Nick Moloney’s run of good luck began in 1995, when his day off from OneAustralia crewing duties just happened to be the one on which the team’s America’s Cup boat folded in half and plummeted to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. Since then, the 34-year-old from Melbourne, Australia, has streaked like a laser beam down his chosen career path. Moloney has sailed around the world as part of the crew of Toshiba during the 1997-’98 Whitbread, windsurfed the 160 miles from Australia to Tasman Island across the often ill-tempered Bass Strait, logged major miles on Steve Fossett’s Playstation, and joined Ellen MacArthur on Kingfisher as part of the Offshore Challenges team. Earlier this year, he sailed aboard Bruno Peyron’s maxicat Orange during its record-breaking run at the Trophèe Jules Verne. Being an Australian among an otherwise entirely French crew was difficult, but probably an easy task compared to his next big gig, sailing around the world non-stop on an Open 60 in the next Vendée Globe.
Why did you switch from Americas Cup and grand-prix sailing to distance and solo racing?
Id always had aspirations to do some solo sailing, and I set three goals for myself a few years ago: to sail around the world with a full crew, to sail around the world non-stop, flat-out, and to sail around the world solo. Andrew Cape and I were supposed to be part of a team that John Bertrand was getting together to do the Whitbread, and when that didnt happen, Capey got a call from Dennis Conner to be the navigator for Toshiba. Fortunately, he brought me along. During the race I found that I enjoyed the adventure aspect of the sport; doing the long distance stuff, sailing around Cape Horn, and being in the Southern Ocean.
Gaining admission to the predominantly French world of solo, speed, and distance sailing isnt easy. How did you come so far so fast?
Dennis Conner steered me towards the Mini-Transat, and I went to France and attempted one in 1999. It was a terrible experience for me; it was expensive, I wasnt prepared, and I didnt finish. Its probably the biggest failure in my whole sailing career. When I got home I got a call from PlayStation. They were struggling with breakages–leaving port and having to return a lot. When they called me I said, Youve got the wrong guy; I dont know anything about multihulls. But my forte is getting a boat from point to point, repairing damage at sea, and getting it moving again. Thats why I got the call.
Did you know Ellen MacArthur before you were invited to become a part of the Offshore Challenges team?
Ellen, her manager Mark Turner, and I have been friends for a long time. I was negotiating with a few Volvo programs, but when I got the call from Mark and Ellen, I thought, Well, I attempted the Mini-Transat in hopes of getting involved in a good Open 60 program. If I dont take this opportunity I will have wasted that whole year. I owe it to myself to give this a go.
How was the transition to racing on Open 60s?
Easy. Theyre probably one of the most easily driven boats around; theyre very fast, and big numbers come easily. Theyre wide and have good form stability so theyre well balanced under autopilot, and they dont have a lot of sails because alone you cant do a lot of sail changes. Theyre incredibly exciting.
Whats the dynamic between you and Ellen on the boat?
Its incredible. She and I have an amazing connection. Shes a bit of a tomboy, and were both really aggressive sailors. When we sail on the 60 she navigates and I stand a watch. She and I gain confidence from each other, and I think thats the great thing about a team. If someones got something on their plate you help them. You dont turn your back on them and wait for them to fail. You lift them up and make them feel good about themselves.
Has sailing with Ellen helped you?
Ellen has developed an incredible knack for the weather. Ive got a lot to learn from her. And shes a damn good sailor. Solo sailing is a lot about managing your time, pacing yourself, and Im hopeless at that. That was my greatest downfall in the Mini. I had a crash at the start and lost six hours going back to repair the boat. I was so stressed about being last that I stayed awake forever, pushing and pushing until I just lost it completely.
Why didnt Bruno Peyron pick another Frenchman and avoid the problems inherent in having two languages onboard Orange?
I think my passion and desire to do it just shone through. All the maneuvers were done in French, and when everybody was sitting around chatting or having dinner it was all in French. It was a very lonely period for me at the beginning, and I got very down. But sailing in the ocean with people is something that Ive done for a long time. If someone was getting me down or I felt a little bit out of order about something that someone said, Id just look at them and think, Well, that could be the hand that pulls me back onboard from the sea.
How was it dealing with a crew that didnt speak the same language as you and had a different style of sailing?
The French sailing style is incredibly different, as are the thought processes. It was initially very difficult. When I got the call to join Orange I said. ‘This is it; I’m going to get a chance and it’s the best chance. Bruno is the best available skipper to do this with, and Orange is the best available boat.’ I speak a lot more French now, but in the beginning I just said to everybody ‘I’ll try my best.’ They were all willing to accept me and treated me well. In the beginning, though, the crew could have been Chinese because I didn’t have a clue as to what was going on.
Speaking of difficult times, have you ever sat on a boat with your head in your hands and said; Thats it, I cant do this anymore?
Ive broken down at sea, on my own; thats pretty hard for a bloke to say. You search so deep inside yourself for some relief, and you just completely lose it. Thats something that Im worried about for the Vendée. Im a people person, and I love to have a chat. I know that the solo element of it is going to be very difficult, but I cant let go of that vision of seeing one person step on this big boat, leave a port, race across an ocean, and finish on the other side. Its everything I aspire to be good at: personal management, good sailing skills, the whole program.
Whats next? A little bit of time off or straight into your preparations for the 2004 Vendée?
We’ve already been working on the Vendée for a year now. My focus is now 100 percent toward that goal and how we can get there. I’ll take over from Ellen on Kingfisher in the Canaries for Leg 2 of the Rubicon Race, the leg to Italy. Then on the Route du Rhum, Ellen will be sailing Kingfisher and I’ve chartered the 50-footer Cray Valley.
Youve set some pretty definite goals in this arena. What happens when theyve all been achieved?
Seeing the faces on anyone that walks into the Olympic stadium looks pretty special. I always felt that my career went backwards; all my mates were doing Olympic campaigns while I was sailing offshore. I think that further down the line, if I have a profile, it might be easier to get a sponsor to campaign toward the Olympics. Thats something that you can do and still be a husband and a father. At 5 p.m., you go home for dinner and sleep in your own bed.