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Letter from Switzerland: 8-Meter Match Racing

November 5, 2001
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Hey Gang,

Spring is in the air. We have actually had a few days without rain. The people are out, and Geneva has never looked better. Really, I am serious. They’re actually smiling here…..

So it’s another week in the life of An America’s Cup Adventurer. Let’s start with “Long Board City”. Has anyone ever long-boarded (faired) a 75-foot boat, with 6 mils of paint? I can assure you it stinks, unless you like dust and scaffolding. Six pro sailors hammered away all day long, blast fairing “Boat Zero” (our first Cup boat). And guess what? They’re spraying it all over again tomorrow.

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On Tuesday, 12 members of our team went 8-Meter sailing. We set up two buoys and had 4 match races. The wind was light from the northeast at about 3 to 8 knots. The conditions were tough, with the wind coming in off the mountains in various directions and strength.

In Race 1, Russell Coutts (2-time America’s Cup champ, and gold medalist) won the start and the race with Jochen Schumann (4-time Olympic medalist; 3 golds, 1 silver) closing the gap on the last leg to finish a boat length behind.

In Race 2 Russell again won the start, but Jochen picked up the first shift to lead at the weather mark. We stayed tight until the second beat when Jochen led by 5 lengths. Russell immediately sailed 25 degrees higher then Jochen and stayed in the breeze to pull ahead to a huge lead three-quarters of the way downwind. Jochen gybed inside into a hole but then picked up the last puff to power towards the finish and lose by a half boat length.

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In Race 3, Jochen won the start at the committee boat with more breeze and a better angle. The race got interesting at the first leeward mark with Jochen’s boat losing the jib sheet off the clew and being unable to round the mark with the jib up. Jochen had to tack immediately to port before he could raise the jib. Once this was done he noticed that Russell had had problems rounding also, which allowed Jochen to hold his lead to the finish.

In the last race, the start was exciting, with the two boats having a close dial-up (3 feet apart). Holding course into the wind for 40 seconds, Russell then caught a puff first and led back to the start line. This race went back and forth with shifts and varying pressure. Jochen led at the last windward mark and held on for the win.

One interesting comment made by Jochem at the end of the day, was that he felt his boat sailed well even though all the crew members were sailing together for the first time. Funny, because the crew consisted of Richard Bouzaid (Whitbread winner), Kai Bjorn (Olympic sailor), John Barnitt (two-time America’s Cup winner), Jochen Schumann (4 Olympic medals), Blumi Schopfer (Whitbread and America’s Cup sailor), and Will McCarthy (experienced maxi and dinghy crew). Not a bad supporting cast, if you ask me.

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On Wednesday we sailed again, with the wind from the northeast. Started out at 10 knots and grew to around 18 to 22 knots. Good, fast, fun racing. After sailing the team met for a debriefing and match-racing discussion. The goal is to bring everyone onto the same page with the skippers so we can anticipate maneuvers. What was impressive to me at the meeting was how easy Russell breaks sailing down–every action equals a reaction. I had to stare at Russell during these talks and pretend I understood everything he was saying–I think it’s time to buy a match-racing book.

Friday I was asked to go up to Vevey, where our AC boat is being built, to unload a container full of ropes, sails, and other miscellaneous stuff. “Easy, no problem,” I said. OK, I guess I forgot what kind of stuff these big yachts use to sail. When I arrived they had a forklift beside the container and a note saying it was mine for the day. No problem, right… Only problem was I had never driven a forklift. So I learned, and then I began unloading the container. Ever seen 80-pound ropes before, people? Well I have now, and they aren’t too user friendly. And did you know that the sails weigh 100-plus pounds? Well I didn’t.

After six hours I had the container empty and only a few dents in the surrounding walls and fences (noticeable ones that is). This was good. So I left with all my toes and a new skill. I wonder if that means I am more useful to the group now? Let’s summarize my recently acquired skills: 1) laminator of carbon, 2) long-board sander (I mean fairing), 3) forklift driver. I’m starting to wonder if I’ve really been hired as a boatbuilder. Better go and check my contract.

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Meantime, here’s the Workout Summary for the week. I ran and lifted until I thought I was going to have a heart attack. My weight of 265 pounds is starting to come off. But, I think it may be because I come home so tired that I don’t eat dinner. Could this be a reason?

Our trainer is happy with the team progress, so he is upping all the weights for next week. My body still doesn’t like to be stretched inside out, and, oh, Chris Blanchard (former Canadian Olympic cross country skier), you want to fly over and take my place for the VO2 cardio test early next week? Please…?

There’s some fun stuff to report, too. The week was tough, but Saturday made up for everything. I drove to a small town called Annecy in France about a 40-minute drive from Geneva. You know how we call cities that are hundreds of years old historic? Well, over here they call cities that are thousands of years old historic. Annecy is surrounded by a beautiful lake and mountains (Alps), and has numerous canals flowing through the city. They have many historic sites, fantastic stores (in which I would’ve indulged except for the fact that nothing fit me), and tremendous restaurants. We ate at a place call Auberge de Lac. It was first opened in 900 AD and had most of the original settings inside. You can imagine how beautiful it was.

Next week I’m off to sail the Star Western Hemisphere Championship, which should be a nice change of pace. Did I say it was in Nassau, and that I get to see my girlfriend for the first time in six weeks? Can you say “Psyched!”

Until then,

Kai Bjorn

Grinder

Swiss Challenge 2003

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