An All-American, America's Cup Team

A five-time veteran of the America's Cup, Gary Jobson explains who he would have picked for an all-US America's Cup team. From our May 2007 issue.

JobsonMay07
Courtesy Us Sailing

The 32nd America's Cup in Valencia will feature tight racing and lots of drama. The stakes are high because the most sought-after trophy in sailing is up for grabs. As a result, pressure on the crews to perform will be extremely intense, and great fun to watch. We learned during the Louis Vuitton Acts in 2005 and 2006 that superior racing tactics and boathandling skills had a big influence on the outcome of the races. Historically, the fastest boat has won the America's Cup. But with the new rule changes narrowing the design parameters, the top boats could potentially be even in speed. The sailors could well be the difference putting a premium on crew work. A long-held principle of the Deed of Gift specified that a regatta should be "a friendly competition between foreign countries." In 2003, the last vestiges of this philosophy were discarded in favor of international free agency. As a result, the sailing rosters of almost every team are filled with sailors from a variety of nations. One could argue that the America's Cup helps generate international goodwill, but I liked this event best when sailors sailed for their own flag.Five times between 1976 and 1991, I was asked to recruit sailors for America's Cup teams. I did so for Courageous (twice), Defender (1983), Heart of America (1987), and America3 (1992). During that time, I never considered using any sailors from outside the United States. Today's international free agency allows the participation of sailors from countries that don't compete for the America's Cup, but it's also kept many Americans on the beach. At this writing, of the 374 sailors I counted on the rosters of the 12 America's Cup teams in Valencia, only 28 were American. Not even enough for one two-boat program.Selecting an America's Cup crew must be handled with great care. Each person needs to be highly skilled in a specific area of the boat, able to work closely with others and, most importantly, lift the game of everyone on the team. All sports teams recognize this challenge and spend a lot of effort chasing the team chemistry essential for success. When everything is in place, the potential to excel is enormous.One age-old America's Cup question wonders whether the boat or the crew is key to success. Does a fast boat make a good crew, or vice versa? I believe a great crew will struggle with a slow boat, but given time, that crew will dramatically improve a boat's speed.I was intrigued when the editors of Sailing World suggested I put together a hypothetical America's Cup crew using only native sailors. I made a matrix of talented American sailors including college sailors, offshore champions, one-design aces, match-race specialists, Olympians, and current and past America's Cup sailors. The exercise made me think about working on a sixth America's Cup campaign in the future-I haven't ruled it out-but if I'd been given the opportunity this time around, here's the team I would've assembled.Skipper, Paul FoersterAt 43, this talented engineer speeds up every boat he sails. It's no accident that he's a four-time Olympian who has won a gold and two silver medals. Foerster is easy to get along with and blends his scientific and intuitive skills. The few times he has match raced, Paul has won. At the helm, he's very methodical and clever. Foerster is one of America's outstanding sailors and would be the perfect person to steer an America's Cup yacht.Tactician, Mark MendelblattThis talented 34-year-old Olympian and former collegiate All-American is one smart cookie. He sees everything out on the water. Mendelblatt has won in Lasers, Stars, and big boats, and has the killer instinct to win it all. Currently, he's part of Emirates Team New Zealand; he was also a backup for OneWorld in 2003. If I were looking for a tactician, he would be my top prospect.Navigator, Stan HoneyStan recently won the Volvo Ocean Race as navigator aboard ABN AMRO One. He made many brilliant tactical calls to outsmart the competition. He was a standout college sailor at Yale and has raced a variety of boats ranging from dinghies to maxis. Stan has won many Transpac Races. Equally as impressive as his racing resume is his professional success in television broadcast technology. America's most successful navigator should be on an America's Cup team.Main trimmer, Jud Smith Last January, Jud Smith was named the 2006 Rolex Yachtsman of the Year after winning the Etchells Worlds-he had placed second four times in the past. He sailed in one America's Cup campaign aboard Stars and Stripes in 1995, with Dennis Conner and Paul Cayard. He has an uncanny ability to tune a rig and trim a sail. Every boat he gets on sails fast. Strategist, Harry MelgesHarry's talent is in his genes. His father, Buddy Melges, steered America3 to victory and won an Olympic gold medal. Everyone in the Midwest knows the young Melges is fast, talented, and would improve any boat he sails on. Harry has a cool head under pressure. The strategist on an America's Cup yacht needs to understand the big picture from tuning to tactics. This is the guy you want to listen to.Runner/pit assist, Anna TunnicliffeAnna is a strong, talented sailor who would work well operating a runner and lending a hand in the cockpit as needed. Traditionally, the runner operator also watches the wind and gives reports to the tactician. Having won major championships in the Laser Radial and being named an All-American Sailor during her career at Old Dominion University, she's proven her mettle on the water. She's a sailor who should be groomed for an afterguard position with a future America's Cup campaign.Main caddy/traveler, Charlie OgletreeThis three-time Olympian and silver medal winner from Athens 2004 has the finesse and strength to be a crew aboard the Tornado. He was an All-American collegiate sailor before joining John Lovell in the Tornado class. Charlie along with Jud, Harry, and Paul would make for an awesome combination. Port trimmer, Stu ArgoThis veteran America's Cup trimmer-he won it all with Bill Koch in 1992-is strong and has a good eye for how to get the most out of a sail. In school he was a champion wrestler. On bluewater or inland lakes, Argo is one of the most sought-after crews in America. Experience counts heavily and Argo has seen it all. He is very good with his hands, can fix everything, and gets along with everybody. He is the ultimate team player.Starboard trimmer, Andrew CampbellAndrew was the College Sailor of the Year in 2006. He is extremely tough in the Laser. In fact, he is the top American in the world Laser rankings. At 23, he would be one of the younger members of the crew, but he's the kind of sailor who'd become a valuable Cup asset.Grinder, Zach Railey Zach Railey is America's top-ranked Finn sailor. He's very aggressive out on the racecourse, and big and strong. Finn sailors must be tough. That's why Russell Coutts recruited Craig Monk for Team New Zealand. Monk won a Bronze medal sailing a Finn in the Olympics in 1992. Railey comes out of the same mold as Monk. It's important for grinders to understand what's happening tactically in the race.Grinder, Lance Armstrong On the one hand, this might seem odd, but I'm dead serious about having one of America's all-time, premiere athletes helping to win the America's Cup. As a grinder, Armstrong's tremendous endurance and spirit would be an asset. I would also put him in charge of training, of getting the entire team into excellent physical condition. He understands how to be a team player. His seven consecutive Tour de France victories were pure team efforts. With Lance on board the boat, America would rally behind this team in a way we haven't seen since the days of Dennis Conner.Grinder, Mike HowardWhether sailing around the world or around the buoys on maxi boats, Mike Howard is the consummate team player. Now in his late 50s, he may seem to too old to be a grinder, but clearly he keeps making it work. When the movistar team needed some extra muscle for Leg 5 of the last Volvo Ocean Race, Howard got the call. His experience, maturity, and strength would be valuable to an America's Cup team.Mastman, Brad NicholThis tall, respected Star crew would work well at the mast. Like Railey, he understands tactics and knows how to generate speed.Pit, George SzaboSzabo is a clever Star and Snipe sailor. He has quick hands and understands the big picture. I could also see him working the pit very well, which is the nerve center of the boat.Sewer, John von SchwarzThis quiet worker is big, strong, and very good with his hands. If you have a mechanical problem, he gets it fixed. The sewerman often has to work alone down below, and this guy is organized, extremely dedicated, and ambitious.Midbow, Clay Johnson This All-American sailor at Harvard comes out of the mold of 12-Meter crews who were successful back in Newport. Johnson is an ace dinghy sailor, strong, agile, and smart. Every time you read his name, he's finishing in the top three in a one-design class. His specialty is Laser sailing, but he would adapt quickly to a big boat. Bow, Rob ErdaRob is a popular crew in the Etchells Class. He was a college sailor at Connecticut College. He works hard on a boat and is very aggressive. He has a good eye for the starting line, which is important on a Cup boat. He's in his 30s, which might be on the mature side for a bowman, but he'd fit in nicely with a strong team.