x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Navigation in laughter mode comes easy for Simon Fisher

The infectious humour of Simon Fisher is a handy tool to have on board Azzam along with his all-round experience.

A good electrician with experience, the helmsman-trimmer Simon Fisher, centre, is also intelligent and eloquent.
A good electrician with experience, the helmsman-trimmer Simon Fisher, centre, is also intelligent and eloquent.

A person with an outstanding laugh can spruce up any dour setting, especially a yacht carrying 11 competitive guys through various oceans as they eat powdered food and sleep irregularly.

The electronics whizz, Simon Fisher, possesses one such laugh, and he tends to affix it on to the ends of his sentences.

Mike Danks, the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing shore team technical manager, calls him, "a good entertainment programme" and his humour seems necessary to balance his recent sailing biography.

That includes three Volvo Ocean Races, one America's Cup and one Rolex Middle Sea Race, all packed into six years, not the usual path of those who read law and chemistry at the University of Bristol in England.

It entails a major record, a major storm, a major human tragedy and a major rescue.

"We were sort of the kids' boat," said the 33-year-old helmsman and sail trimmer from Essex, referring to the ABN Amro Two team in the 2005/06 Volvo. The boat's crew was purposely greenhorn - entirely under 31 - and inclusive of current Azzam teammate Andrew Lewis.

Some connoisseurs wondered openly if they would make it round the planet.

They did (in fourth place), and they did with Fisher as navigator and with unprecedented swiftness at one juncture, setting the 24-hour monohull record by churning 563 nautical miles of adrenalin and upright neck hairs.

"I remember driving the boat in the South Indian Ocean, just ahead of a cold front," Fisher said. "The water was quite flat but it was really windy and the boat was just ripping along.

"I thought, 'This is pretty good.' And then, you know, about six hours went by. When the first one came in"- meaning the report - "I thought, 'That's a pretty good number,' and then the next one, and then by the third one the boys were like, 'We must be going pretty fast.' When we did it, everyone was pretty chuffed."

With that, he laughed.

He also served as navigator aboard the Telfonica Blue entry in the 2008/09 Volvo, which treated him to the monstrous Leg 4 with its uncharted reefs and 101-kilometres per hour winds, and its severe storms in the South China Sea toward the port of Qingdao, jarring even a seasoned skipper.

Fisher manned the navigation station on the horrible New York to Portsmouth Leg 7 of the 2005/06 race, during which his teammate Hans Horrevoets died after a wave swept him overboard amid the Atlantic night.

Later in that leg, when ABN Amro Two had to retreat to save the imperilled crew of Movistar with its leaking keel joint, after which Fisher told reporters, "I don't think I've ever seen 10 happier guys in my life."

Their arrival into Portsmouth was both moving and excruciating, when crews and families and friends lined the harbour for a solemn applause for the stricken team.

His proudest sailing moment: finishing that race.

"I'm stoked to be sailing with him again," said Wade Morgan, the Australian bowman.

"He's out of the position he's done the last two races" - navigator - "but he's just a great all-around sailor. He's got a lot of technical knowledge, a good electrician. Quite an intelligent guy. With an electrician's background, he has a grasp of everything, so he's a good asset for Jules [Salter, Azzam's navigator] to have as well.

"You go out there for hours, and hours, and then between he and Jules, they make it readable, basically. They send out an e-mail summary."

He is also observant and even eloquent, evidenced by his log from Leg 8 of that race, skimming past Ireland: "With castles and towers stationed on each headland, it gives you the feeling of sailing through a scene out of 'Lord Of The Rings'."

You get the feeling his autobiography already would be vivid, it would start with sailing as a baby on his grandfather's boat at Burnham-on-Crouch, it would include volumes about his keen-sailing mother, Sue, who devotedly drove him around to regattas as a teen.

He had the knack and the drive that led to the Volvo, which can quell the knack and the drive. "At the end, you're like, 'I just want to get as far away from a Volvo boat as I can'," he said.

"You're just completely committed during the duration of the campaign, then you just sort of sit there."

Then he gets "all my toys out" - surfboards, bikes, dinghy - "and then a few weeks go by, you get asked to go to a regatta, and then ..." And then he laughed, infectiously as usual.

cculpepper@thenational.ae


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