A Swiss among the Kiwis
Text: Vincent Gillioz
Can you explain how your ETNZ recruitment took place?
It happened quite simply in fact. I had been observing the teams for a while, to see if some cooperation opportunities could turn up. To be honest, neither Artemis nor Oracle seemed very tempting. Given my interest for multihulls, I went to Newport in October 2010 for the Little America’s Cup Class C competition, to see the wing sails. I had the opportunity to meet with the ETNZ people on this occasion and they suggested that I join them.
What is your exact role in the team?
My job is similar to the one I had with Alinghi, that is to analyze and optimize performance. By and large, I make the connection between the design team and the sailing team. This job did not necessarily exist a decade ago and Russell Coutts has largely contributed to its emergence, in any case within his team. You should know that sailors don’t always speak the same language as designers. My task is to translate the racers’ feelings into language that can be understood by engineers.
ENTZ versus Alinghi! From your work’s point of view, are there many differences between the two teams?
Not really. For me it is almost a logical progression. On the one hand, there was a strong New Zealand flavour at Alinghi, even if it was an international team. On the other hand, notwithstanding the 33rd edition which is apart, there are many good reasons why Alinghi and ETNZ found themselves in direct confrontation for the Cup. It can be said that the methods are similar. Of course, there are a few things that are a little different. The current team is perhaps a little more “sober” overall. There was a bit more festive atmosphere, without any pejorative connotation, with Alinghi.
What about the means? Does the fact that your budget is not balanced yet affect your work, -still compared to Alinghi?
We have the budget to do our mission and the work Grant Dalton and his team did, finding the resources to ensure our team can work, must be acknowledged. We are the only ones to not resort to private funds. To come back to the conditions we work in, there obviously is a difference. At Alinghi, we knew there was always the possibility of asking for an extra budget, or just a little more money, if our findings showed that there was an interest in going further in a field. Today, it is more difficult, the budget is there but it is much less flexible. We don’t have as much leeway.
At this stage of the work, what can you tell us about the AC 72’s characteristics?
I shan’t tell you what we are developing, but what I can say is that we are doing things that we would not have dared to imagine a few years ago, and that it will really surprise people. The multihull world has never had as many resources as it does now. Before the decision to race the Cup in multihulls, I think that a development cycle was about 2 years. Which means you needed about this much time between the birth of an idea and its test phase. Today, this cycle is reduced to one or two months. Therefore we’ve done in three years what we used to do in twenty. It’s huge. Our design team has 20 people and we are approximately 60 full-time. It is considerable and it allows us to make very significant progress.
How do you see the America’s Cup’s evolution, beyond your role in the team?
I am a multihull fan and enthusiast. Therefore I can only be positive. In fact, I believe that we are following a logical process. It was impossible to go on competing in the most important meeting in world sailing without developing the fastest boats. This world has changed and I think it’s going in the right direction. The boats have become very physically challenging and they go very fast. It has nothing to do with the monohull duels anymore, in which merely passing some buoys would vaguely be spectacular. I think that the current developments can attract new partners to sailing. So far, the sport was only accessible to the world of luxury and institutional communities. Today, I believe that other, trendier sectors will come to sailing thanks to this regained momentum.
How many boats do you think should be expected?
I think it’s fairly clear. There will be four, or even five competitors. This edition is definitely more expensive than the previous ones. There are tons of carbon to be used, twice more than on the former monohulls. That being said, the situation is not fundamentally different from the previous editions, from a sports point of view: although we were lucky to have ten or twelve competitors in Auckland and Valencia, there were only three or four teams really in the race. The unknown factor was whether an outsider could create a surprise and turn up in the semi-finals. What is different this time though, is that there aren’t any small teams.
What are actually your chances against the giant Oracle and its claimed advanced technology?
We’re here to try and win. In any case, it’s the feeling you get from the inside! We have a team that has the real potential to go right to the end, with lots of motivation and talent. We are good on the water with the AC45s. And the design team worked very hard last year, at every level of the game. We make significant breakthroughs every month and that’s what matters. Now, will it be enough to beat Oracle? We must first earn our place in the Louis Vuitton Cup. Then we will see!