x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Diary: A day in the life of a pro yachtsman

On day seven of the LVT Race I'm trailing a talented German sailor to find out what a day at the office means for a professional yachtsman.

The lights are already coming on around the dock when Matti Paschen, left, and the All4One crew return after a long day on the water.
The lights are already coming on around the dock when Matti Paschen, left, and the All4One crew return after a long day on the water.

If you follow the RC44 series you may have come across Matti Paschen, a crewman on Sea Dubai's boat in that campaign. Today I'm trailing this talented German sailor to find out what a day at the office means for a professional yachtsman like him - his "office" during this fortnight being the spinnaker trimmer's position on All4One, the Franco-German team skippered by the much-decorated Olympic and America's Cup veteran, Jochen Schümann. It's just on nine o'clock and I find Matti and the crew by the giant TV screen at Viaduct Basin, where the races are shown live to the public every day. Except that this morning the seats are mostly taken by crews waiting for the transfer boats that will take them out to the race course. There are Frenchmen, Swiss, Britons and Germans; New Zealanders, Americans, Australians; Russians, Poles and more. This truly is an international game. Most are glued to the race that has already started, between ETNZ and Synergy. Others wander to one of the many cafes to order lattes. "Waiting is what we do a lot of," laughs Matti. Especially on days like yesterday when the crews had to kill time after strong wind caused a postponement. More than four hours of waiting later, at 5pm they were told that they could go home since racing was cancelled. I think it somehow doesn't tally with the intensity they have to turn on with sport at such a high level. But turn it on they do, as I see later, out on the water. Today All4One is due to race in the third match of the day - and also in the match postponed from yesterday, which is last on the schedule, assuming that it can be squeezed in at all. It could be a long day. Meanwhile, having shared a ride with one of the crews in Race 2, it's time to wait again. In front of a screen again - this time on board the broadcast boat, where Virtual Eye shows a computer-generated graphic of the action on the course, complete with statistics and margins, as the boats race by, a 100 metres or so away. Then it's time to go. There's a flurry of activity as waterproofs are pulled on (it's no calm, sunny Dubai day today) and sail bags are loaded back on to the transfer boat. The race is about 45 minutes of total concentration and full-on action, followed this time by dejection at a narrow loss to Artemis. A missed wind shift and less-than-crisp spinnaker drop made it impossible to claw back the Swedish boat's lead and they lost by just 20 seconds. That messy drop has also made a small tear in the sail. As spinnaker trimmer, Matti is responsible not just for finessing it while it's powering the boat but also for its wellbeing off the boat. The sail loft back at the Emirates Team New Zealand base beckons. While the others go back to the warm and sheltered broadcast boat again, it's a chilly wind-tossed sprint back to shore for Matti and two team mates. Half an hour working with ETNZ's skilled sailmakers and they're off again. I rejoin them almost two hours later, having hitched a ride on a photo boat. Leaden skies, choppy water and fading light make it even less like a day in the Gulf; lovely boating weather it is not. But this is the guys' job. It's getting dark when the race boat finally eases into the dock back at base but Matti and the crew are smiling: it was a good win. Definitely worth the day out. Sail bags are heaved off the boat and up to the loft, where the Emirates Team New Zealand sailmakers will work late into the evening to ensure that they're in perfect condition for tomorrow's race. Their job is far from over; All4One's 11-hour day at the office has now drawn to a close. slane@thenational.ae