After Race 4, Baird Has Confidence in Alinghi

Alinghi's veteran helmsman Ed Baird has been kept under wraps by the team, but SW's senior editor caught up with him after Alinghi equalized the 32nd America's Cup at 2-2.


Ivo Rovira/alinghi

Ed Baird has seen the America’s Cup from just about every different angle. He was the B-boat driver for Team New Zealand in 1995 when the crew swept to the Cup with a boat that was a step ahead of everyone else. In 2000, he was at the helm of Young America when the team’s race boat cracked in half and nearly sunk. The program suffered a similar fate, falling short of the semifinals. In 2003, he did commentary for TV New Zealand. For this campaign he joined Alinghi as one of two helmsman, the other being Peter Holmberg. Baird came out on top during a series of in-house trials and was selected to drive the race boat. He’s been a difficult man to reach, off limits to the press for the last month or so. But he seemed quite confident and relaxed during a 10-minute Q&A session at the Alinghi base on Wednesday, following the team’s wire-to-wire win in Race 4.Did we see the real Alinghi [Wednesday]?It was nice to have a race that was a little bit more steady, that we could get a strong position early on and try to defend it without as much risk. But Alinghi has to be strong in every condition possible. We’ve made some mistakes in the last two races. Fortunately we stayed out there this time.We have a sense that you’ve changed your attitude, become more aggressive. Has it taken you a few races to get comfortable, get into the rhythm?I think what you saw was there was a little bit more wind and that makes it so you can keep the race closer, you can fight harder. [Tuesday], the wind was dying, it was light when we started and it was dying all through the race. Especially toward the end of [Tuesday’s] race you just didn’t have the ability to stay close to the other boat because it takes so long to do a maneuver, and to regain your speed. You seemed to charge off the line, your ramp up was better than Dean Barker’s. Was it a different approach?Each race is different, each start is different. [Wednesday] we had a nice place to turn up. Sometimes you hit a wave at the wrong time and things like that happen. Certainly in Race 1, for instance, we came off the line in a position that we thought was very strong but immediately we sailed into a lighter spot and the other guys got a little pressure that put them stronger. [Wednesday] I think it might’ve gone a little bit the other way. That’s how it works out there, especially when it’s a bit puffy as it has been.How different was the breeze for Race 4 than Race 3?It was very different. It was a much more solid breeze. For the same windspeed number on the mast, you felt a lot more power out of the sails. There were times [in Race 4] when we were up at a maximum running backstay tension, which transfers into the headstay straightness, and [Tuesday] we never got anywhere near that.How has this even been for you? Your first America’s Cup, you’ve had to wait a long time to get to the match. What were you emotions crossing the line?My first America’s Cup was as the second driver for Russell Coutts and Team New Zealand in 95. So I’ve been to a couple before. But my first real big match was when I did the commentary last America’s Cup down in Auckland. It was a lot of fun. I’ve seen the hubbub and the excitement and the activity from a lot of different sides, and I think that helped?Were you able to control your emotions during that first start?We’ve put so much pressure on ourselves in our internal races that it’s all quite similar. I think that’s a great statement to our guys internally. They really pushed us hard for the last several months. It was no different than any of those races?When you earned the starting job, what sort of a leash were you given for this series? Did you feel it was a day-by-day situation or that you were a little more secure?Most teams would agree that you try to put together a group that is going to be the strongest group in the end. You have to recognize that group can make mistakes. It’s not necessarily good to change the group if there’s a mistake or two along the way. I think every time we’ve seen that happen over the years, it hasn’t really been strong. While we never talked about it and there wasn’t anything guaranteed, the concept was we wanted to make sure that we had enough time together to really work out any missing skill set we might not have from years of sailing together, but we wanted to be fresh and excited about every day. And I think so far, it’s feeling nice.Does anyone carry an edge in momentum into Race 5? This series has gone back and forth quite a bit.One of the interesting things about momentum is that it’s often viewed from the outside very differently than it is from the inside. We’re just trying to put ourselves in a position to win every race. So far, we have been, and, you know, a couple haven’t gone our way. But that’s all we can do is keep trying that.Was Race 4 a perfect race?A perfect race?Nearly?I don’t know. We had a lot of opportunity for mistakes. Brad Butterworth and Murray Jones along with the other guys in the back of the boat really paid attention to what was happening around the course and made some very good, solid calls. There could’ve been any number of opportunities to make a mistake on the shift or the puff or the positioning against the other team. And they did a nice job. Perfect race? I don’t know what that is. Everyday, you can always do better.Was it textbook match racing today?It is a definitely easier when there is a little more wind. While it might’ve read the same on the buoys today there was definitely a firmer feel to the windspeed out there and that you could fight the fight.Has it been a good journey for Alinghi?It’s fantastic. We’re loving it. We’ve got a day off now and then we get to go play some more.Can you tell us a bit about the pre-start? What was your weather call and did you get what you wanted?Our call was that we wanted to be able to be over on the right-hand side. We wanted to be wide enough to the right that we could live there or we wanted to be on the opposite tack, on port tack to the right, going on port tack. In the end we were able to stay there all the way to layline. That was pretty nice, When you can do that, that’s magic.Off the line it seemed like it was likely to be a 50-50 situation whether you could live there. Was that the case?Right when we came off the line we were quite headed. We sailed for a little while-we would’ve been happy to tack then and we would’ve been on the lift. We sailed for a while and we did get a lift and we started to gain a little bit. And then we lost a little bit and then we gained some again and then we got all the way our near layline in a very strong position and lost almost all of it again in the last two minutes to layline because we were on the backside of a puff and they were in the middle of it. You got to play that game, be patient, pick your right times to go and that’s what we were trying to do.Did you tack because you were on layline, or because you were starting to feel them?We knew we were well over layline, probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 to 20 boatlengths over layline. So on the way back in we went faster than normal. It looks like the boats are still on the wind, but they’re not quite.Is there a better feeling on the boat?There never was a bad feeling on the boat. Guys have been working hard. Even yesterday when we were a long way behind, guys did what they’re supposed to do in every move and every maneuver and there was never an unhappy word. Off we go.Are you surprised you don’t have more of an edge?I think that was what this Cup was all about. Making the entire races shorter so you don’t see as much of an edge. The boats have been powered up. Reduce some of the overall weight so that means it’s harder to have a stronger edge. The whole idea is to make it strong for both teams. These guys have done a great job with our equipment. But we’re looking across the fence at a team that has a bunch of great equipment as well. It’s a good fight.


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