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Letter From Switzerland: America’s Cup University

October 31, 2001

Hello all,

Hope the summer is treating everyone with sunshine and good winds. I’ve been sailing six days a week and loving it (corporate line). I didn’t realize that there was so much to learn about sailing. Again, America’s Cup University is in full swing. I’m becoming quite proficient in winch mechanics class. They have me specializing in buttons, which are located on the floor beside the winches. You press a button to engage a particular winch. Fortunately or unfortunately, the winch team is patient with my development. Anyway, Dad, if we ever decide to put winches and buttons on the Mega Byte, I’m your man.

I did my first long distance race last week, sailing on a maxiboat called Nicorette, an 85-foot machine, for the Gotland Runt in Sweden. The race was a 450-mile sprint around Gotland (an island in the Baltic). My first wild experience of the trip, even before the race started, was the fact that the sun shines 24/7 in Sweden at this time of year. So the night life took on a whole new meaning. The day before the event we sailed 3 hours to an island where we would start the race the next morning. Four hundred-plus boats arrived at this island. There were seven Whitbread 60’s (wild-looking boats), other maxis and heaps (New Zealand slang) of fast-looking machines. Plus hundreds of spectators.

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The party the night before the race was incredible. We socialized in the sun all night and had a great time. Will McCarthy (my team mate on our Cup boat) and I were being harassed to take part in the winch grinding contest. The contest was grinding and tailing four sand bags up one at a time. So it gets heavier as each bag is hoisted. Once most of the big guns had gone, we finally caved in to the pressure. Now I must say thanks to our trainer, JP Eggar. Will and I won the contest with a winning time of 17.9 seconds. A few beers later the crowd wanted to see if we could duplicate our time. We decided to let them have their way, put our beers down ,and clocked 16 seconds to win the contest by 5.5 seconds.

The race started in 12 knots of breeze and rain. Nice way to start a three-day trek–wet. We were wet for the remainder of the race because this offshore racing doesn’t allow you to bring extra gear. So now we were racing, and I decided to put on the one item I was allowed to bring along–my long johns. But, you guessed it. After the party night, I’d left them in my other bag. I had to wear my jeans under the foul weather gear. Yes, I was cold. So there we were with a 100-mile beat and all the bodies sitting on the rail. Did I mention that we also had to lift all the sails up to the high side for ballast. The sails weigh 100 kg. a piece.

As I sat on the rail I noticed one chap having a snooze. I started to laugh and then found out that’s where we’d do a lot of our sleeping. The team worked a three-six split shift. This meant you slept on sails below deck (high side of course) for three hours. Then you climbed up on deck for six hours and if you had the opportunity, you might sleep on the rail.

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This style of racing is pretty different: lots of sail changes and long-range weather tactics, which means you’re guessing where the wind’s going to be. Last but not least, there’s the constant search for speed.

The race was between us and a boat called Morning Glory (formerly Shockwave). We battled back and forth the whole way. With about 6 miles left we were neck and neck. Then, beating up to the finish, we decided to work along the shore. The race looked like it was ours to win until–BANG–we ran up on some rocks. We sat there for 53 minutes and had to be pulled off by a press boat. Great boat to save us, cause now we have pictures to remember the incident by. Just what we wanted!

I have to say this was an extremely tough race. The partying the night before didn’t help much either. I did sleep well after we made it to shore.

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To sum it up, I’d like to say I’m a huge fan of offshore racing now, but I kind of like coming ashore after a day’s racing and talking about all the what ifs from the race. Not to mention I like to have a hot meal and a warm bed. Am I a softy? Maybe, but I would be a comfortable softy.

JP Eggar our trainer came to our training camp in Sete after the race for our fitness test. I’m happy to say that I showed a huge improvement, as did the whole team. To date I’ve lost 11.5 kgs (sweat enough and you’ll lose it, too), and I’ve increased my bench press by 30 kgs. Mr. Eggars worked the heck out of us the rest of the week and then gave us a new training program that’s even more difficult. Come to think about it, JP Eggar’s visit wasn’t pleasant at all.

No worries, though. We got JP Eggar back. We brought him out for a sail and got him to grind a little bit for us. A few tacks and jibes later he disappeared to the back of the boat to escape any more grinding. But, the cool thing is he now understands what we need to do to get stronger, which could be very good.

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We’re continuing with America’s Cup University here in Sete, but I have some time off next week to sail the Star Worlds in Holland with Hans Fogh. Should be cool.

Good Winds,
Kai Bjorn
Grinder
Alinghi Challenge

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Copyright © 2001 by Sailing World magazine. All rights reserved. These reports may not be republished or redistributed, in whole or in part,

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