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Letter from Switzerland: Benefits of Being a Team Player

November 5, 2001

Hello All

Our second Dragon event in Douarnenez France–The Grand Prix: Ninety-five Dragons and no drop race. Anyone’s game……..

Russell Coutts, Brad Butterworth, and I are sailing together in these three-person keelboats, which weigh 1700 kgs (3,740 lbs.) You can picture the type of sailing–slow, methodical beasts rambling through the water. Also, Northern France at this time of year is cold, and the Atlantic is about 4 degrees Celsius. Not really spring here.

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Imagine 95 Dragons on the starting line. The tough thing is we had trouble making the boat move in chop. The weather was cold, the seas were lumpy, and spattered wind. Picture the start or a leeward mark-rounding with all of these 1700 kg. boats chugging along. Don’t be late at the starting line.

We had one race the first day. The wind was north-northeast at about 12 to 16 knots. We had a great start, except that the mid-line committee boat started to drive up the course at the start. We sailed in their backwash for at least 1.5 minutes. This put a wrench ability to tack and cross boats on port. Still, we caught a few shifts and raced hard to a 26th place. We were happy with this finish since finding boatspeed was so difficult.

We found the Dragon a surprisingly hard boat to sail. This was brought to the forefront when the conditions were puffy in huge, choppy waves. The boat is extremely heavy and shifting gears was a must. We’ve come to the conclusion that we have good pace in the breeze, but in the lulls we stop pointing and lose speed drastically. Come on breeze!

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The rest of the Dragon fleet really enjoys having Brad and Russell at the event. But they have a funny way of showing it. When we came into the second leeward mark, we went wide to let the inside boats round. Then as we came in to do the old far-and-near rounding, we noticed three boats force-feeding their way into a hole that fit…none. Thank god we didn’t speak several European languages, because apparently they figured the buoy-room rule was optional. We learn every day.

Found a great restaurant for dinner and had a couple of great bottles of wine as preparation for two races tomorrow.

We woke up to rain and overcast skies, which is becoming a theme for us. I still think there is a sun up there somewhere. In the first race we fought our way up the first beat with glimpses of brilliance. We rounded sixth, but had to work hard to finish the race in ninth.

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In the second race we weren’t looking too good as we approached the weather mark, when Russell decided to approach the windward mark on port. He showed some exceptional driving skills as he stuffed the Dragon into harm’s way, passed 25 boats, and then worked up to finish in 15th place.

Russell likes to talk about the start when we’re devising a plan of attack. He goes through all the scenarios, and we decide on the most likely approach to minimize the chances of error.

Another thing I’ve watched Russell and Brad do while racing is to try new techniques. The Dragon people have explained to us how the boat is to be sailed. Then my partners decide while racing how to make it go even faster, which is just one more reason these boys are the best. Consistently searching for speed.

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One other thing I’ve noticed: The discussion in the boat is always about what is going to happen, or might happen, in a few moments. It’s never about what happened in the past, no matter how bad it may of been.

On the third race day, it was the same program–cold and zero-percent sun. I guess it is nice IF YOUR A FISH! We had two races in northwest breeze at 15 knots. In the first race we had a bad start, finally got clear, and then sailed the entire race in phase with the shifts, which helped us climb back into the pack. The second race went about the same.

We were definitely impressed with this class–Dragons are a tough boat to figure out. We ended the day in 10th position overall, with one race to go and a shot at a top five finish.

The perks of sailing with Russell and Brad are being invited to the “in” parties. That night we went to the Royal Danish yacht and had a couple of drinks with the Prince of Denmark. I’m of Danish descent so this was nice for me and a little history session, too. I learned that my grandfather had a yacht named after the royal yacht–Dannebroug. Being from Canada with no royal family, I found being with royal personages an eye-opener.

The last day of the regatta was sunny, warm, and 15 knots. In the last race we won the pin-end start and sailed a perfect first beat, except we were passed by one boat before the windward mark. To leeward, again, having no pace was our problem, but we stayed in second the whole race, hitting every shift and blocking all the other boats. As we sailed to the finish we saw the lead boat about 300 meters ahead; Russell laughed and pointed out that we’d “blocked” for them the whole day. Russell had carefully placed our boat in covering positions so as not to be caught by the chasing boats. Unfortunately we then learned we were over early at the start, but it was still a nice race that proved we could hang with these Dragon sailors.

At the end of the day when we were packing up to fly home, Big Lou, the chap who brought Russell to the event, gave him 12 bottles of vintage wines from his renowned cellar. A few Chassagne-Montrachet 1996, a few Chateau COS D’Estounel 1985, and a couple of Chateau LYNCH BAGES pauillac 1985. For you wine buffs out there, these are some premium bottles.

Even better was when we arrived back in Geneva and Russell and Brad split the bottles with me. I really thought that was a gracious move on their part. They’re great team guys. And I’m happy to be part of this group.

Good winds to all.

Kai Bjorn

Grinder

Swiss Challenge 2003

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