When Chris Draper tells you his team’s working very hard, you’d better believe it. After waiting a week for the opportunity to chat to the amiable Brit and only then squeezed in between late-in-the-day meetings, Draper’s excuse was hard to challenge, “I’m really sorry but I am just so busy ..."
But, the long hours of training often done after racing is paying off. The team’s seen some 20% increase in boat speed over the past 10 days and enjoyed a vastly improved race against ETNZ on Sunday with a final delta of just over 3 minutes. Sounds like a big gap, and it is a big gap, but as any of the four AC72 skippers will attest to, these boats are not easy to learn. Here, the helmsman of Luna Rossa shares his experiences and expectations.
While you had an almost even start on Sunday, you haven’t been as aggressive in the pre-start as may be expected.
CD: Yeah, their (ETNZ) maneuvering and boathandling, their boat speed and acceleration is so much better than ours. I’ll be the first to put my hand up and say I haven’t done a great job there, but it’s not easy when the other boat accelerates a lot quicker than you and its top speed is a lot higher. It’s something we’re working on, and we probably should be a bit more aggressive than passive. From the on-looker's point of view it may look like the pre-starts need work, but the reality is we’re finishing 3-5 minutes behind them so whatever we do on the start line it, it doesn’t mean much.
What are your problem areas and what are you doing to improve?
CD: Our major losses are turning corners and upwind. Those are the areas we are working on every time we’re on the water. Looking at the performance numbers, our performance was a lot better in the race on Sunday and downwind was a lot closer to them. Our jibing is much better, but we are lacking quite a lot on the reaches. We definitely want to be faster, but our boatspeed is getting better.
I believe you’ve been concentrating on crew work rather than boat mods over the past few weeks?
CD: Yes, it’s just the way we’ve gone with our campaign. We didn’t spend a huge amount of time working on maneuvers, and the Kiwis have worked very hard on that. I think if we were to have given them a race two months ago with the handling we have today, it’d probably be a pretty good race. They’re just a few months ahead on boathandling and maneuvers, and it makes a big difference.
ETNZ’s out now and they’ve been extremely helpful on your learning curve. What will you miss about lining up against them?
CD: For sure it’s been painful for us because from the outside we’ve been getting absolutely crushed by ETNZ, but I’m fairly confident that any of the other two teams that have been getting out have benefitted as well. It’s been great and certainly made us stronger. You can look at performance numbers until you’re blue in the face, but there’s no better reference than getting out on the water and seeing where you are next to someone.
You’re better prepared than Artemis going into the Semis so how will you push yourself against them to keep your game strong?
CD: There’s not many days before we race them in the Semis. We’re working hard on the boat to make it as good as possible. We have a few little changes coming there. We’re going to work very, very hard on maneuvering over the next days and keep everything going in a straight line. We still learning a huge amount about our foils and refining the technique. We’re pushing as hard as we can. Way, way harder than we have done in the past.
What’s morale like in the team after a pretty rough month?
CD: It has been rough but everyone’s working very hard to make the best of what we’ve got and to prove what we’ve got. It makes us stronger so that’s what we’re taking from it.
* As published at: http://www.sailingworld.com/blogs/racing/americas-cup/on-the-learning-curve