x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Diary: Precision preparation key for performance in LVT

Ensuring the boats taking part in the Louis Vuitton Trophy are in perfect order for the next race involves a remarkable amount of planning and action.

The crew of Emirates Team New Zealand are driven to the race boat before a race.
The crew of Emirates Team New Zealand are driven to the race boat before a race.

All this week I've been watching as, between the Louis Vuitton Trophy races, the crews swap boats, sails get unloaded and new ones loaded, the branding on the mainsail and boom gets changed, the electronics are re-set and technicians check that everything is in perfect order for the next race. With all eight teams sharing two Emirates Team New Zealand boats for the paired racing, and each boat allowed only one spare spinnaker, it has to be quite an operation. Especially since there are at least four races a day. Today I'm with Kevin Shoebridge, the operations director at Emirates Team New Zealand and I'm beginning to realise that there's more to it than meets the eye. Basically, Shoebridge is a one-man "regatta central" - a kind of nerve centre of everything that happens on and off the water - and he's running countless teams and teams-within-teams. The juggling he does makes a career woman with four children, five charity committees and a triathlon habit look like an amateur. As the regatta host and organiser, ETNZ works with the race committee, the teams and all of the 110 volunteers gathered by the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron. It all comes down to timing. And lots of boats - 18 of them to be precise - to do everything from setting marks to crew transfers, to making emergency runs back to base with things to be repaired. But they do that only when things can't be repaired on the water. Today, after the light and shifty breezes delay racing in the last ETNZ-Azzurra semi-final there's another delay. A phone call from the Committee Boat says it's a winch problem on NZL84, the New Zealand team's boat. Jamie the winch man (whom I met the other day on the base) has been waiting on a chase boat, along with sail guys, hydraulics specialist, IT man and about 35 other skills; he goes on board with his tool kit. Twenty minutes later it's all go. Good thing they found the problem before the race, not during. That would have meant curtains for the Kiwis. It was a pretty small problem compared to some. Yesterday one of the masts was damaged. It could have meant taking the rig out altogether - and that would have been the end of the regatta. But Shoebridge sent one of his guys up the mast in a harness and had it fixed within an hour. He says the whole regatta operation is based on an average turnaround time of 70 minutes from the start of one race to the start of the next. With races lasting 40-45 minutes, it doesn't leave a lot of time for all the stuff in between. So it's a good idea not to break things. Yesterday Mascalzone Latino Audi tore its gennaker in the first race. It was hauled off the boat and dumped into a chase boat, which raced back up the harbour to the ETNZ base. It was mended, re-packed and back out at the race course in time for Mascalzone's second race (never mind the fact that the marshalls had moved the course about 10km further up the Rangitoto Channel by then).

Today it's not so much rush-rush as hurry up and wait. The races have been delayed and that doesn't gladden the heart of Shoebridge who, just like every day during this regatta, is out on the water, monitoring everything that goes on. He likes to get the races done, like clockwork. He says that he and his team devised all of his systems from scratch for the LV Pacific Series last year and they've just been tweaking it ever since. "A year ago I would have thought that what we do now was impossible," he says with a grin. If you watch the Louis Vuitton Trophy in Dubai in November you'll be seeing the same operation: Shoebridge and his team (and the boats and sails) are being shipped lock, stock and barrel to the UAE for that event.