Thursday, June 30, 2011

Dream Job for America's Cup Engineer

Riding his bike to work across the Golden Gate Bridge from his home in Mill Valley some 20 miles to the Oracle Racing base at Pier 80 in San Francisco is a commute that Kurt Jordan is ready for. The long-time America’s Cup designer is thrilled to be living back in the Bay Area doing what he loves to do best - designing not just high performance sailboats but the fastest sailboats in the world - after spending much of his 20-year career traveling to all four corners for his work. SailBlast caught up with Kurt to chat about working in the top design shop out there today:

What America’s Cup campaigns have you worked?

KJ: 1992 (designing spars for Dennis/Stars & Strips, Bill Koch/America 3, and Il Moro di Venezia); 1995, Young America ( PACT95); 2000, America True, 2003, OneWorld; 2007, Alinghi; and in 2010, Alinghi.

How did you get into the Cup arena?

KJ: I graduated from Cal (Berkeley) where I studied engineering and composite materials. When they wrote the new rule for the ’92 Cup they allowed extensive use of composites. I was right place, right time with my education and a few years of industry experience with composite material training. In the Cup there’s a lot of “old guard”, a lot of nepotism and it’s hard to get “in”. The new rule opened the door, as a lot of the old guys didn’t understand composites. I was hired in 1990 by Tom Omohundro as a consultant for carbon rigs. His company was up in Minden, NV. They built all the carbon rigs for Dennis, some for the Italians, some for Bill Koch for the ’92 Cup. So I got into the ’92 Cup through mast design, I worked with Bruce Nelson a lot back then and ultimately stayed with the Cup - this will be the seventh Cup I have worked. I still don’t admit that it’s a career really but it’s been 20 years!

How has what you do changed in that time?

KJ: Some of the materials have changed but not in huge ways. The techniques, understanding and analyzing them - the computer based simulation has grown enormously. That’s one of the big roles I play is managing that computer simulation infrastructure and the software that allows you to do that is so much better than 20 years ago.

What’s been the most interesting project you’ve worked on in the Cup?

KJ: I’m a little afraid to answer that because I’d have to say the last match - the dogfight, while I was still with Alinghi. It was much more interesting than version 3 or version 5 IACC boats. They were all fun and exciting but as far as the stuff goes that blows my skirt up, that was a high point - we just weren’t constrained by resources. There was a budget, sort of, which is why we didn’t go to a wing, we just got to the end and it was like, we need another six engineers and another ten million dollars and so it went on.

What’s your specific focus?

KJ: The stuff I do rarely has anything to do with what the boat looks like - the shape - but all the engineering - the types of materials and how to use them. With these boats, the carbon fiber construction - the number of layers you put on and how they’re lined up is all very critical. What I try to do is optimize the layout of the carbon fiber - to make it light, make it stiff.

What does the Oracle design team currently look like?

KJ: Right now, it’s roughly 20, probably about half of what I worked with at Alinghi in 07. On the engineering side there’s a group that deals with the sails, another group that’s dealing with the aerodynamics of the sails and the wing, another group that focuses on performance - shape of the hull, balance of the boat, and then another group of 7-8 of us that does the “nuts and bolts” - the design work that creates drawings that get built.

The AC 45 seems the perfect boat for the job. How could you improve on it?

KJ: Yes, we’re all pretty happy with it. There’s a lot of things you could do differently if you weren’t trying to control the cost of it even though they’re hugely expensive boats, it’s a one design fleet meant to get all the teams sailing in a hurry and to get everyone to the same level of understanding with the wing. You could make a much more complicated wing - more flaps, more twist control. Probably one of the biggest compromises is that it has just simple straight dagger boards. Everybody knows at this stage that state of the art would be curved foils that give you a lot of lift, particularly downwind, and foils that can’t rotate - that’ll be mainstay on the 72s. But for the one design its complicated and expensive and not the purpose of it. The protocol allows people to now modify the 45s with these foils if they want but they have to put it back to one design to race. But between races you can use it as a Frankenstein boat if you want to start to learn more about these things.

So you’re constantly designing/building new things and trying them out when you're not racing, like you've been doing here on the Bay?

KJ: Yeah, we have been actually (LOL). Everyone will be. I wont go into any details but with these boats there’s so much to learn. Even not messing with anything technological, just how to sail them. It’s kind of like the ’92 Cup. All of a sudden you have this big new animal and the gains are big. Unlike the version 5 boats where everyone was tweaking little things just to get a little bit more, the gains will be a lot bigger with these boats.

What’s going to be venue-specific as you work on the 72?

KJ: We don’t have ocean swells that we will be racing into so that changes how you view the design. Statistically, the wind that we’ll have when we race the Cup will be pretty strong. So there’ll be very little compromise for lights winds on these boats. If you had to race them in lighter wind places and it mattered, you might make compromises. An example is the pitch pole issue - it exists in catamarans, it’s part of it. Ocean swells make it worse. In the 45 on SF Bay, the waves are high enough that it kind of matters. The 72 is a much bigger boat. So everybody will be faced with trying to balance how much they put into the boat to resist pitch poling - there are features you can do to the boat - like more volume in the bow - that give you more resistance to pitch poling but will make the boat go slower of course. You can make the boat slower kinda straight line fundamentally but they do make the boats so they can push them harder so you don’t know which one pays off in the end - what kind of a fine line everybody’s going to have to walk, how safe do you make the boat from pitch-poling on the Bay - that’s very venue specific. You could really hurt somebody for sure, even on the 45.

Do you see some interesting (design) competition coming from the other teams?

KJ: Oh, absolutely. The cool thing about a new rule is that you don’t know what people are going to come up with. In version 4 or 5 in the America’s Cup, you knew what the boats were going to look like, pretty much. There’s kind of a traditional path given the rules that you kind of expect everybody will be in or near but there’s always the surprises, like the Be Happy boat with two keels, always someone who will come up with something different. I wouldn’t be surprised if it were the teams with the smaller budgets who come through like that, they may decide it’s their only opportunity.

Where are you now in the design phase?

KJ: With the change in the Protocol which now sets the date to launch a 72 as July 2012 - it was previously January 2012 makes a big difference because it’s the period of time leading up producing drawings - things that we build - that’s really interesting - configuration studies - the honeymoon period. As time gets closer the pressure goes up, you really have to get down to the nitty gritty, you need drawings for the builders. That goal post has now moved six months so a lot of ideas that had got struck off the list because we were out of time are back in again. So, we now have more time for the fun part.

What are you looking for when you’re on the water testing?

KJ: When you’re out on the water testing you usually watch the parts that you design, the things that you’re responsible for, so to me what’s interesting is really the platform, the hulls, the beams and the dynamics of how they behave, like when the bow starts to stuff in and how the boat torques up - you can physically see it. And, just watching the wing is really interesting because you’re just not used to looking at it - what’s it really doing - it’s still somewhat of an enigma. It’s fun to watch.

Do you see the wing trickling down to mainstream boats anytime soon?

KJ: I’m a little afraid that it wont trickle down that much because the logistics (getting it in and out, docking it, leaving it tied up at night because it’s a sail that’s always up which can be a problem) of it are just hard compared to soft sails and most people wont want to deal with that. It’ll trickle down to the Moths and A-Cats, the top level of smaller boats but as far as bigger boats, I think it’ll be more of a fringe thing, not a mainstream deal. There are people building wings for small cats and it seems like its ramping up and you’ll see it a lot more.

From one team to the next, do you yak about what happened with the previous team?

KJ: With your contract with a team you sign non-disclosure agreements but I think it’s fair and legal to bring what’s in your head. You can’t bring your computer files and all that, but we wouldn’t have much value if you couldn’t bring your experience with you. It’s so interesting particularly after a time like the dogfight to hear what some of the other designers had to say - we all had our different view not only on the politics of the whole thing but on the design - both were very different - so yes, it’s really fun to talk to the guys.

* Kurt, 50, grew up in Berkeley, Calif., sailing on the Bay. He’s married to Jaydee and lives in Mill Valley, Calif., with their two sons Cole (12), and Bo (9). He’s currently teaching his kids to sail a Bongo (know what that is?) and he’s happy to be home. “I love being back here - honestly, I get all giddy when I think that I get to do this job and live here.”

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The View From Spithill's Office

Jimmy Spithill’s version of getting up and heading to the office is just a little different to most. He starts in the gym about 7, heads home for a shower and breakfast, then hits the ORACLE Racing HQ at San Francisco’s Pier 80 for an operations meeting which sets the team’s agenda for the day. This week the focus has been on trialing equipment with Race Committee and umpires. A sailing team debrief follows where the team discusses what happened the previous day on the water, analyzing video footage and working with coaches Philippe Presti and Darren Bundock (aka Bundy). Meetings over, it’s time to crank up the pace and get out on the water. “It's a full day,” says Jimmy. SailBlast editor Michelle Slade chatted to the skipper of America's Cup defender, ORACLE Racing about his first week sailing the AC45 in San Francisco.

SB: What have you learned this past week in San Francisco?

Spithill: The way the weather works here on the Bay is perfect - from midday on you can be sailing. On these boats you don’t need more than a few hours because it’s so physical for the crew. You get to the point where you start to get diminishing returns because everyone’s starting to get tired. These boats are just physically draining and it takes its toll - you never get a break really. By the time the end of the week comes around you can definitely see everyone needs a couple of days off to recharge.

Another thing we’ve learned here is to split the week up, like we’ll do a Mon/Tues sail, take Wed as a maintenance catch up day, then sail Thurs/Fri. You could sail six days a week but you wouldn’t be any better for it. On the old boats, 2-boat testing was draining but more mentally concentration-wise for the drivers and the trimmers.

SB: There’s a lot of talk about the athleticism required on the 45?

Spithill: It’s definitely a different game - the huge emphasis now is on the athletic side, which I think is good. I have friends who are professional rugby players and they don’t see the athletic side of sailing - they instantly think of guys in a blazer sitting on the side, swanning around the bay. Once people see the 45s, with the cameras and mikes onboard, they see the amount of effort going into it.

SB: Has this had a big part in determining who is on the sailing team?

Spithill: Definitely. You can’t carry anyone. If you’re on these boats or the 72, you’ve got to be fit and you have to be able to perform, and that can only be a good thing. When you look at it, on the 45, there’s only 4 guys doing all the work as the helmsman can’t do a lot - he can help out with the wing trim here and there. On the 72 it’s the same thing - take the helmsman out and you have 10 guys - you have a wing trimmer, and a front sail trimmer, so you have 8 guys to physically do all the work. They have to be all-around sailors. If you make a mistake or if you’re pushing the edge, everyone’s got to be thinking, “Will I need to ease that sheet if we do a big nose dive , or vice versa.” You never had that on the old boats - you’d be thinking ahead for the maneuver but the consequence of getting it wrong was never a capsize, the consequence, was that we mess a maneuver up or break a pole, tear a spinnaker - now the consequences are serious.

SB: What have you been focusing on here training in the conditions that you’ll need to get used to?

Spithill: Everyday we’ve been here it’s been windy and we’ve used our heavy jibs every single day. The other thing is learning the race track. It’s a real challenging place to sail - every day is different with the tides and it doesn’t matter what tide mile you look at, there always seems to be some small variation. And, just getting to the lifestyle, the daily routine, thinking about the long term - it’s just been fantastic for the whole team, not just the sailors but the shore guys too.

SB: How are you liking the breeze out there?

Spithill: It’s just fantastic, it’s soooo good. That Bay has got to be one of the best places to sail in the world - it’s reliable wind, the current makes it challenging and it really is a natural amphitheater - on the 45s you feel like there are some boundaries - it’s very cool. Honestly, you look really look forward to getting up and out there each day. You need weather for sailing - of course there are skills associated with light air sailing but let’s face it, it’s not much fun when you can be blasting around at 30 knots all day.

SB: Talking about the speed of the boats - what have you had to do to step up your game at the helm?

Spithill: I got into multihulls because of the last campaign so I had a head start but these boats are completely different. The trimaran had an engine and it was a big boat so it was more about keeping the thing in one piece whereas with these boats you really have to sail them as hard as you can. We’re just putting the hours in as with any class of new boat.

SB: Your job is to push it…?

Spithill: Well, I think it’s everyone’s job, no matter if you’re coaching or sailing the boat. With any good sporting team you’ve always got to be trying to take another step up because at the end of the day you’re always looking for a small advantage. It’s an attitude I think.

SB: You’re playing with the edge everytime you’re out there?

Spithill: Sure! You’ve seen us capsize these things. That’s a good thing, I reckon it’s great. The whole purpose of these boats is to be able to get out there on a small scale and understand what the 72 is going to be about around the track but also to be able to push. The best way to learn is to make mistakes and I think capsizing is all part of it.

SB: What’s going through your mind when you capsize?

Spithill: S…T, I’d better find something to hold onto! It goes from us all working together to every man for himself! We have a procedure in place though - you want to get the boat back up as quick as possible. I think capsizing is fantastic for the racing - it’s great for TV, it’s great for the sport. It’s like crashing or spinning out in auto racing. You gotta have it - otherwise it’d be like restricting the Formula 1 guys to first gear. No-one would watch it. The good thing with these boats is that you get rewarded for pushing hard but then you are going to go too far. What we want is if you have a capsize in a race, the chase boats are allowed to come and pick you up and you can keep racing, like a pit crew. That’s something for the commentators/TV to focus on. We want to make these wings bullet proof enough so we can capsize them - just the top needs to be bullet proof as that’s the part that sits in the water.

SB: How do you think a capsize in the 72 will compare?

Spithill: A lot more dramatic. You’ll never want to capsize a big one. But, these 45s are a different story. You want to go out there and show you are pushing hard, and if you do make a mistake, it’ll be great to be able to pull them up, just like a small boat, and carry on. Most of the teams have capsized now and they just pick them up and sail back to the dock. You don’t have to get towed in. Like yesterday, we broke a few frames during a maneuver because we left the runner on. But we sailed the rest of the day no problem and that’s the key - keeping the boats out on the water.

SB: Cascais, Portugal is the next stop - has the Bay been good prep for that?

Spithill: Any sailing is good. We have our entire sailing team here right now - all the grinders, so we’re putting them through the experience on the 45 to give them a better understanding of what the 72 is going to be about. Obviously we need to make some decisions for the big boat, at some point so we can start building it - that’s important. We only had a small crew in NZ to keep costs down.

SB: Given you’ve had more time on the water than the other teams, how competitive do you think the first World Series event will be for ORACLE?

Spithill: I’m not sure we’ve had more time - I think Team NZ’s been sailing a lot. It depends on what you call - if you call it more time in multihulls I’d say the other teams have had more time this year - they’ve been doing Extreme 40s, A-class, they’re doing more than us. We’ve been providing stuff for the teams, we’ve come up with the 45, which is good but takes time and energy away from what we want to do. But for the sport and to make this work, we have to do it. We’ve come up with a concept that we think is going to give the sport the best chance commercially and some people forget this, but if you want to get paid, then you need a good TV/commercial product to sell. Having said that, you saw, even in NZ, the Chinese team - they’ve got some good multihull in Charlie Ogletree and Mitch Booth - they were pretty much up to speed on the last day of racing and won a race. So with all the multihull sailing going on, the good guys will get up to speed straight away. We’ve seen it.

SB: This lifestyle is a huge commitment to team and ultimate goal. How do you fit your personal life in that?

Spithill: It’s difficult. My wife Jen (Jennifer) and two boys (4 and 10 months) live in San Diego but up here now visiting. It’s tough on everyone - we all do a lot of travel and obviously the older your kids get with school etc., it gets more difficult. But having said that it’s also a good education for the kids because they get to experience different cultures and a lot of the kids in campaigns learn different languages etc. It makes them more independent and let’s face it, kids today want to travel. I think there’s lots of positives which is what you have to take from it. We’ve spent most of our time in Valencia or New Zealand with the different campaigns. It’s a tough lifestyle but tell you what, I just love it!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Still Pinching Myself...

Yesterday I spent some 45 minutes sailing around the future racecourse area for the 34th America’s Cup on an AC45.

Yes, it happened, I was there, and I’m still reeling from the combination of incredible good fortunate to have had the opportunity and the adrenalin rush of pure unadulterated speed. My head is overcrowded with clich├ęs as I try to relive that once in a lifetime experience (see, there I go).

Oh, and did I mention that it was all the more sweet with Russell helming for the first time since his spectacular capsize on Monday, although, I’ll admit to a moment of anxiety when Philippe Presti switched out and Russell jumped on board - the old adage about getting back on the horse came to mind as did Russell’s comments at the earlier press conference that it could take a few more bad decisions to get it right…

When the new Cup regime talked about accessibility, it never occurred to me that would include a Guest Racer Program that actually got folks with a huge range of sailing - or not - experience out on the actual boats that the teams race, particularly this early on in the action. It's almost unprecedented in Cup history, with the exception of the previous highly coveted 17th man position which was as rare to come by as hen’s teeth. For the average punter like myself, one could have perhaps won a 17th seat at a charity auction for thousands of dollars, but…probably not.

Swathed in oversized team foulies, I was delivered by volunteer RIB from the Golden Gate Yacht Club dock out to an ORACLE RIB, as it’s an maneuver unto itself to bring a RIB alongside an AC45 which even in “rest” mode feels like it's dying to cut loose - just pure energy.

On the ORACLE RIB, I chatted it up with bowman Simeon Tienpont, who at 29 is the youngest sailor on the Team. Simeon pointed out a few of the obvious differences between the AC45 and the version 5 Cup boats he's used to. Life on the AC45 is lean and simple, gone are the massive weighty blocks and lines, for example.But, as Tienpont who was onboard for Monday’s capsize pointed out, while the 45 is a reputedly wild and potentially dangerous machine, the case can be made that the sheer loads carried aboard the V-5 boats also did not respond well to bad crew decisions. That’s just what it is at this level.

Another related trade off is that the hefty trimmers required to man the V-5 boats are gone. Agility is the answer to getting quickly and efficiently around the 45. Point in case, after seeing Terry Hutchinson at the presser earlier in the day, he looked like he’d dropped a bunch of weight, not that he needed to, but the guys are getting a massive aerobic workout on the 45.

It was my turn to clamber aboard the 45, I got a quick introduction to the guys on Coutts 5 - Dirk “Cheese” de Ridder, Matt Mason, Phillipe Presti, Simon Daubney and Jonno Macbeth - before being shown my spot behind the aft crossbeam. The only instruction: hold onto to the piece of yellow rubber hosing fixed on the crossbeam. And we shot off on a reach toward the Golden Gate Bridge. I did my own mental safety check, recalling that the only thing to do in the event of a capsize is to hang on. I can’t say there was ever a moment where I was white-knuckled because the sheer excitement was the more overwhelming feeling.

The breeze settled in around 20 knots, it was warm and sunny and Coutts 5 was skimming along like nothing I’ve ever been on - it’s hard to come up with a suitable analogy simply because I’ve never been on the water on anything as fast. In some respects the speed element for me was the feeling of speed I got while getting launched learning to kite surf - that torpedo effect from the water through the air but without the subsequent pain - and kind of like windsurfing more than a being on a sailboat, where you feel the speed more because of your physical proximity to the water. And although it’s incredibly fast, it’s different to being on a powerboat because it’s not a powerboat! It’s just a friggin’ fast sailboat. There’s got to be a huge temptation to play these boats to their edge because the speed is highly addictive.

I didn’t get the feeling that the guys were taking it easy on my account, focused on wind angle and speed as they were. There wasn’t a lot of chat back and forth, going through a tack was business as usual, with the helmsman counting down and the bowman making the first move over to secure the new side and the rest of the guys following with a kind of a bouncing momentum to skip over lines laying on the trampoline and to absorb the spring of the tramp. On the first upwinder a quick glance at the knot meter confirmed we were doing 17.8 and with the breeze pretty consistent, that was about the max upwind speed I saw in my short time on board. The amazing maneuver was turning into the jibe and heading downwind. It happened so fast, so quietly. Within seconds we were hurtling down at 24.5 knots. So fast.

Stan Honey came aboard to make some electronics adjustments - I am sure it was more than just the few squirts of WD40 he applied to something at the bottom of the mast but he did point out the small rectangular shaped box sitting on the starboard side of the fore crossbeam that flashed small red lights - the piece of equipment that communicates with the umpire booth operating back at the club.

The guys began to prepare for the race training session against the other ORACLE AC45 named Spithill. I thought for a moment that perhaps they’d forgotten I was still on board as I tried to make myself invisible. I did not want to get off. I think that kinda says it all.

In reflection, it was an amazing, unforgettable experience, but it brought home that AC45 racing is not sailing 101. In fact, it’s not sailing for probably 90% of the sport’s population. As my friend Craig Leweck said, it’s for those kids who had to take their skateboards to the highest hill and scream down. Good on them, wish I had their guts.

Team pics credit: Gilles Martin-Raget

Author pic: Joan Garrett

Let's Get It On

Or perhaps better stated, let’s get on it, as there were no real surprises at Wednesday’s “unveiling” of the official entries for the 34th America’s Cup - the eight contenders including defender ORACLE Racing are: Emirates Team New Zealand, Artemis Racing (SWE), China Team, Team Korea, Aleph-Equipe de France, Venezia Challenge (ITA) and Team Energy (FRA). A 9th entry will be announced on June 23, and it’s rumored to be a Spanish team.
Other “unveilings” included the new brand of the America’s Cup 34, “America’s Cup 2.0”. As described by Richard Worth, Chairman of AC34, “It’s sleek, it’s modern, it’s sophisticated - it’s everything our competition now stands for. Visually this evolution sees the logo take prominence representing elements of the next generation of the racing boats in the shape of the ‘A’s as well as the host city of San Francisco - you can see the subtle, maybe not so subtle reference to the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge represented in the ‘A’s. Finally the Cup itself has been streamlined to simplify the form while also retaining the beauty of the oldest trophy in sports.”

Worth also presented the new Louis Vuitton Cup branding- a new logo that defers to the shape of the hulls and sails of the new boats, with the deep blue referring to the yachting universe and the America’s Cup, and the brick red signifies the more traditional look of Louis Vuitton mimicking the interior color of Louis Vuitton leather goods.

In other news announced, the dates for the third World Series event for 2011 will take place in San Diego, California, November 12-20. Worth stated that to date, just five of the proposed 16 World Series event venues have been confirmed but that bidding continues to fill the remaining 11 sites.

Quotes of interest from the press conference:

Iain Murray, Race Director, America's Cup Race Management (ACRM):
“Here we are today with ten boats - there’s been a tremendous effort to design, build and manufacture, trial and transport and get them to Portugal - it’s been 9 months to this day - truly remarkable. What’s more remarkable about it, is when you try to do something new you often make mistakes but these boats and teams and what we’ve seen from the speed of the sailing to spectacular capsizes, these boats are proving to be the business for what they’re designed to be.

The AC45s are really just the training wheels for the AC72s - a rig that’s double the size, a boat that’s substantially longer, a boat that’s nearly three times the beam and a boat that’s going to go substantially faster. It’s a boat that’s on steroids.”

Kevin Shoebridge, EmiratesTeam NZ: “I think we’ve got a fantastic group. The quality of the teams will reflect the quality of the event in the end - we’ve got a nice mixture of evolving new teams here - it’s a good number of competitors and I think it’ll be fantastic.”

Dario Valenza, Venezia Challenge: “I think the America’s Cup is big in Italy because of the tradition and drama that it represents and there has been a history of successful Italian teams. I think this time this time it offers extra dimensions with the format being more exciting, the accessibility to the racing being better than before. Our aim is to promote the new format social media marketing and doing as much as possible to showcase Italy and Italian-made around the world.”

Terry Hutchinson, Artemis Racing: “Having spent the majority of my life going through at 9 knots, the AC45 is quite a different beast. The boats are very physical, they’re demanding on the sailors, the shore crews and pretty much everyone involved gets a full whipping from the start of the day to the end of the day. I take my hat off to Russell and the Defender for giving us this opportunity because I think we’re going to see something quite new and quite spectacular just through the awesome power that these boats create. I guess the good news, depending on how you look at it, this is the small version, with the 72s, it’s only going to be magnified by 100%.”

Russell Coutts, ORACLE Racing (on the difference between “on the edge and over the edge”): “I think I’ve become a little more qualified to speak on the subject in the last few days. But really, I think that’s one of the challenges I’m going to face over the next years is recognizing where that point is. I think it’s a matter of experience, and the experience I’ve had over the last few days sailing in San Francisco’s strong conditions, I’m starting to recognize when that limit is reached - it’s probably going to take a few more bad decisions to cement that in my brain but I’m trying!

San Francisco’s Mayor Lee: “A competitive phrase that we use here in the Bay Area for when you start a competition ... ‘let’s get it on!’”

Monday, June 13, 2011

So, what did you do on Monday?

If you were San Francisco’s Mayor Lee you were driving - for the very first time - a 140 foot sailboat called America, a true replica of the boat that won the first America’s Cup event back in 1851. In fact, it was the very first time that Mayor Lee had been on a sailboat and he was clearly having a good time, even taking America through a jibe after driving her back under the Golden Gate Bridge in a stiff 20 plus knots. No sweat.

“I’m excited to see it from the racer’s point of view out on the water today and how we can visualize this race for the coming years,” Lee said, talking to a crowd of some 80 media and guests aboard America this afternoon prior to heading out to watch the AC45s fire it up on the Bay.

While there’s still no major sponsorship to speak of with the exception of Louis Vuitton, or at least none that’s been spoken of, Lee is positive it’ll happen.
“I’m very optimistic they (the organizers) will raise all the funds they need to hold the America’s Cup here in San Francisco…they’re even talking about repeating the event here…

All the stuff we want to hear, right?

Especially the bit about the event remaining in San Francisco which seemed a given from where I sat at the press conference held at the Golden Gate Yacht Club prior to this afternoon’s media sail. There’s no two ways about it, ORACLE Racing is one shiny, polished machine and they are on the fast track. It difficult to imagine that the challengers can get up to speed in just a few years with all that ORACLE has into it’s program this early on in the game, particularly coming off an experience like AC33 and the Big Cat.

Media were flown in from overseas as well as from across the US to attend today’s media shindig. Someone asked if it was typical to see this many media at a sailing press conference in San Francisco. Absolutely not.

Bay Area local Jonny Mosely, former Olympic freestyle skier MC’d the event and drew a pretty decent analogy from the skiing world - the transition in that sport which occurred when downhill skiing got intercepted by snowboarding - that helped the mostly non sailing journos in the room better understand what the hype is all about, the transition from monohull to multihull for the 34th America’s Cup.

For sailing media there wasn’t much new to report but it was great to hear it all again - LIVE - in San Francisco. The event was completely transparent, with ORACLE crew on hand to chat, a warm, casual affair. Nice.


Jimmy Spithill: We came back to the dock on Friday after our first time out on the Bay and you could see everyone just smiling and thinking ahead to the 72s. These boats (catamarans) are the complete opposite to boats that have been raced in the Cup in the past. Everyone is wearing a helmet for a reason, there’s a significant amount of risk, they’re very athletic, they’re probably one of the most athletic boats I’ve seen for the crew to sail. But there’s a huge reward for sailing them well - they’re the fastest boats out there at the moment. To get the best of these boats you have to push.

Russell Coutts: That’s the thing about this campaign, it’s about speed, like never before. The racing’s much closer to shore than ever before in the America’s Cup and that’s what I think is going to challenge the sailors - maneuvering these boats. The difference in the crews in being able to maneuver these boats and the skill in being able to maneuver them is going to be more telling than ever. If you screw up on a maneuver out there and the other guys in an AC72 are doing something like 50 mph and you’re stopped for even 10 seconds, you’re going to be a long way behind. That’s going to put a premium on crew work probably like it’s never been seen before in the Cup on these short course on San Francisco Bay.

* Speaking of screwing up a maneuver, RC did pitchpole his AC45 today after the media event whilst racing against Spithill’s boat. Grinder Shannon Falcone was examined by paramedics on the dock and taken for precautionary X-rays. Coutts' boat went head-over-heels and came to rest on its side.

John Kostecki (JK): "Being here in San Francisco gives us a chance to tune up for the first World Series event coming up in Cascais, Portugal - the conditions are similar, breezy and exciting racing. We’re looking forward to getting out here over the next 3-4 weeks and getting pushed around by the big breeze and try to get tuned up. We’re going to be running practice races out here everyday from 1:30 to 3:30pm. The other reason is to get to know San Francisco Bay. We have our team together, our design team working with our sailors, and we need to make important decisions on how our boat is going to be developed so hopefully we can defend the America’s Cup in 2013.”

Kurt Jordan: The AC45 is an opportunity for all the teams to get to the same place with the technology early on in the cycle. They’re a bit slower than the AC72 so they’re quite a cost effective package compared to the actual race boats so they’ll allow the teams to do a lot of sailing, training, testing for the next two seasons - 2011 and 2012 - at a much reduced cost for their campaigns.

Dirk Kramers: The first AC72 will probably be launched in about a year for now so between now and then there’ll be a lot of speculation and intrigue on your part and a lot of hard work on our part to see what these boats will be like. Imagine the AC45 spectacle but with rigs about twice as high and five times as powerful. We’re just really lucky we get to play with them - they’re really exciting boats.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

2500 CVs & Still Counting

It’s beginning to feel like the America’s Cup. Sailblast just received an official press release with an invitation to attend a media event next week when - finally - we’ll learn who the teams are that have made the cut into the next edition of this crazy event. With still two years ago, there’s time for the dust to settle…and maybe....for the craziness to abate.

Meanwhile, it’s business as usual at 160 Pacific Ave, downtown San Francisco, home to the 40-50 employees of the America’s Cup - both ACEA and ACRM. Still running on a somewhat “skeleton” staff and in “start-up” mode, finding qualified individuals willing to risk the security of their current comfy job for the wild waters of the America’s Cup is the least of the challenges facing the administration of this next Cup event.

So, why do people leave a perfectly good job to come work for the Cup?

A perfectly good question, says Ron Coverson, ACEA’s energetic and engaging Director, Human Resources.

“There’s two answers, the first is, there really isn’t such a thing as a secure job in America anymore, it’s mythical, the second is there is a huge number of people who love sports and they’re the ones who address that up front in their cover letters to ACEA,” Coverson explained. “We get, ‘My dad was a sailor, I was a junior sailor, I want to get involved,’ that’s at least 60% of the conversation right there.”

Coverson, a HR professional for the past 18 years in various capacities, had no qualms in leaving his perfectly great job as HR Director at Stanford University’s Athletic Department to jump on the Cup ride.

“When I heard about the position with the Cup, I enquired, we went back and forth, and they made me an offer. This is a perfect segue to being a general manager in the sports management world or pro sports or going back into athletics as an athletic director. I love sports, there’s nothing like the excitement people have when they’re around any kind of sporting event.”

Others clearly feel the same way as Coverson, as he’s had some 2500 resumes cross his desk since he was hired three months ago. “It’s a phenomenal amount of CVs. We're getting some amazing talent - even when it’s a 2-3 year job with the Cup, max. I hate to say to someone you didn’t get the job because we’ve really talked to so many great people,” Coverson said.

Coverson said they’ve built the organization out from the top down, starting with Craig Thompson, CEO, Tom Husom COO, and Scott Smith CFO. Supporting top-level management is Richard Worth, Chairman and from the UK, and Sam Hollis, General Counsel, also from the UK. The next focus has been the sales and marketing organization. Coverson has 12 people sales/marketing people already in San Francisco and will be relocating another 12 this summer from the UK who are a part of ACEA’s client service organization.

Why the UK?

“Well, there’s nepotism involved in this,” Coverson laughed. “But really, in many cases the best hires are people that you know -we always look for people who know people who have been successful in a certain area. That’s the best reference there is.”

Coverson said that while most of ACEA's initial hires came from Europe to fill areas requiring “specialist” skills, down the road he anticipates that most hires will be from the San Francisco Bay Area and California. Ultimately, he expects that the organization will be about 140-strong by the time the big event rolls around in 2013.

But, the big challenge is still ahead: making sure the right people are on board who can deputize the duty of telling the new America’s Cup story.

“We’ve got to gain necessary sponsorships and we need high level experienced business development professionals to go out there, hit the pavement, build the relationships, network, be ambassadors, tell our story and tell the sailing story in a way that reaches a very diverse audience and not necessarily a sophisticated audience when it comes to sailing. There are lots of people who don’t understand what the America’s Cup is all about. Especially when we go to pitch sponsors, like the Fortune 100 & Fortune 500 kind of companies,” Coverson said.

Coverson and his wife Elizabeth live in the San Francisco Bay Area, and have three children ages 15, 18 and 21, all of whom love sports. He’s looking forward to becoming an empty nester in the not too distant future so that he and Elizabeth can travel. Meanwhile, he loves his new job.

Having spent the first two weeks of his tenure with ACEA working out of the local Starbucks and using his personal credit card to buy office supplies, Coverson's sage advice to anyone eager to join the ACEA ranks:

“You have to be somewhat of an entrepreneur, understand your area of discipline, and understand that it’s all hands on deck. If you’ve had small company/start-up experience, you’ll do well in this environment.”