Thursday, March 24, 2011

ACRM’s Abby Ehler Keeps It Afloat Shore Side

Two more teams, details of which will be released next week, have been accepted as competitors for the 34th America's Cup, bringing the total entries to 10 teams in the competition with a little over a week remaining before the entry deadline of March 31.

More teams means Abby Ehler’s job just got a whole lot busier. Ehler has been in Auckland since January working as shore manager for ACRM, one of the lucky few to work with the AC45 early on.

Abby is key to the daily operations at ACRM’s temporary home at the former Team New Zealand base in Auckland’s Viaduct Basin. She runs the shore logistics that keep everything - and everyone - ticking along. With five, and soon to be two more AC45s on the water, she’s responsible for scheduling the timing for teams to get on and off the water. With just one static crane available to the teams to lift boats in and out, scheduling is all important - everyone’s keen as mustard to get as much on the water time as possible, she says, and it take about half an hour to get each boat in the water, and same to retrieve from the water at day’s end.

She’s also the eyes and ears to what is going on having been on the ground since before the first AC45 was launched, helping wherever she can. “Some of the teams are quite new to the AC45 and as we’ve been sailing the prototype for two months now we’ve been able to pass on some tricks of the trade to give them all the assistance that we can.”

It’s the kind of job Ehler’s worked at for most of her life, and loves it. After finishing a sports degree at university in England (she’s originally from Plymouth), during which time she’d been doing a lot of sailing, for lack of anything better to do she followed her heart to boats and became a boat captain. She took a long break in 2001, and at 24 years old, was boat captain and bowman on Nautor (skippered by Lisa McDonald), the all-women team in the first Volvo Ocean Race.

“It was an absolutely amazing experience,” Ehler says, “I was desperate to do it again and you want to do it again because you think there are better ways of doing things. But now I’m older (and wiser - LOL) I’m happy to be shore side and have the occasional sailing project from time to time.”

After Nauter, Ehler also ran Enigma, a Reichel Pugh 76, owned by Charles Dunstone, winning the Fastnet in 2003 and competing in the Rolex Maxi Circuit worldwide. She ran the TP52, Santa Ana, British boat, which was campaigned through 2006 in the US & Brietling Med Cup Circuit, and also the Australian owned Farr 40 Sputnik, which was campaigned through 2007 including the Worlds in Denmark.

Ehler says that other than obvious changes brought about by improvements in technology, not much has changed in the way she does her job.

“Fundamentally boats are boats, they still need TLC, things still go wrong and things still need fixing. The biggest change is in gear, design and materials used. But the logistics are the same - the containers and chase boats are still there, and teams still need mothering," she says.

Now 34, she’ll be heading out on the World Series with ACRM, even though it means leaving her husband, a trainer, at home in Sydney, Australia. With her husband a former pro sailor, the couple is used to life on the sailing circuit which means a lot of time apart. “We adapt and Skype just gets used regularly!” Ehler says.

She’s already feeling a different thrill being involved in this next Cup event, “It’s far more exciting being involved in something new and that it’s moved to multi hulls has been a wake-up call. Everyone’s had to pull their finger out to either learn new skills, or they’re finding the boats a lot more physical than before. It’s put a new light on the America’s Cup - it’s a really good vibe. People are buzzing when they come off the water after sailing the AC45s.”

Ehler recalls being in Auckland working for GBR Challenge during the 02-03 Cup, "There was often a lot of moaning about doing 2-boat testing and having to sit out on the same tack for hours. The guys would take packs of cards or books out there to read. You certainly can’t do that with these boats - they’re exciting and you need to keep your wits around you.”

* Photos courtesy Gilles Martin-Raget

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