Hall of Fame Interview: Vince Brun

Brun HOF(2)
Courtesy Of Www.stars-stripes.com [1] [1] Http://www.stars-stripes.com

Which of your world titles was the most memorable? It was winning my first in Rio de Janeiro. I was crewing for my older brother, Gaston, in 1978. It was very close racing all the way to the end, and we had to finish in the top three in the last race. The wind was getting lighter and the racing was getting really tricky. When we won, it felt like we had achieved something bigger than life. Not very many people in Brazil had won a world title in an Olympic class before; at that point we were living a dream. In Rio, winning a world title--that was reason for a lot of celebration--which we did, with style. It was incredibly exciting. Did you and your brother do a lot of sailing together growing up? My dad, a cruising sailor, got us little boats that we started sailing together. In the beginning I was just crewing for my older brother. Then we got into Snipes--it was my brother, one of his friends and I. We traveled very little. A "big trip" was going to the southern end of the country. I didn't make it to Europe until later in life when I started crewing for other people, I just didn't have the resources to go anyplace outside of Brazil on my own. Were you a sailmaker at the time? No, I was going to engineering school and sailing Lasers. I was mostly crewing for my brother in the Solings. You'd never been out of the country in the Solings? We'd been out of the country only twice before. We went to Kiel Week and then finished third at the Worlds in Norway in '77. We kept telling ourselves that we had to go to Europe; there was more participation there--more boats. So how would you say that the way you grew up in Brazil affected your philosophy about racing and your skills? I had a really different childhood than my kids. My parents loved to cruise around Grenabaro Bay, which in Rio de Janeiro is a really big area.  They would cruise around with my older brother and sister and myself, and we learned to live in small quarters. They'd cook for us, we'd go swimming--it was fantastic. My Dad never raced a day in his life. He never actually participated in a race and I don't know if he had any interest. Where did the racing fit in? Being members of a local yacht club we started to see the Schmidt brothers around; they won something like three Snipe championships, and they belonged to a yacht club next door. My brother and I saw these brothers and said to ourselves, "Hey these guys are going racing, why can't we?" So we used this little dinghy that my dad had built; it had sails that were built by my mother. Then my dad decided to buy my brother and me a Snipe. It was an interesting arrangement--every month one boat gets built and a group of people, like 60 people, put their name in a raffle. The order that the names are picked determines who gets the second, third, fourth boats and so on. I don't know how many months later, we got the boat. So we started racing and traveling to some other clubs around the area. There was always somebody watching us and chaperoning us, and we'd go to places without our parents which was really cool--we felt like grown ups. We began to learn by trial and error; we would capsize and learn how to get the boat back up. Everybody would really help us along. My brother was always a lot better than I was, so I was always getting information from him. And we never stopped. We went from the Snipe to the Penguins to Lasers and Solings. What strengths did you develop? My strength has always been persistency. I was never the most talented. I was never the best at anythingI was just very persistent. When the other guys were kind of slowing down or thinking about other things, I just had one thing on my mind. I always wanted to do a little better--you get one or two OK results, that kind of motivates you to higher goals. I think I push myself pretty hard. When did you move to the States? I moved to the States in 1975. And you were making sails? Yes, for Murphy & Nye in Clearwater, Fla. How did it work out that you got that job? I met Dick Stearns who was also sailing Solings at that time; he was a very good sailor and I approached him and said, "I would like to be a sailmaker." He later offered me a job. So I went to Murphy & Nye right after racing in Kingston. I went to Clearwater and ended up working with Mark Ploch, Rick Grajirena, Jerry Ford, Peter Branning--a whole bunch of guys that ended up being incredibly good sailors. We used to sail Lasers together all the time. When you got out of work you'd go sail? I didn't have anything else to do, I didn't know anybody. It was hard; I didn't speak the language very well either. I had to hang around the guys that I knew well. They had a little understanding of my broken English from work, so it was much easier for me to be with them. I basically went out and got a Laser, and I would go sailing whenever I had the spare time. So you always sailed with your brother but moving to the states meant you weren't sailing with him as much? Well, when I went to school I had already stopped sailing with him because at that point I had picked up the Laser. About the time I went to school was when the Laser was just starting in Brazil; I used to go out all the time on the Laser, like after school, so at that point singlehanded boats were ideal for me. I could do more sailing--I didn't have to wait for anybody. The Soling is a complicated boat; you need three people to go sailing. To practice, everybody has to have the spare time. So singlehanded sailing was very convenient for someone like me who just wanted to go out for the fun of it. Your brother stayed in Brazil, so you began to carve out this career as a sailmaker; when did you stop sailing with your brother? In 1979. We ended up losing the regatta because of a protest. We dropped a sail off of the boat after a postponement, and they had something written down somewhere that you couldn't have any help from support boats, so we were disqualified for that. We won the 1981 World Championships in Italy. My brother was crewing for me at that point. He moved to the bow and I drove the boat from then on. Why did you switch? It just was one of those deals; he actually crewed for me in '78 and'79. It was in '79 when we switched positions. He was always saying, "Maybe you steer this time." I don't know why he did it, maybe it was just him being a brother and helping me out. All of a sudden, he just decided to crew. We get along well; he's really close to me--even today. From then on did you begin to skipper? Yeah, from that point on I skippered. But I have crewed many times since then; I love to crew. I crewed for Robby Haines. I've crewed for John Kostecki for many years in J/24s. I don't have any problems crewing for anybody as long as I respect them and what they're doing. It's a great opportunity to see the racing from a different perspective--you learn so much. Crewing has always been part of my life; I don't consider myself a skipper, it's certainly not all I can do. The crewing that I've done has made me a much better skipper. Understanding the emotions of the crew--like when I crewed for my brother--it's all of the frustrations that are involved with crewing. Little details like "you don't think that the skipper is giving 100 percent." Then when you go and drive it gives you more respect for the crew because you know how hard what they're doing really is. Unfortunately, the skipper usually gets a little more of the credit--sometimes it's deserved, sometimes not. When was the first time you sailed on an America's Cup boat? I sailed on some 12-Meters when they were in San Diego with Dennis Conner. They would sometimes take me out to look at their sails. It was very intriguing to me. The first time I really went out and did the whole Cup thing was in 1992 with the new IACC boats. What's it like to go back and forth from sailing small keelboats to trimming AC mains for a while and then getting back into small boats? It's a complete change. The sailing part is the same; the crew work and requirements are the same. Boats like the J/24 are simpler: you can go with your friends, have a beer afterwards, make a plan and discuss strategy and that's all there is to it. You don't have to have nearly as many meetings as you have with Cup campaigns. Meetings are not very enjoyable; in fact they're usually very boring. Sometimes there are too many opinions, and it's hard to go in one direction. In my opinion that's what makes guys like Russell Coutts so strong; there is clear direction and leadership in his program, and he knows exactly what he wants to accomplish. Most of the programs I see have so many committee-based decisions that it takes way too long to get to the same conclusion. It seems that you always come back to the Star. What is it about the Star? The Star is special for me because it's a boat that you can really learn how to sail. The Laser teaches you how to move your body, the effect that your body has in the boat--that's where I really learned how kinetics affects the boat's performance. But 75 percent of the performance is related to how you move your body in the boat. To me the Stars are much more interesting. How you set up the sails, rig, mast is so important because the sail is so much bigger than the boat and you're so overpowered all the time. When comparing the sail area versus the weight of the boat, the Star is probably the biggest boat in the world in terms of ratios. That ratio makes the boat really unstable and you have to have a lot of finesse. If you want to bend the mast fore and aft more, you can bring the spreaders back, you can put on more upper shroud tension, you can bend the mast side to side--you have so much control. You learn from sailing a Star what to do to the rig to power up the sail or depower the sail and then when you go and sail a Farr 40 later in life, you know exactly what to do. The Star is very fascinating--I can see why Bill Buchan sailed it all his life. I can see it's got you hooked. Right. Then J/24s taught me crewwork. Crewwork in a J/24, that's how you win races. Lasers, that's body movement. Mainsheet, vang, outhaul, cunningham; there are very few controls, nothing else for you to do. Everybody has that down. J/24s with crew work, Stars with sail trim--if you go through this whole scenario, you end up having a very complete understanding of how a sailboat works. How did the Melges 24 fit? The coolest thing about the Melges 24 is that it comes with an asymmetrical spinnaker. It was a great learning experience to sail like Buddy Melges has been doing all his life in the scows. It really taught me how to sail downwind. When sailing a Melges you learn how important sailing the proper angle is. In a Melges, a 5-degree shift can be a huge gain because boats sail completely different angles; you go to one side and he goes to the other. A windshift really changes the dynamics of a downwind leg in a Melges--there's so much separation. I remember when I started sailing Solings, here in the U.S.--Buddy would show up and would sail higher angles with higher speeds then everybody else. He would round windward marks in the 30s and by the next mark he's in the top 10. He was way ahead of his time. Not everything is the driver though--it's also the crew handling that big sail and a little bit of kinetics. The boat has a good mix of everything, but the downwind strategy impresses me the most. What campaigns do you have underway in 2004? I'm crewing for a Melges 24 named Joe Fly at the Worlds in Marstrand. Then I'm with the Farr 40 Crocodile Rock in San Francisco, and then I'm doing the Etchells North Americans in San Francisco in preparation for the Worlds next year. I don't want to sound corny but staying involved with the sailing, being around the groups--these are the people I know. This year's Star trials were fun for me because the group there was fantastic. It's so much fun to sail against really good sailors who push you so hard. When you do well against them you have a really good sense of achievement--it's very rewarding. Is the secret still persistence? Well now you have maturity and age playing a big part in my sailing. You don't have the strength--I know I'm not anywhere near as strong as I used to be, so I have to be a little smarter, use a little bit of experience, try and take the emotion out of the sport. When you're young you try and get the overlap at every mark--it's critical, your life depends on it. Today I start to think, "Maybe I should pay more attention to where I should be going, maybe I should avoid these certain situations."  I have experienced so many instances where I did badly because of lost protests. I always tell people that I learned how to protest because I used to have a ton of protests against Robbie Haines--he was really my teacher. I don't think I ever won a protest against him, but I learned how not to do it, and I learned what I was doing wrong. I no longer get involved with protests; when I do, I usually do well because I know the rules better than I used to and I know how to behave. It took me many years to figure it out, and it's one thing that I've learned with age. Are you saying you were a little bit of a hothead? Probably...yeah, I think so. I still see some of the younger guys showing up and they have a little bit of the same attitude; they remind me of how I used to be. They are very competitive--not patient enough to accept that things didn't exactly go their way. So do you try to teach your kids to be patient? Do you have kids? [laughs] Teaching your kids doesn't work exactly as you want it to [laughs again]. I went to some regattas with my daughter--I tried to be low key. But it takes time. I really want her to enjoy the sport. She's good about that, so different than I am. When she goes to regattas she's friends with everybody. Even when she has a bad day she's always upbeat. I wasn't exactly like that and I admire her for it. I don't know where she got it from, but she's way ahead of me.