x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Diary:Teamwork makes ETNZ hard to beat in Auckland

One thing is for sure: winning yacht races at this level is all about teamwork. It is something that makes Emirates Team New Zealand hard to beat.

One thing is for sure: winning yacht races at this level is all about teamwork ? and everyone around here agrees that Emirates Team New Zealand's tight teamwork on the boat is what makes them so hard to beat. But few people know that the back-office teamwork on the ETNZ base is just as impressive. It's 6.30am ? barely light yet ? and the base has come alive as NZL84, one of the two race boats, arrives from its overnight berth on the other side of Viaduct Basin and the huge Travelift is manoeuvred in to place above it. Lifting a 25-ton yacht out of the water is no picnic, yet the half-dozen shore crew members perform the operation like a tightly choreographed, highly drilled dance troupe. As they start to wash down the hull (even the minute organisms that have attached themselves to the hull overnight will create enough drag to slow the boat down) and begin equipment checks, NZL92 is being rolled out of the left-hand shed, where it has spent the night, undergoing a more intensive regime of checks. During the Louis Vuitton Trophy the yachts alternate ? one remaining in the water each night. "Not ideal but it's important that we allow the public can see it at close quarters," says Sean Reagan, ETNZ's construction manager. By 7.30am both boats are afloat again, ready to have sails loaded and final checks made before being towed out to the race course with the first crews on board. With such valuable equipment, and the enormous stresses the boats undergo when sailing, those checks would be necessary under any circumstances. But with all of the teams in the Louis Vuitton trophy using just these two boats, the issue is 10 times greater. With four races every day for 12 days, the boats work harder in the Louis Vuitton Trophy than they would in an entire three- to four-month America's Cup campaign. Add to that the fact that the different teams handle the boat in different ways and it compounds the problem says James who services the winches. With the race boats gone, James and the other shore crew load spare parts and tool boxes into various ETNZ support boats and head out to the course where, if there's a problem, they're on hand to fix it immediately. Co-ordinating all of the activities on the base is the shore boss, Andy Nottage, who seems to have a walkie talkie glued permanently to his mouth. The softly spoken Nottage is perhaps the least "bossy" gaffer you're likely to find ? but there's no need to bark orders anyway, it seems: the shore crew seems to work together almost symbiotically, each knowing exactly what he needs to do, when. Nottage's job, it seems to me, is like being a conductor leading an especially complex orchestra. With almost everyone out on the water, peace descends on the base. But that could change at any time, as a crew might come back from racing with a ripped sail that needs mending. Today could be one of those days, with brisk winds out on the race course and teams with a lot at stake maybe pushing a little too hard and breaking something. And that's how it turns out: as the racing and shore crews come back off the water there's a flurry of activity. A blown spinnaker is taken to the spare sail loft (from where Alinghi ran its winning America's Cup campaign in 2003) where it has to be dried before repairs are done. The sailmakers won't be home in time for tea, by the look of it. The mainsails and jibs are also hauled up into the loft every evening (they are part of the setup that ETNZ has loaned for this regatta; the teams provide their own spinnakers) and examined for damage, centimetre by centimetre. With each mainsail covering an area close to the size of a Boeing 747's wing, it's a huge task. This has been a good week for working overtime: as well as sails, ETNZ's shore crews do carbon-fibre work on the hulls, mast and anywhere else that may need it. Just one example: four broken spinnaker poles in as many days. Today Dylan, one of the boat builders, has found a small crack on one of the poles; it wasn't visible and he found only by running his hand along its entire length. An hour of grinding should get the area smooth enough so that he can begin the reconstruction, which he thinks will take another two hours; a snapped pole would take a team of three 12 hours to repair. Meanwhile, Jamie and his colleagues will be stepping on board the yacht which, by now, will have been reversed into the dock, had thick bands of webbing slipped under the hull, and have been lifted onto a Travelift then trundled slowly back into a hangar. By the time the sun rises in the morning (but, hopefully long before that) the boats will be handed back in perfect condition, ready to go racing again. slane@thenational.ae