Web Excluvsive Interview: Sailing Master Michael Coxon on Alfa Romeo

Michael Coxon of North Sails Australia is Neville Crichton's sailing master for Alfa Romeo and instrumental in the development of the boat and the crew. Via email, he told us a little about his experiences on the boat.SW: Can you give us an idea of the training program you put together between the boat's launch in August of 2002 and the Hobart Race five months later.MC: We did very little club racing as we spent our time training offshore. The only other major event we won was the British Trophy Series held by the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia leading up to the Hobart. This used to be called the Telstra Regatta.SW: You put the both and the crew through an exhaustive training and testing program. Why were you so rigorous, especially with an experienced crew.MC: We based our training on training, rather than club racing, as the boat and gear is so large that you cannot manhandle your way out of trouble. It's all systems and team work. When you race you waste the day doing one and a half hours of sailing and only a few maneuvers and if you get one wrong, you can't stop and talk about it and do it again. When we have a problem in the spinnaker department, it can be expensive! Our crewwork developed into a high standard, which served us well in the British Trophy Series as a number of the races were held inside Sydney Harbour in 25 knot winds with 1.2 nautical mile windward return courses. We got the gear up and down faster than the rest of the fleet and won races on the short courses.SW: The boat has now moved to Europe. What are the plans for it there?MC: The boat is now in the Med being prepared for a number of northern hemisphere regattas, as listed below.June 16 to 22¿Rolex Giraglia Cup - St. Tropez/GenoaAug. 10¿Rolex Fastnet Race - CowesSept. 7 to 13¿Rolex Maxi Worlds - Porto CervoShe¿ll then may be shipped back to Sydney for the Hobart Race, but will have to be de-turbo¿d back to the large bulb and no water ballast.SW: What has impressed you most about the boat? What aspects of its performance have exceeded your expectations?MC: I have sailed on maxis and America's Cup boats, but when I first stepped on the boat, I said to the crew, "This is a 90 footer that now feels like a 110 footer. We will not sail her to her potential until she feels like a 70 footer to sail." We reached that goal three months later, leading into the British Trophy Series in early December. Putting a team together who are all very dedicated and talented sailors, but generally not "rock stars" and taming the beast has been my greatest buzz. If I was to relate to one specific day's sailing, it would be a day in mid-November when it was blowing 25 to 30 knots off Sydney so we decided to take her to sea to see what was going to fail. We went upwind crashing through heavy seas with John McConaghy (the builder) following in a chopper with a photographer. Nothing broke, so we decided to see what would happen downwind. With the Code 7 storm chute, we were doing 28 knots in 28 true with all the boys at the back of the bus. When we came ashore, we figured we had a sound boat ready for the Hobart race.