olympic medallist and former 49er skiff World Champion, Chris Draper, has been signed up as helmsman of Team Korea. For Cascais, Draper has gathered around him a group of fellow British Olympians and America’s Cup veterans. With no prior experience of the America’s Cup, the 33-year-old’s signing is an example of how much the world has turned in favour of a younger generation who have grown up sailing fast boats that fall over - much like an AC45.

Draper acknowledges the massive changes to the America’s Cup have not been to everyone’s liking: “I’m sure that there are many people out there that are very unhappy about it, and understandably so. They’ve spent a lot of time doing it and mastering their skills at what they know. But I’m obviously very, very pleased to get the opportunity to go and tackle this new racing format in the America’s Cup.”




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