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Setting up the Auckland Base

Our grinder correspondent helps his Cup team set up shop and start sailing on the Hauraki Gulf

December 27, 2001

Dear Friends,

It’s been awhile since I last checked in. Since the last letter, I have packed up at our European base, had a three-week vacation, and then traveled to the other side of the world. I spent three great weeks in Montreal visiting with family and friends. I didn’t have to do anything but rest and enjoy, except for the cardio work-outs our trainer Mr. Egger gave us. A draining, 1.5-hour program. The goal of the program is to drain sweat from every possible source, and completely exhaust yourself in the process. I wonder if this is to keep us too tired to get into trouble.

The cool thing about traveling to New Zealand from Canada is that if you continue to fly past New Zealand you start heading back. But no more quick visits home, I guess. I am now a full time resident of Auckland, New Zealand and have found a great home with a complete view of the city. I have a five minute drive to the base, which is where the fun stops. The reality is that the team arrived in Auckland and spent the first three weeks preparing the boats and base for use.

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Did I mention that we had our new boat arrive? The new machine arrived in town and had to be completely fitted out. This meant days were full. I will give you a couple of the jobs I had the pleasure of doing:

1)Office furniture arrives. A complete set for our entire program–about 60 pallets total. I am talking an actual TON of office stuff. I was assigned to this program for 3 days. Yes my back is sore.

2) Wet sanding a 75-foot Cup Boat. Remember the KARATE KID? Wax on, wax off. This is wet sanding. The team did a good stint with this crazy karate training. I wonder if our trainer Mr Eggar had anything to do with this?

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3) Forklift driver (now a specialty of mine). It was nice not having to lift everything with Kai power.

4) Did I say office furniture mover? This is like moving all your friends for life, at the same time. Know what I mean?

5) Help build skirts to cover our two boats and lift hundreds of pounds material up 25 feet to be fastened. I have a feeling my strength is putting me in some bad situations. I now know that you need to be proficient at one thing in an America’s Cup program. Then become the only person that does it. This keeps you out of the “pick up and move it” category.

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Our new boat is beautiful. Testing it out on the first sail; this is always a scary experience. When you splash the new boat it must be structurally tested. This is to determine whether or not it will split in half and sink. So as you sail along you are actually waiting and listening for signs of a structure failure. Imagine being the person inside looking for cracks. What happens when you find one? I guess you come flying out of the hatch and dive over board. Well, this didn’t happen. We have a secure boat.

Our home base is state of the art. Our facility is fantastic. It’s a modern sailing compound, fully loaded to have a two-boat sailing program. We also have a great gym with adjacent locker rooms and a dining area for two meals a day, offices and a cool VIP area. This VIP area will also act as a great party zone for the team functions. As they say “We are dialed in.” Not a bad place to go to work.

With our two-boat program, we have become a real self-sufficient team. We now do all our testing and racing in-house. Wednesday was our first two-boat sailing day. It is real cool to be able to splash two Cup boats and go out onto the ocean for training in-house. Especially when you think of the in-house talent.

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Here is a day in the life of a Alinghi Team member: At 6:50 a.m. we’re at the gym for our morning training session. Xavier is our trainer and runs us through the motions, which makes it hard to train “soft” even once in a while. At 8:30 we have breakfast for the sailors. By 9:00 we start to move the boats towards the docks (the boats are kept in a shed over night). At about 9:10 I am under the boats preparing the undersides for sailing. Again this is a job for the strong guys. I don’t quite understand how the strong guys are needed to buff or soap a hull. The brains behind the campaign must know. From 9:30 to 9:45 we load sails. and at 10:00 sharp the two boats are towed out to the sailing area for a day of training. We return to the dock between 4:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m., then lift the two boats and return them to the shed. Hopefully there was no damage from sailing, and we pack up the yachts and make it home between 7:00 and 8:00 p.m. Time to grab dinner and get ready to kick it off again the next morning. I don’t remember this stuff on the promotion package. They say hard work makes a man out of you so I guess I will become a man. Or one unhappy bugger!

New Zealand is definitely a sailors town. People know our sport and really understand what we do. It is refreshing for me as an athlete to be in a region where we are understood. This is a wonderful town and one I totally recommend except they have heaps of sharks. (I am told not to worry about it.)

One last story: We were sailing 20 miles offshore when a school of dolphins cruised in beside us. Surfed our wake and hung around for 45 minutes. That scene made the effort much easier. And let’s hope it happens again, because when you see dolphins there ain’t no sharks around.

Kai Bjorn
Team Alinghi Swiss America’s Cup Challenge
Grinder

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