John Craig has been appointed Principal Race Officer (PRO) of the 34th America’s Cup. Craig, who lives in San Rafael, California, with his wife Despina and children Danielle (12) and Dante (9), has for the past 11 years been the race manager at the St Francis Yacht Club (St FYC) in San Francisco. He’s responsible for conducting the races of the America’s Cup World Series, which will begin this summer in new 45-foot catamarans, as well as the Louis Vuitton Cup and the America’s Cup finals which will run between July and September in 2013. Craig starts his new gig February 1, and steps into a role previously filled by guys he considers his long-time mentors, former Cup PROs Harold Bennett and Peter Reggio. I have no doubt he will do a great job, I know I had my fingers crossed for him.
What will your role consist of?
John Craig: I work for America’s Cup Race Management (ACRM) whose job it is to run the races for both the America’s Cup World Series events as well as the races of the 34th America’s Cup. In order to get races off, my job is to first find the staff. We will run a technical rehearsal in April, which will allow us to test all of our race management systems in New Zealand with the AC 45s in preparation for our first World Series event in mid-2011. We’re currently gathering all the equipment, working with the technology guys to try to modify a few things, for example, we’re developing technology to help us run a race to the exact time that we need to put it in a one hour TV show so that when we go live with it we’ll know exactly how long it will take. Stan Honey through his sports-graphics company Sportvision is developing a lot of it and we’re going to use what they’ve produced to help with the running of the races, to help with the umpiring, the media side, with the telemetry on the water; instead of the yellow line on the football field it’ll be the yellow line on the water…
What type of equipment are you primarily talking about?
John Craig: We’ll need our own race committee boats, medical boats, umpire boats etc. One of the things that ACRM is going to have to be able to do is move from venue to venue and so our team has been trying to figure out how to make that all work. Basically the equipment will “live” on a transport ship as it moves from venue to venue.
Sounds like there’s a lot of travel in store for you?
John Craig: There’s going to be more travel than I’ve been doing lately (LOL) as far as confirmed, definitely in NZ for the testing, but we likely wont have all the equipment there.
Will you be resigning from your tenure at the St Francis Yacht Club?
John Craig: Yes, my last day there will be end of February so I have an overlap of a month to help the yacht club get through trying to find a new person. I am leaving the St FYC after 11 years but I guess all good things must come to an end! I can’t say enough good things about the club, they’ve been great to me. It will be missed for sure, but this is one of those opportunities that you just can’t pass up on and the club has been amazingly supportive, they cheered me on in taking this position. I’m excited but also pretty nervous about the whole thing – I’m sticking my neck out here and will be calling on my buddies all over the world to help me out!
Does St FYC have a replacement lined up yet?
John Craig: They’re doing a full search – John Callahan and John Siegel are the two chairs of the Search Committee and I haven’t seen the list yet but apparently there’s a number of good contenders and they’re out there chasing them. I’m confident they’ll find a good replacement and they’re determined to make sure that the program keeps going at the level that is has been.
What’s been the best experience you’ll be able to draw up on in this new role?
John Craig: Two things, first, as a former coach for the Canadian National Sailing Team. I’ve had the ability to communicate and I’ve always had a good relationship with a lot of the world’s elite sailors. That’s going to be a big piece of it, just having these relationships with a bunch of the big players will help. Second, the opportunity that the St FYC has given me to develop some technology for race management which has given me a good understanding of that side of the equation so when someone like Stan Honey says something to me I actually understand what’s he’s trying to say! We put in the AIS (automatic identification system) at the club on all the race committee boats which allowed us to track all the committee boats and what they’re doing at a given time, so some of that knowledge is transferable.
What experience do you have with multi hulls and how different is going to be to run races with these boats, especially at the speeds they are going to be going?
John Craig: I have had some experience with multi hulls, the smaller ones, through regattas at the club and opportunities to run races for them. As far as the speed the AC boats will be going, the boats are going to be so big and the course is going to be so tight so we’re going to see multiple laps that will create multiple opportunities for drama. The tracking system that Sportvision/Stan has developed is accurate enough now that we’ll actually use it for race management and to see how quickly the boats go around the course.
What challenges do your foresee in your new role?
John Craig: One of the biggest challenges is going to be working with all the authorities to get a track that is big enough to run these guys on that isn’t going to be impacted by commercial and recreational vessels. We’re going to work closely with the bar pilots, vessel traffic service, the Coast Guard and the shipping lines. Keeping a clear race zone will be another big piece of the effort. We want everybody to see it and be part of it. We’ll do what we can to make sure that there’s room out there for everybody to safely watch.
What sort of staffing will you be doing?
John Craig: It’ll depend on the venue. With all this equipment, we envision that we’ll have to bring people in to operate it all. On the race committee boats we’d expect to have one or two paid staff and use local race committees and volunteers where possible. We’re also probably going to get 3 or 4 more “brain-trust” people to help with the running of the races and I haven’t really got my arms around that yet or what it’s going to be look like. We think it’ll take us about 26 days to get into a venue, unload, get all the boats out, run the event and then get out of dodge so with all those logistics, we’ll be looking for staff to help with that.
How much will you be reaching out to local YCs for help to run races?
John Craig: Plenty! Local yacht clubs have the experience of working on the Bay and so we’ll be reaching out to them. In the short-term, in conjunction with the Coast Guard and all the marine partners, one of the things I need to get onto really quickly is trying to lock the dates in for ’12 and ’13 as to when we’d be looking for use of the Bay and establishment of the restricted zone, and relay that to the yacht clubs. In the short-term that’s one of my tasks to get onto as quick as I can so everybody knows what’s going on. The YRA can start distributing information too.
Off the Cup & onto US Sailing - how is US Sailing doing on the West Coast?
John Craig: I think it’s doing a lot better. Our president Gary Jobson has done well over 100 days speaking last year at clubs. He’s working really hard to drive it back to the clubs and overall financially it’s fine, sponsorship continues to grow. It needs some work on its championships – that’s an area that needs work. The certification side of the program needs work for sure and something we’re looking at. The yacht club summit in Chicago beginning of April looks to be well attended and I think the Board is looking to continue receive feedback from constituents. Gary’s phenomenal – he’ll go to any yacht club that will take him then brings the feedback to the table when we meet as a board.
Any specific goal you’d like to accomplish as a US Sailing board member?
John Craig: I’d really like to harmonize the certification programs, make it a little easier to go through the certification system. Now we’ve got an umpire training program, judge’s training program and a race management training program. While there’s need for them to be different in content, the systems which you get through the programs are vastly different. If there’s a way to package that so that it had all the same look and feel – an example is if you’re unsuccessful in race management test, you can’t retake it currently, whereas if you’re a judge, if you don’t pass the first time you can retake the test. Those consistencies need to be cleaned up.
Your advice to others wanting a career in race management?
John Craig: Stay connected to the sport, you gotta keep sailing. I do that through – not as much as I used to and would like to - when I was in Canada I’d interact with the sailors and see a lot of good racing and a lot of bad racing as I went around the world with the Olympic team. When I came to the St FYC, it was always about being open to feedback, after a race don’t hit the dock and head back to the office without talking to the sailors. I was always open to comment and if we did something wrong I wanted to fix it and not do it again. Having some great mentors along the way guys like Reggio and Bennett - when I was in Canada it was Steve Tupper - those guys are individuals that you ought to seek out.
What's your favorite type of sailing?
John Craig: Cruising with the family is great, sailing around on a J105 or J120 I can beg, borrow or steal. For racing I like One Design boats a lot. I still have an affinity for the Star because I coached that boat for a long time but some of the new stuff is pretty cool too - during the Melges 32 here last year, I had an opportunity to go out which was cool. Norman Devant got me out on the TP52 Vincitore before Rolex Big Boat also last year which was a lot of fun.
Have you heard any more about the Latitude 38 reported "rumor"that AC34 may be postpone until 2014?
John Craig: It’s all systems go for 2013.