If you could mold a Volvo skipper from scratch, it’s doubtful the final product would bear much resemblance to Ray Davies, who was recently tabbed to drive Peter de Ridder’s Mean Machine Volvo campaign. The 34-year-old New Zealander doesn’t have the physical size, weather-beaten visage, or intimidating presence usually associated with success in sailing’s most challenging distance race. The 5’7″ Davies, who answers to the nickname “Hooray,” seems too nice for the job, a fact he doesn’t dispute. “I think there’s more ways to skin a cat than the way we’ve seen traditionally,” he says. What Davies does have, however, is talent, a healthy amount of respect from his peers, and a ton of experience-Volvo campaigns under Grant Dalton and John Kostecki, and three America’s Cups. With all this, he’s confident, in his own understated manner of course, the nice guy will finish first in the next Volvo Race.
You’ve mentioned that one motivation behind this effort is that Peter de Ridder wants to keep together the Mean Machine TP 52 team. Is that really true?
The trouble that we’ve had in the past is every four years the America’s Cup comes around and a lot of the core team members are dispersed to the big campaigns. It’s quite frustrating to someone like Peter to suddenly lose his crew. Instead of going through that again, we decided to take on the Volvo Race. It’s an expensive way to get around that problem, but we’re hoping to find sponsorship for the campaign. Peter is putting up the seed money.
How did you meet Peter and come to be such an integral part of the team?
I first sailed with Mean Machine in 1999 in the Admiral’s Cup. Peter wasn’t actually sailing, I met him at a party in Holland afterward. The following year he bought an IMS boat and he asked me to be the skipper on that and we had a very successful year. Then the decision was made to go to the Farr 40. The relationship between Kiwis and Dutch guys is really good, we have similar no bull-type personalities. When the chips are down we don’t start accusing each other, we drink Limoncello and try to figure out what went wrong during the day.
Were you surprised that Peter proposed such an involved idea to keep the team together?
I wasn’t surprised because it was my idea. We were thinking of ways to keep the TP 52 team together and I said to Peter, “I’ve got a pretty extreme idea, maybe you want to hear it.”
Are you tied to Emirates Team New Zealand through the Cup?
I’m committed to winning the America’s Cup; I’m full time for the next eight months. I won’t be doing anything to do with the Volvo effort, it’ll all be up to Dirk [de Ridder, no relation to Peter] and Peter. Then that project’s going to launch into full effect, along with the TP 52 circuit. We’re hoping to have the team in place by the end of the Cup, and we’ve acquired the Pirates of the Caribbean boat as our test boat. We’ll work on building a new boat by the end of 2007. Then we’ll do a little bit of two-boat testing in 2008 with the race starting in September.
Are you worried about a low turnout for the race in 2008?
I feel there’s going to be more. Jumping into the Asian market is pretty exciting, and exciting for the sailors, too, with new oceans to sail through. Hopefully, the race will still include a leg in the Southern Ocean. The whole Volvo is geared toward selling itself to the sponsor, and I think that’s going to bring in more teams.
Have you already selected your team?There are still a few posts to fill. We’ve talked to about six of the sailing crew and then we’re going to leave a few options open. This race is hard on the crew, we saw that last time with a few injuries along the way, so instead of just 10 sailing crew we’re going to target 13 or 14.
What types are you looking for?
We’re recruiting people that aren’t going to point the finger at others, that will take it on the chin if they make a mistake, and that will be calm under pressure. You need a balance, you need some very driven people, but then some people that aren’t going to get hot-headed with each other. Guys that have an extremely high drive to win; they’re not there for the paycheck. We want new blood to keep the old guys honest, probably a fifty-fifty mix between first-timers and veterans.
One sailor and one boat were lost during the last race. Does that weigh on your mind?
For sure you’ve got to think about Hans [Horrevoets, of ABN AMRO Two, who died during the last race] and the misfortune of movistar. Those are very real situations, they’re not one-off accidents, they can happen again easily. These are extreme boats and they’re pushed to the limit. We’d like to think a lot was learnt in the last race as far as structure, and there’s been a lot done to strengthen the boats. It’s a risky sport and as a skipper you’ve got to take on the responsibility of being sensible.
You’re a soft-spoken guy; can you drive a team through the Southern Ocean with a velvet touch?
I think so. We proved that in winning the TP 52 circuit.
Speaking of Mean Machine’s success in the Breitling Cup; what was your secret?
It was all in the preparation, much like a Volvo team. We had a good design, certainly our boat has been quick, and we’ve had a dedicated crew. Jon Gunderson has put in more effort than anyone in getting his sails right. We’ve had a bit of luck, which you need, and Peter’s risen to the challenge as a helmsman.
Your first Volvo experience was with Grant Dalton on Merit Cup. How did that come about?
I joined pretty late, a week before the boat was launched, and there were five of us on a two-month trial for two positions. As it turned out, Dirk and myself got those final two, and here we are teaming up for the next Volvo.
You’ve sailed around the world with two of the best, Dalton and John Kostecki on illbruck. Does your style match either?
I like to think I can be a bit of a mixture between the two. Grant’s strength is running a very tight ship and he’s very clear with direction of where the team is heading. JK is a fantastic sailor and his actual on-the-water ability was outstanding.
What part of this campaign do you think you’ll find the most challenging?
I think working very closely with the navigator and making some of the big decisions offshore.
Have you selected a navigator?
We know exactly who we want, but we’re still in negotiations
What’s involved in that process? Money?
There are quite a few factors. A lot of it is the other people you have involved in the team. Once guys start seeing whom else we’re talking to, it generates more interest and enthusiasm. We’re going to base the team somewhat on the illbruck system. It started with Dirk and I, and we’re choosing some more guys and the circle is growing. It’ll be very much a group decision on whom we pick, to make sure we have the most cohesive team possible.
After two Volvos and three America’s Cup, why are you drawn back to the distance racing?
I just love the Volvo, you get involved in all aspects of the boat’s performance. In the America’s Cup you become very specialized, put in a box to an extent. The beauty of the Volvo is you’re involved in designing the boat, trimming the sails, stacking the boat, navigational calls. It’s much more of an all-around package. Also, you don’t have to go around bottom marks; you can keep going downwind.