Peter Isler needs little introduction in sailing circles. Internationally renowned sailor, motivational speaker and author, he’s been inextricable from the America's Cup since winning it as navigator aboard Dennis Conner's Stars & Stripes in Australia in 1987. He’s sailed in five Cup campaigns (most recently with the BMW Oracle Racing Team in Valencia, Spain), winning it twice.
He was an analyst for ESPN's Emmy Award winning coverage of the America's Cup in '92 & '95. For the '03 and '07 Cups Peter both sailed and announced on TV. In my books, he's one of the best commentators in the sport and it’s great to have him in the role as racing in the America’s Cup World Series gets underway on Wednesday in San Diego. SailBlast chatted to Peter about the differences working as a commentator under the new Cup format...
What’s different about the way commentating is happening now?
I just got three days in Plymouth, and I’m here in San Diego now so I’ve had just a taste of it. I’m actually not out on the water working but in a little booth - I’m really watching television watching the same video image that the viewers are watching. Sometimes we have two shots in our announcement booth but usually just the feed - so we’re watching the feed, we’re not watching the whole race. But we have a monitor that’s linked to race management and the umpires - (referred to as STOWE, name of the manufacturer) - it’s like watching an instant messaging screen - it gives us all the race data, all the mark rounding is recorded, every protest flag - every time a button is pushed for protest, every umpire decision - all on this official screen. We’re relying on our directors who have all the different camera shots to choose from to pick the right one to tell the story and that’s part of the fun, you’re really part of a team.
Does it make your job easier or more difficult?
Put it this way, I’d say it’s absolutely essential when you’re a commentator for television broadcast to talk to the picture. One of the things that is risky for an expert sailor coming in and doing the job is the tendency to talk about the important thing that’s going on in the race that may not be in the picture so having that image is great.
That said, it’s also very helpful to have a 2-dimensional overhead view of the entire racecourse which we will also ultimately have so that you can follow the racing and you know what’s going on outside of the visual range of the camera shot. But the great thing is that there are sailors in the directors’ chairs calling the shot changes etc., so normally the story that’s on the ACTV is the story a sailor would want to be following anyway.
Stan Honey, my college room-mate, is running the LiveLine technology and those guys have wired the racecourse and the boats technologically for sound so that they can do their graphical images on live video, which is their expertise That was their mandate from day one and is different to what we have previously enjoyed in America’s Cup TV coverage which is the computer animation with the information on it.
Now we have the actual real video with the technical information, like the three boat lengths, the wind direction, the protest status etc. For the commentator like me, it’s just amazing, it’s unlike anything ever been done before. While too much info can be dangerous, but information does allow you to make better decisions. I think we’re really just using how to use it to its full potential.
Is it challenging keeping up given how quickly everything happens now?
Because the races and the legs are shorter there really isn’t a lot of time to go off talking about a random subject. You really have to stay, as a commentator, on topic and basically call the race. It makes it a lot of fun. Those of us who enjoy other sports, for example tennis, there’s drama in every shot, or every play in football there’s another exciting thing to watch.
In sailing, it’s been, ‘now they’re on a 25 minute leg and they’re going to tack once or twice’ - there’s a lot of time to ramble on or listen in on board which has been fun. But here, like those other fast-paced sports, there’s a technical sports move happening - like just deciding positions - every few instances.
What do you think about the AC45s for the A-Cup in general?
I’m a big fan of the America’s Cup s - I’m a Cuphead and I take the broad picture of not only appreciating the America’s Cup for the spectacle it is here in San Diego this week and the great sailboat racing it is but also its historical place in international sport. So, for me it’s great to have been a part of it and to continue being part of telling the Cup story but I’m in awe of the America’s Cup and it keeps changing and it continues to evolve. It’s unlike any other event anywhere and that’s the thing about the Cup. It’s not just about a sailboat race, it’s not just a race about boat design and technology - it’s more than all of that. It’s bigger than all of us.
* A former Collegiate Sailor of the Year at Yale University, Peter resides in Southern California. He co-authored the best-selling book, Sailing for Dummies (Wiley) and wrote the acclaimed business book, At the Helm: Business Lessons for Navigating Rough Waters (Doubleday) with Peter Economy. His most recent title, Peter Isler’s Little Blue Book of Sailing Secrets (Wiley) was published in 2011.
He is president of Isler Sailing International, Inc. When at home in San Diego, Peter enjoys time with his two daughters and playing guitar and keyboard in a variety of bands.
Photo Credit: Bob Grieser/America's Cup
Pic 1/2: Peter at work in the booth
Pic 3: Peter & former pro basketballer Bill Walton, at the ACWS opening press conference today.