High performance sailor Chris Draper is fortunate to have helmed for two America’s Cup teams in the past two years, sailing early on for Team Korea before being hired by Luna Rossa in 2012. Even though the Italian team were almost a year late into the game, Draper’s experience on the Extreme 40 series has helped his team maintain a fairly consistent place in the top half of the fleet in the AC World Series events, recently finishing second overall in the match racing event in Naples. The 35-year-old Brit is confident that his team is in a good place heading into San Francisco.
**How’s the pace been moving to a more established team?
CD: **We were very much part-time at Team Korea, and as soon as I started with Luna Rossa, it was full-time and full on into Auckland to start training where it was, well I would say 9-5 but it’s not 9-5, it’s more like 7-9 p.m. every day! It’s been fantastic ever since. Team Korea was an amazing opportunity for me, and it opened a fantastic door for me with Luna Rossa. I’ve been trying to make the best of it ever since. Obviously Team Korea didn’t have an AC72, although we had hoped they would build one. Luna Rossa has a boat, and everything came together for me to be the helmsman. It’s everything I’ve dreamed of–the fact that the boats went this direction and we’ve achieved really good results. We–the whole team–are really looking forward to giving it our all.
What did you bring to Luna Rossa?
CD: I’d like to think that my background has always been in high-speed boats: the 49er, the Extreme 40, and the classes I have excelled in have been that style of racing. Obviously the experience I had from the Extreme 40s and the very tight racing, and the experience I had from the ACWS in the early days–those skills really. It’s a case of also learning from the people in the team as well, add to those skills with the development of match-racing ability through working with Francesco Bruni and Iker Martinez. I’ve probably taken way more from the guys around me than I’ve brought to it myself, and I think that’s part of the America’s Cup.
**Luna Rossa didn’t fare well at the ACWS events in San Francisco last fall, but you got great results in Naples; what’s changed?
CD: **We’ve actually done really well in the rest of the ACWS events. We won in Naples, we were second in Venice in the match racing, we won in Newport, then we were second in San Francisco, then we had that really disappointing second event in San Franciso. We had changed a team member, which wasn’t a major, and I had broken my hand in the first San Francisco event, so we really didn’t do any sailing before that second SF event. We went into it super unprepared, and we had also been focusing very hard on getting the 72 ready while a lot of the other teams focused on sailing in SF in the 45. We went into that second event very weak, but that’s not to say we haven’t been working very hard as a team. We’ve been racing one another a lot in the 45s to improve our pre-start and match-racing skills, as well as alongside sailing the 72 and our SL 33, the testing platform, so we’ve been very busy in Auckland to say the least. We’d like to think we’re as strong as any team now on the racing skills, especially the match racing, which was an area where we’d shown signs of brilliance but also where we’d made some silly mistakes.
**How’s the communication on the team with a mix of nationalities?
CD: **It’s about 60% Italians on the boat, and the rest is made up of Brits, Australians, Spanish. We’re lucky that those guys speak way better English than we speak Italian. The language on the boat is English–it’s not a problem really. Francesco Bruni and I sailed five or six World Series events together, and he’ll be the tactician. We work awesomely together. So the comms hasn’t been an issue, the only issue is finding a comms system that’s good enough to deal with the wind noise!
**What’s your take on the level of your competition, the other helmsmen, at this point in the game?
CD: ** They’re all pretty cocked, and that’s what you come to expect at this level. We think that everybody who sails all of the boats knows that they have to sail the best races that they can in order to do well. I think everybody feels that all the time. I think it’ll come down to who has the best package and who does the best business with it. I think we all have respect for one another mutally, and there are no idiots. They’ll all be incredible on the line.
Is that exciting or overwhelming for you?
CD: It’s exciting, that’s the reason we do it, the reason why we love sailing so much is to go and race as hard as possible. That means going racing against the best people as possible. Nathan, Dean, and Jimmy–that’s going to be incredible. I feel very proud to be on the start line against those guys. The work I’ve done to get myself there has been fantastic. It’ll be about who can put the best game together on the day. It’s going to be a lot of fun.
**How much time have you had on the 72, and how is it going?
CD: **I think we’ve sailed about 42 days, maybe a little more. I’ve done the marjority of those. We had a period where Franck Cammas very kindly worked with us a bit and helped us work the boat up in the very early days, then Iker Martinez and myself shared the helm for the first 15-18 days when we were making the decision on who would helm the boat. Since then I’ve steered every day, and it’s been great. Obviously we’ve been fairly cautious because we have just the one boat and one wing, and that’s always been the case for us. But we’ve got the second wing coming on line pretty soon, and now we’re in San Francisco. It’s a windy place, and we’ve got to get out there in the breeze.
**Do you think the time in NZ has prepared Luna Rossa well enough for the Challenger Series?
CD: **I hope so. We’ve had some incredible sailing days and a lot of days in the 17-22 knot range. We haven’t sailed that many days when it’s been over 23 just because it’s so frontal quite often in NZ, so you end up with periods of 30 knots or more on the days over that. We haven’t sailed in huge breeze, but we’ve sailed in plenty, and we’ll be looking to push that up over the next 6-7 weeks in the build up to the Round Robin.
Will you line up with ETNZ in that build up?
CD: I expect we’ll all be sailing around in and near one another. The Bay is pretty small, so it’ll be hard not to cross paths. I wouldn’t be surprised if you see some of the boats sailing together. It’s uncertain right now.
**You’ve just moved to SF; what is the team focusing on at present?
CD: **We started so late with the campaign–almost a year behind the Kiwis and Artemis and Oracle–so we’ve had to hold on a lot of our design decisions until very late. At the moment we’re making a bunch of modifications to the boat as a first real modification session we’ve had on the boat since we’ve launched it. We’ll be back in the water as soon as we can.
**What do you think you need to do from here on out to be at the top of your game come July 4?
CD: **Good question: trying to get as much sleep as possible, working as well as possible with the team. It’s going to be long days and hard work over the next 8-10 weeks, and I’ve just got to give it our absolute all, be there for everybody on the team and do the best job I can each day. If I focus on that I’m hopefully doing myself proud, and we’ll be in really good shape as a team.