Saturday, September 21, 2013


It was Groundhog Day all over again for everyone involved in the America’s Cup, from fans to sailors to event organizers as Race 14 was postponed Saturday. All except perhaps Oracle Team USA, who must view each day this regatta is extended as a chance to continue to improve and develop their boat, whereas for the favored Emirates Team New Zealand, it prolongs the agony of having that dang trophy in their hot hands.
An unusual fall day in San Francisco saw a rainy front blow through with a southerly breeze during the morning, making it impossible to set a course. The Race Committee had given the teams fair warning of the system, offering up an alternate course, but neither team was interested, preferring to wait until conditions were back to a southwesterly on the course they’ve become accustomed to. Unfortunately that never transpired.
Meanwhile it must be a great time for Air New Zealand as many Kiwi fans have changed their plane tickets in order to stick around, while other Kiwis can’t get home soon enough, like Rob Salthouse, who runs the ETNZ fairings program. As part of the shore crew, Salthouse is longing for a day off and a sleep-in. The work of the ETNZ shore crew is pretty much around the clock, as Salthouse explained, “You certainly work pretty long hours, and you don’t get a lot of breaks. That’s probably the biggest thing about this event. When I think about what I’m looking forward to the most, a sleep-in would be good.”
Salthouse, a sailmaker and boat builder from New Zealand, has been involved in the Cup since Perth in 1986-'87. He worked for the Kiwi team in the ‘88 and ‘92 campaigns, skipped a few, and then rejoined the Kiwis for Valencia in ’07. He was brought in quite late in the current campaign to fill a gap that had developed with the AC72: to manage the Fairings program, a whole new role for these boats.
“I started off part-time to help the team from December last year through February, and I’m still here,” Salthouse said laughing. “The fairings have become a key component with the speed these boats are doing. As windage and drag become a big thing, we’ve been able to see potential and real gains in certain areas with the aero package that we’ve put on the boat. Coming from a sail-making background, this has been really exciting for me to be involved in. It’s all aero-related and fits in pretty nicely.”
The ETNZ daily routine is similar to their competition down the road. The team’s day starts with a 7 a.m. breakfast meeting, and by 7:30 they’re into work, with the first part of the day spent preparing the boat for weighing and measurement, which takes about an hour. A wing lift meeting is held about 7:40 a.m., and shortly thereafter the wing and platform are pushed out of the shed. Salthouse says it takes about 70 people to get the Kiwi wing on and the boat into the water. It takes about an hour from the time to push out of the shed, lift the boat, and get it onto the mooring.
“The tricky bit about it is that we’ve always got to keep the wing head to wind so if you have a swirly breeze you have to be ready to rotate the boat platform under the wing at any stage, so it’s quite a critical phase while you’re connecting everything up etc.,” Salthouse said.
By about 10:40 a.m., ETNZ sails up to the America’s Cup Park and onto the mooring there, where fans get a great close-up view of the fantastic Aoteoroa, as the Kiwi boat is named, and support boats. A team of 40 to 45 people are on the water everyday including sailors, chaseboat and support crew. After racing the morning procedure is repeated: Two tugs plus a tender placed alongside the boat are used to bring the 72 to position within a pen, the crane is then connected to the boat to lift it from the water.
“That’s also a tricky stage,” Salthouse explained, “because once again you have to keep it all head to wind, and then as you lift and swing the boat over with any breeze you’re pretty vulnerable to it moving around. We have 10 tag lines on the boat to help steady it and keep it rotated in the right direction.”
The boat is pulled out and put on a cradle, the wing comes out, and the boat is rolled into the shed followed by the wing. That’s when the shore crew start and get into the post-race checks. In each of the areas (rigging, wing, structural) every little detail is checked on the boat to make sure there are no issues. It takes the Kiwis a minimum of two hours to do a thorough check on everything, a clean and polish of the boat takes about two hours, then the nightshift crew of seven guys stays on to do any other jobs that need to be done.
Work aside, the Kiwis have made time for an important ingredient in Kiwi sports: beer. Some of the enthusiasts on the team got into brewing their own home brew back in Auckland, and the management of a local San Francisco pub agreed to continue to brew the same beer for the Kiwis during their stay. The beer is called “Big Cat” after the bar back in NZ where the boys would have a few quiet drinks every Friday night, says Salthouse. “I’m not a real big fan of the brew, but it’s gone down quite well at times for sure!"
Speaking of Kiwi beer, Salthouse is looking forward to getting home. It’s been a long tour, he says, and breakdown of the base is already under consideration. He thinks it’ll take a minimum of two weeks to get the base and boat broken down and packed into containers. A core team of 20 to 25 bodies will remain in San Francisco to pack up while the rest head home to New Zealand. This will take place as soon as the Kiwis get their likely final win out of the way although, Salthouse cautioned, “We may have to wait for the dust to settle a little bit!”
Salthouse has worked both AC and Volvo campaigns and the obvious difference between the events is the numbers, a Volvo campaign being a lot smaller for starters with about 30 to 35 people in a big team. “You’re working a lot closer together in a Volvo because there’s a lot more overlap than in the AC, so you come out of a Volvo with closer relationships to the people you’ve worked with, not what you’d get in an AC campaign."
Having said that, Salthouse acknowledges that this AC campaign has been different to others he’s done.
“The culture in this team has had a really good vibe and feel right from the start. There’s a lot of excitement now which keeps us going so that side of it compared to other Cup campaigns I’ve done has been really fantastic and a lot of fun. Hopefully we can get the business done!”

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Photo: Chris Cameron/ETNZ

Thursday, September 19, 2013


Peter Isler shares his thoughts on AC34
Sir Ben Ainslie is no stranger to comebacks and the mindset required to overcome setbacks, as he stated just yesterday following another loss to ETNZ in Race 11, “I think you have to keep believing. We’re obviously in a very difficult position, but we’ve proven we can win races—we’ve got to win a lot more races to get even with the Kiwis, but it's a possibility.”
Mindset or not, the reality is that today the 34th America’s Cup is likely to become the Kiwi Cup. Dawn Riley, former America’s Cup sailor, commented that, in her book, there’s not a whole lot Oracle Team USA could have done tactically to save the day; it was more of a matter of consistency, “A tiny bit of speed deficit was compounded on one race by a bad start, or coming off foil at exactly the wrong time in another, or expecting the wind to be lighter in another.”
She concurred, “The jury decision didn't hurt in points really, but I'm thinking it hurt more than we realized in distraction.” And, in town for the Rolex Big Boat Series, renowned tactician Peter Isler weighs in on just that which has plagued the American team from the outset, but also how they’ve made the best of it to put on a show like sailing’s never seen before.
Oracle’s starts were more favorable in the earlier part of the series—what do you think has attributed to their less successful starts since?
PI: The one semi-obvious thing was they came out with a short bowsprit. I think that may have been due to the fact that the wind instruments that are now on the end of the bowsprit—when you bring them all the way back in there, there’s just tons more disturbance, and they didn’t take the time to learn how to recalibrate them. I’m sure they’re using some sort of wind direction number to help them get the timing right at the start, when to pull the trigger, etc. It just looked like they didn’t have one piece of data when they cut the bowsprit off—their timing was all off. It could have been due to over-reliance on electronics that were no longer as tuned up as they had been when the instruments were out in more of the free flow of the boat.
Oracle has improved 100 percent, and they’ve been in the chase ... but just unable to nail it at crucial points in the race. Your thoughts?
PI: A good friend of mine, Vince Brun, once said, “When you have boatspeed then you look like the world’s best tactician. When you don’t have good speed, it’s impossible to have good tactics.” In some ways it's true. A lot of times the simplistic thing to do is to look at the boats and say, “They’re more or less even, therefore when they go right and left and back together again, it’s all tactics.”
But, that’s an over-simplification, and there’s a boatspeed factor that’s mixed in there. One thing when you’re analyzing it, it’s dangerous to attribute all or nothing to boatspeed. That said, the problem with these boats, especially upwind, is that the tacks are costly (even though they are tacking pretty well now). Because of the short boundaries—and we saw it with the 45s—once you pick your gate, you’ve pretty much set up your strategy/race positioning for almost the whole beat, unless you want to spend another tack, you’re going to go right or left to the boundary then bang off of it and boundary back.
If you tack in the middle of the beat, it’s a pretty rare thing. Then add in the mix of San Francisco Bay and the fact that the current on that part of the course can, with changing tides, be completely the opposite direction on the right edge to the left edge. It’s an interesting challenge, and I think all the sailors are trying to get it right, and sometimes they don’t because of the wind shifts or the current being a little bit different to what they expected. And of course when the boats come close and you have a crossing situation in the dial downs etc., then it shifts over to boat-to-boat tactics which is as much the helmsman as it is the tactician. You think of Jimmy as being the battler, the boxer etc., but Dean’s been at times just as aggressive as Jimmy.
How much can be attributed to Oracle’s capsize as a reason that they’re not as polished as the Kiwis?
PI: Two things: The Kiwis had a couple of weeks advantage by learning to foil first and really developing it in secret before any of the other teams cottoned onto it. They did a really good job of maintaining that advantage that they have. At the same time, the superpower, our home team, had a huge setback with their capsize that precluded them from being able to play catch up even when they did cotton onto the foiling. The foiling totally changed the game of this America’s Cup. Even the designers admit that they are accidentally what they [the boats] are now. They didn’t intend—at least the version one hulls—to be riding above the water or foiling upwind. The Americans lost any chance they did have of getting on with the foiling game early because the boat broke, a double whammy.
What are your thoughts on these boats as ideal match-racing boats?
PI: There is no ideal match racing boat, it’s like horses for courses, it’s like what’s your favorite, there is no ideal horse. All of us, from the spectators, the media, the viewers, to the sailors, are all almost daily getting more into these boats match racing. It is spectacularly fun to watch. It’s the coolest match racing I’ve ever seen. I think they’re great, there’s obviously other issues and considerations beyond how cool they are, but in terms of a match-racing boat, they’ve got everything—they’re manueverable enough that they can play some tactical games. It’s not all the subtleties you get with a heavy keelboat that goes really deep downwind and the trailer can’t attack the leader by throwing bad air on them because they’re going so fast, but I think the whole new game is pretty darn cool. I love it, and if you asked me, you, or the viewers just back in the Louis Vuitton Cup, the answer would have been completely different. Good on these two teams to show us really what these these things can do.
How’s Ben doing at the back of the boat?
PI: He’s a leader and competitor, and he’s in the perfect position really right now. From my perspective, he was hired to help the team and bring more experience on board, but I also saw him hired to put him on ice to keep him out of the hands of the enemy. With this awkward situation with JK [John Kostecki] Ainslie had this totally unexpected opportunity to show everybody what he could do. He’s super smart, a great sailor, and he’s done a really good job of stepping in.

When Cheese got taken out of the mix—Cheese, JK, Spithill were a powerful team; they’d won an America’s Cup together, done all the ACWS events together—I don’t think we really appreciated just how much of a setback that was. All of a sudden, lose a few races, confidence ... who knows what really went on within the team, but certainly Ben has come in and kept Jimmy happy. That’s what a tactician does—it’s skipper entertainment (laughs). Maybe it’s now a Ben, Kyle, Jimmy thing.

At that level, you can talk about Ainslie or Kostecki, it’s plug and play. Put any one of those guys on any boat, and they’re going to look and sound good. There are times that with boatspeed and other issues where—rarely—one of these guys has a bad day here and there, but either of those guys are winners and I’d be happy to have either one of them onboard. At the end of the day it comes down to a kind of comfort level—the kind of "X Team" factor rather than who is making a better decision at the time, it’s more the chemistry.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013


There’s nothing like a cold beverage or two to calm ragged nerves before, during, and after watching the insanely close racing being dished up at the 34th America’s Cup in San Francisco, where tens of thousands of fans have descended upon America’s Cup Park. An atmosphere that’s nothing short of electric is pulsating at the Park on the San Francisco waterfront, with two distinct camps each desperately wanting the ol’ silver trophy.

Notorious party-goers, the Kiwis have hit San Francisco full force to support their team which leads the Cup with a massive six-point lead. Some have been here for weeks, even months, and others, even at this late stage, are still flying in just to remind Emirates Team New Zealand that the entire country is behind the Kiwi sailing team. If San Franciscans didn’t know what the Kiwi flag looked like before this past week, they sure do now.
The American fan base has been slower to adopt the same enthusiasm as the Kiwi contingent, in large part because the event just doesn’t hold the importance for the entire nation like it does for the Kiwis. Nonetheless, like their Kiwi counterparts, American fans and San Francisco locals are in every bar enjoying every minute of this grand shindig on San Francisco Bay. With the way the scoreboard is looking right now, they’d best make the most of it ...
Sunshine, insanely good sailboat racing, and cold beer, all the ingredients for a good party, are being dealt out in large quantities for thirsty bystanders. There’s no shortage of places to party it up, and a chilled flute of bubbly or a frosty cold beer can be found on almost every corner of the AC Park. Bright red purpose-renovated shipping containers serve as bars around the Park, while a covered pavilion to the rear of the Park hosts venues pouring the famed “Moa” Kiwi beer, Napa Valley wines featuring premium local wines, and Mumm Napa serving a selection of sparking wines. Drinks are pricey, but hey, not a whole lot different to what you’d cough up at any other sports game.

With some 50,000 visitors in and around AC Park and Village over the weekend, the overflow continue to make its way outside the Park to a couple of hot spots, notably the infamous Pier 23 right outside the Park. It’s been a popular place to spot ETNZ members enjoying a cold one post-racing as well as a regular haunt for AC staff. A few hundred yards north of the Park hidden behind the austere entrance to Pier 29 is the creative Kiwi pop-up, The Waiheke Island Yacht Club. Kiwi restaurateur Hayden McMillan has brought his dining know-how to the shores of San Francisco Bay in the form of a warehouse-style restaurant serving dishes described as “New Zealand sensibility in the San Francisco marketplace.”
It’s been packed since it opened on July 4 and rapidly become the gathering place of choice for Kiwis, although manager Tony Stewart says they’re attracting a cross section of clientele, it’s just that the Kiwis tend to be well, more vocal.
“They just seem to come here in droves, especially in the last few days,” Stewart said. “It’s been incredibly busy. I knew it would be, but it’s intense, which is not something we expected.”
Flicka McGurrin’s been involved at Pier 23 since 1986, and with the exception of Fleet Week celebrations, which are always huge in San Francisco, she says the Cup has been unique because of the event’s longevity and the AC Park being right next door: “It’s been great, really great. Revenue is way up, and we’re busy all the time, the energy is great, and we’re having a lot of fun.”
Simon Towns, Managing Director of Mumm Napa [who also happens to be a Kiwi], reports that the bubbly business at the Mumm booth has been “fantastic”, not surprising as the lines have often been 40-deep to buy a stem of bubbles.
“Obviously it’s built it up during the AC Finals,” Towns said. “Last Saturday we sold about 25,000 flutes, and it looks like this weekend is going to be just as good.”
In the hopeless quest for a less crowded bar farther south along the San Francisco waterfront, AC fans have discovered Coqueta, a relatively new Spanish Tapas bar and restaurant that’s also been packed with AC fans post-racing. An ex-pat Kiwi named Dave draped in a Kiwi flag was buying rounds of the largest gin and tonics I’ve ever seen served anywhere. I mean, really huge, fat glasses. Wow.
The big talk, of course, is where the teams and the fans will be celebrating when one team takes the Cup. Traditionally, the teams host separate parties at their respective bases. While there’s nothing special planned for the public, other than the bars that have served them well for the past few weeks, it’s expected that the action will remain down and around Pier 27.
Stewart was in the throes of figuring out celebrations at the Waiheke Island Yacht Club on Sunday, and his best guest is that there’ll be something for everyone. “It’ll be a private/public thing ...” Whatever that really means.
Likewise, Towns was also working on party plans for the big celebration. “They’re in progress," he laughed. “Obviously down here at Pier 27 we’ll be partying, but wherever the party may be, we hope Mumm will not be far behind. It’s the perfect product to party with.”
Spoken like a winner.

Monday, September 16, 2013


There’ll be many things that stand out as being both outstandingly good and outstandingly bad about the current edition of the America’s Cup final match.

Falling into the former category is that the races have gone off on schedule each race day with virtually no technical hitches or breakdowns—incredible really, given the extreme nature of the boats and the equally as extreme speeds and maneuvering witnessed on the racecourse (who will ever forget Emirates Team New Zealand’s near capsize?).
While the sailors may like to keep sailing the AC72s for a while longer, the shore crew are ready for that vacation as AC34 begins to wind down. Simply put, keeping the AC72s on the water and in perfect working condition is a world-class production that requires countless hours. 
From the outside it’s easy to wonder how it all gets done. Andrew Henderson, Rig Team Manager for Oracle Team USA, explains that there’s a rigid process in place that ensures the maintenance and development work is carried out as perfectly as possible. Henderson’s been a rigger for 20+ years and has his own rigging business back home in Australia. He’s worked for the Oracle team for the past four years and credits the guys he works with for the reliability of Oracle’s AC72: “They’re the top guys in their field and great to work with.”
What systems are in place to make sure all the work gets done?
AH: There’s a plan at the start of the regatta that we are following, and if there are items that are failing beyond what we expected, we need to make sure we’re keeping on top of those as well as the known items to be serviced.
What's the process once the boat arrives back at the dock?
AH: As soon as the boat is back at the dock the sailing team gets together and comes up with a job list with any issues on the boat they’ve had during racing. That gets added to the master job list, which then gets circulated through all the heads of department, and then jobs are distributed out to the shore crew once the boat gets rolled into the shed and all the post-race checks are done.
The wing is separated from the platform, and one guy looks at the control systems, the structural engineers walks around it with a flashlight to check out the flaps, and the sailmakers check out the panels of clysar (shrink film that goes over the wing). When we initially set up for a start of a regatta like this there’s a big visual inspection on the wing, sometimes we run it through a camera. Next up is the platform which gets thoroughly inspected for any weak areas. The rudders and daggerboards are taken out for bearing checks and service.

What does the post-race checklist involve?
AH: Each department has a folder they go through—rigging, for example, will check all the terminals in the boat, all the individual components for the wing, the structural system for any cracks or known “wear” areas. That check takes place before the final job list for the day is put out. If we come across any problems there, we start working on those and off we go into the night.
How often has there been issues post-race that have had to be dealt with?
AH: Other than that there’s just a lot of stuff to maintain every day, we haven’t had any issues with the operating systems on the boat or the ways that the guys sail the boat, so that’s been good. But, on the flip side, this has been a massive development program, more than we’ve had in a while so that’s been a huge amount of work. So, while the wear and tear on the boat hasn’t been bad, and I think the sailing we’ve done until now has ensured that everything is in place and hardy enough to get through the regatta, it’s been the big list of development items that’s kept us busy. We’ve sailed every day except one this past month and the shore crew hasn’t had a day off in a month.
Does the boat get cleaned and polished after racing?
AH: Not really, we’re not getting it ready for a boat show. We’re more focused on making sure everything works. The night shift guys may have time to do that kind of detail. Of course the foils get some attention but in terms of in terms of trying to make it shiny, that doesn’t happen. [Note—ETNZ cleans and polishes its boat after every race day and following maintenance, it goes into “lockdown” at 7 p.m. after an intruder was found climbing over the fence to the ETNZ boatyard at Pier 32 some weeks back.]
How many guys are involved in getting the boat in and out of the shed pre/post race?
AH: We have about 30 guys involved in the lift and the launch project, which starts pretty early in the morning, and same thing in the afternoon, about 30 people. If there’s a big issue that needs more hands, we have around 50 people we can bring together.
Who makes up the night shift?
AH: Mainly the boatbuilders at this stage. A team comes on at 4:30 p.m. and work through until about 6 a.m. Any issues, structural or otherwise, for example there are lots of fairings on these boats which require constant attention so the guys are often working on the fairings, making sure the boat is structurally sound so it's ready to go for the next day’s race.

When and how does the measuring of the boat take place on race days?
AH: We have the wing weighed at the end of the day which takes about half an hour. The following morning the measurers show up again and weigh the platform with the wing measurement. The measurers are at, or around, the boat from the minute we roll out in the morning until we start the race.
What happens between races?
AH: We have a team that gets on the boat - one guys checks the control system on the wing, someone checks all the moving parts like the blocks, the hull is checked, the [hydraulic] oil levels are checked, the electronics are checked for shorts—we probably have about 10 guys who jump on between races to make sure it’s ready to go for another round.
From the shore team’s perspective, do you feel a responsibility to the sailors once the boat docks out?
AH: Absolutely. My area is rigging, and for any major rigging failure there is massive potential for someone getting hurt so we certainly think about it a lot. We do have processes where we do all the checks, and we’ve done a lot of testing to make sure that the guys sailing the boat are comfortable with the rigging, for example.
How is the decision to make improvements to the boat conveyed to the shore crew?
AH: There’s a huge amount of data and a performance team that drives the backend. The sailors come back with their ideas, the designers and engineers come up with a plan, and we get a job list from that, we do the work, and then the guys go sailing. That’s what we’re doing today. It’s continuous, and you don’t always know where the end is, but everyone knows that now we have just a few days to go, maybe a week, and so we have to do as much as we can this week to try and win races.
Are these boats just a massive undertaking to you?
AH: It’s a huge project. We’ve done big maxi boats but nothing on this scale—the people, the technology ... it's mind blowing. These boats are fantastic, and it’s a great thing to be involved in. We have a great working environment, we’re given the tools to make our work safe, and the time to make it safe, so that’s reassuring.
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Photo: Andrew Henderson, by Guilain Grenier/Oracle Team USA