Pulling the Strings, But Touching No Lines
Pulling the Strings, But Touching No Lines
Philippe Presti is a well-preserved secret in Oracle Team USA’s arsenal of racing weaponry. The angular 47-year-old Frenchman is one of those extremely quiet unassuming types that it pays to watch out for. He’s the sort who sits back quietly observing the lay of the land, or the race course as the case may be, biding his time patiently for the right play. These characteristics that have served him well as a coach for the defense syndicate. A sailor at heart, Presti takes his coaching role seriously and modestly claims that he is only as good a coach as he is a sailor. As two-time Finn world champion, that claim goes a long way. Presti was the coach and tune-up helmsman for Jimmy Spithill on Luna Rossa for the 32nd America’s Cup in 2007, and coached BMW ORACLE Racing prior to the 33rd Cup.
Sailing World: How did you come to coach Oracle in the 33rd Cup?
Philippe Presti: I met Jimmy [Spithill] a long time ago, when I was preparing for the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. I was at a very good level, second in the world in the Finn. We had this young kid coming for these training camps in the morning before school—5:30 to 8:00—and so we started to form a relationship. Then, I was driving the B boat for Luna Rossa in the 2007 America’s Cup campaign and he was driving the A boat and I started to coach him a bit; we would share things and I began to help him in the afterguard. I tried a little more discipline and to help him build the plays. Obviously Jimmy liked that and he asked me to come back for the 33rd America’s Cup quite late in the game. I did a couple of [training sessions] during that campaign then joined the team at the end when the purpose was to go racing. We’d work on the plays and on the simulator. We had a “camp” on the two Extreme 40s—I’m a match racer so the big question was, how are we going to match race these cats? We started with A Cats then scaled up, and when we couldn’t race against another boat we would work with simulators.
SW: How has this campaign with Oracle Team USA been different?
PP: The boats. We started sailing a monohull in the very beginning for a while after the big trimaran as we wanted to catch up with the Louis Vuitton Series. We did a lot of training on the RC 44 and the Version 5 ACC boats until we swapped to the AC45. We initially trained on that in NZ and meanwhile we had three A Cats, so we were working with this multi hull platform and tried to match race these boats and learn from them. That was different.
SW: What are the biggest challenges coaching the team?
PP: My goal every day is to try to bring something new to the table. I’ve been coached by a lot of coaches and when you come to a routine it’s difficult when the coach is not moving forward; it’s not good for the relationship. Right or wrong, with something new on the table, at least we can move forward in some direction. It’s also very different being on a team that’s all English-speaking. At Luna Rossa, everybody had to speak English but it was Italian driven. On this team I am almost the only non-Anglo Saxon. In my job the most important thing is just to try to transmit a message and connect with people. There’s a lot of understanding beneath that goes on…you don't approach a Kiwi like you approach an Australian for example in the way you present a problem. I’ve had the doors closed sometimes …
SW: What do you think the team needs to improve on?
PP: There’re a lot of areas we can improve. We haven’t sailed the boat enough—only 8 days—so putting some hours on the big boats today would be the highest priority. At the moment I’m trying to think about how to improve time-and-distance skills. We are in a really challenging situation so if we’re not trying to push all the areas, together, we won’t succeed.
SW: How has Jimmy changed in the past 10 years since you’ve been working with him?
PP: He was pretty young, so he’s changed a lot in the way he approaches life. He’s married with kids now. When he was younger he was more interested in just the sailing part of the equation, he was very into the technical and tactical side. Now he has a more open vision because he’s running the team.
SW: Did his talent stand out to you when you first started working with him?
PP: He’s extremely calm and that creates something with people around him, a trust. In the AC 32, relationship with people was very important and he had to maneuver the Version 5 boat, so full trust was important. He doesn’t blow you up; he’s trusting you so you give him the most you’ve got. That’s the feeling I’ve had talking to the crew and sailing with him. He’s been strong under pressure; he shows good stability, which is important when you have this kind of business to run. He’s really at good match racing as he’s got the fighting instinct. He’s extremely aggressive in a good way. He’s also able to listen and to accept thinking that we can do things another way; he wants to learn. A lot of top sailors are in their bubble and they don’t really want to change. Jimmy’s pretty open in that way. That’s a good position for a coach because you feel that the input you are giving is being well taken.