For Shosholoza's Economou, the Grass is Greener in Valencia

Knowing nothing about the America's Cup or sailing, Marc Economou knew that Team Shosholoza was an once-in-a-lifetime experience. The second of Derby Anderson's profiles of the people behind the scenes of the 32nd America's Cup.

AC07_0621_Economou

Derby Anderson

In 2004 you would have found Marc Economou, now 22, at home in South Africa minding his own business-his own landscaping business. But thanks to a fortuitous connection and months of persistence, he cashed out his company and joined Team Shosholoza.Economou knew nothing about the America's Cup or even the sport of sailing before 2004, but he didn't need much convincing to know it was something of which he had to be a part. "It was explained to me briefly by Manuelle [Mendez, then Shosholoza Technical Coordinator]," he says. "He just took me to the base in Cape Town and said, 'This is where we do our thing.'" Through a family connection to team sponsors MSC Shipping, Economou already had a strong relationship with Mendez. But it was his persistence that landed him the job. Economou knew he wanted to be a part of the team and applied for any spot from shore crew to sailor. Shosholoza didn't have the resources to hire him at that time, but Economou kept trying. Finally, after Acts 1 and 2 in Marseille, Shosholoza returned to Cape Town needing a tender skipper. "Manuelle said to be at the base on Monday morning and I just went."While he had a motorboat license and lot of mechanical know-how, Economou did not immediately find his niche on the team. "I wasn't cut out for the job, but I did it," he says "The first two weeks I just went out as a deckhand on the tender helping the guys out. Then one day the [driver] was sick and they said, 'Marc, you're driving.' That was pretty scary. But then a week after I was fine. It was perfect. Then we got to Spain and that was another scare altogether."Shosholoza was just getting the hang of things when they arrived in Valencia as the first team at the America's Cup Port, then little more than fences, concrete, and scaffolding. "We didn't have a base, didn't have running water, didn't have any facilities whatsoever," he says with a laugh. "We're trying to get the guys in the gym to train and stuff, but the Spanish guys are still building. We are trying to get 83 ready for the regatta, she hadn't ever sailed, hadn't even touched the damn water yet. It was quite a mission."Economou was one of the youngest, newest people on the team. He'd never even wanted to travel outside of his country and he was totally unfamiliar with sailing. He likes to say he was "thrown into the deep end." But with a typical South African 'Go Get'em' attitude, Economou got down to work. He became a self-described jack-of-all-trades, working very long hours. "As the newcomer you have to prove yourself ten times over," he says. "I could drive a tender and then that evening I could be taking a mast apart with a rigger. I never knew what to expect."None of the team expected the scrambling they had to do the night before Act 4 in Valencia; they installed an old Alinghi mast into RSA-83. The team's only new mast had broken just days before the start of racing. They used makeshift hydraulics composed of garden hoses, water canisters, and an awkward hand pump in the bilge. Having not raised sails since leaving their first yacht, RSA-48, three months before, Shosholoza had a rusty sailing team doing the untested RSA-83's first-ever jibe in a prestart. "We didn't even expect to finish some of those races and we did, so we were pretty lucky," he says. "And then it just got better and better."When asked about team morale after fiascos like Act 4, Economou evokes the Shosholoza spirit that took them far enough to be the most improved team at the Cup."It was a challenge," he says. "Most people said we couldn't do it or couldn't do well, so we stuffed that idea and we said we're over here we will give it a good go. We're South Africans. When someone thinks we can't do it, we will do it."After three years, this former landscaper and sailing neophyte can't imagine his life without the America's Cup. "I didn't know what it was going to be, but this is something else altogether and it's what I enjoy doing, it's not like your nine-to-five job at home. There is always something going on. It's a bug and it's bit. It's difficult to explain"It certainly hasn't hurt that few teams, if any, have enjoyed this America's Cup more than Team Shosholoza. Even with the sailing team long since eliminated from the regatta, the plucky spirit is still alive at the base. Last week they busied themselves making a homemade, forklift-powered human slingshot with a fender, bungee cord, and some crucial quick release pins. Next is a zip line running from the roof down to the travelift. In the Hamburg airport they put one of their bow guys in the spinnaker bag at baggage check-in. In Trapani they towed kegs to the bar down cobblestone roads via bicycle, and in Valencia they had an elephant at their unveiling.Amidst all the fun was a lot of work and an incredibly rewarding experience. Economou says the his time with Shosholoza has taught him a lot about responsibility and has completely changed his outlook on the sport, travel, and friendships. He hopes he'll be back for the 33rd America's Cup, wherever that may be. "This is definitely my scene. I don't think I'll go back to landscaping ever again."