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Gulari Lifts Off

Detroit's Bora Gulari won the 2009 CST Composites International Moth World Championship. Interview from our October 2009 issue

January 7, 2010
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US SAILING’s Rolex Yachtsman of the Year, Bora Gulari, won the the 2009 CST Composites International Moth World Championship.

US SAILING’s Rolex Yachtsman of the Year, Bora Gulari, won the the 2009 CST Composites International Moth World Championship. Amory Ross

In the summer of 2006 Bora Gulari came to a crossroads. The windsurfer turned college sailor turned Olympic 49er campaigner turned kiteboarder was looking for his next aquatic adventure. He was leaning toward a return to his roots. “I was thinking about the RS:X windsurfer and trying to do the Olympic thing again,” he says. But he couldn’t get out of his mind YouTube videos of foiling Moths flying across the water at breakneck speeds. The more he watched, the more he wavered. Finally in August, he put down a deposit on a Bladerider Moth, the first production version of a foiling sailboat. The boat arrived at his Detroit-area home the following March and Gulari’s been on it, seemingly, ever since. Which is a large part of the reason he won the class’s world championship last August in Cascade Locks, Ore.

So what’s it feel like to win a world championship?
At first it was relief. As time goes on, it’s satisfaction and knowing that you can do it, because there’s always a lot of self-doubt: Is all this time you’re putting in worth it? Are people just better than you?

Most athletes that win at that level don’t lack for confidence. They always think they’re the best.

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I never really consider myself better than anyone. Even to be considered an equal or a peer is enough for me. Sometimes it’s your day sometimes it’s not. That was definitely my day.

It was more than one day. You dominated a five-day regatta, winning 8 of 15 races. Only Nathan Outteridge, of Australia, was even close. What was your edge?
I think [Nathan and I] had the best tacks. Our boathanding was something that allowed both of us to always find our way to the front. Nathan’s a very savvy sailor. There were a couple of times where I thought I had him buried and I’d give up the loose cover and he’d turn that into 30 seconds of clear air and hopscotch by me. I knew pretty early on that it was going to be between him and myself. Going into the Worlds I told myself I’d just boat-handle my way around him. I had confidence I had better boathandling.

Did you spend more time in the boat practicing than the rest of the competition?
My gut tells me yes, but it’s hard to know. I live so close to my boat and I try to stay away from a lot of other sailing. I felt like if I wasn’t going Moth sailing I was wasting my time.

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Could you sum up how much time you spent sailing your Moth over the last two years?
It’s going to be crazy to even figure that out. When I could sail at home, and I was at home, I would sail five days a week on average. In the winter, to keep sailing, I would travel for a least couple of months and spend seven days a week on my boat.

How much time was spent racing?
Very little. I’d do lineups with [fellow Detroit Moth sailor] George Peet a lot. The boathandling is so important. When you see us sailing off Bayview YC, it’s almost like showing off, but I’ll try to do foiling tacks and jibes in the most inconvenient spot. When you get on the racecourse and you can make those maneuvers happen when you don’t want to do them, it just flows. It’s the way around the racetrack.

How far behind skill-wise are the second and third tiers of sailors?
By the end, Arnaud [Psarofaghis] and Dalton [Bergan] were nipping at our heels all the time. And there are a couple of more people who would be in there if they didn’t have some boat issues. But after the first group it was probably a good half a leg, after two laps, to the second group, by the time we finished.

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How big was that first group?
Seven.

How tactical a regatta was it?
I think it’s pretty tactical because we can make good VMG on a variety of angles. Knowing what shift you’re in upwind makes a big difference. We can point really high and sacrifice 2 knots of boat speed or put the bow down and be going 16 or 17 knots upwind. People say slow boats are more tactical; I disagree 100 percent. On the Moth you just have so many angles that you have to choose from.

How do you determine the correct choice?
Mainly just experience, time in the boat. Some of the newer guys in the fleet, it’s a good training tool for them to always have their GPS on. I’ve sailed enough that I can feel pretty quickly that I have the boat going pretty good in this mode or if it’s time to go forward.

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What’s next in this class for you?
I think it’s a development class so people will always try to improve. Sail development and mast development are things I’m working on. Some of the good dinghy designers are getting involved: [Paul] Bieker, [Julian] Bethwaite. It’s the hottest dinghy class. You can’t stand still, that’s for sure; otherwise everyone’s going to run you down.

What happened to the movement to form a one-design class around the Bladerider boat?
The open Moth class is going to be what survives. Bladerider did a great thing; through their marketing, they were able to get a lot of new Moth sailors into the fleet. But I think the talk of having a one-design moth really burned the current group of Moth sailors and there’s a lot of them. Since everyone’s different weights, different strengths, and different sailing styles, it just doesn’t work too well in a foiler to say you all have to use the same parts and the same setup.

You’ve held on to your ISAF Category 1 status. Will you transition to being a professional sailor?
I’m sure that will happen at some point, more for the reason that I’m sick of having that fight all the time. I believe I could still qualify myself [as a Category 1] and I don’t really want to have sailing as a job-that kind of takes away from it in some bleary-eyed purist view. There’s a big perception that if you’re good you should be a 3. It’s not quite right, but I’m not going to be the guy that constantly fights that battle.

You won some cash in special events at the world championships? What’s happened to that?
I’m donating it to Bayview YC’s junior sailing program.

Two weeks after the Moth worlds you called tactics in the Beneteau 36.7 National Championships, finishing fourth. How was the transition?
The level of patience, that’s the biggest thing. Things happen so much slower and everything’s a long process. It’s not as tactical because, for example, when you’re on the inside of a big shift you can’t gain knots of boatspeed and shut the door on people. There’s no real footing, no high mode, just your one VMG angle.

Would the Moth make a good Olympic class?
Yes and no. The Moth has been in the Olympics before, as the Europe dinghy. I think you would see an influx of people into the class and once a one-design fleet broke off it would splinter the class a little bit. It would bring some sort of coverage back to the Olympics, but I don’t think it would be good for the Moth class in the long term.

Can heavyweight sailors compete in the Moth, especially in a more variable-wind venue than the Columbia River?
The way it work out is the light guys can really hammer the heavier guys in the lighter airs, but you just have to dish it right back as soon as you get enough power. Once you get foiling, if you have the right technique, you really don’t lose anything against the lighter guys. That happens at 9 to 10 knots. I think 180 to 190 pounds is going to be close to what is deemed the ideal weight.

Have you become numb to the speed in any way?
Not at all, it’s like a drug. Every time you go out, you want more. I don’t do formal training; I just go out and have fun. The speed is wonderful. We went out recently in 25-plus. You still feel like, “I’m barely in control here.” I crash all the time when it’s breezy, that’s part of the fun. When it’s marginal foiling, I have to be fairly motivated to go out and sail. But as soon as it’s good foiling, I’m happy to go sail. I like being on the water.

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