x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Skipper Bruni's first job: getting to know his crew

He is determined to rule the regatta this weekend and is confident of his teammates in the Synergy team.

Teams prepare during a practice race prior to the Louis Vuitton Trophy, which gets under way today in the waters off Dubai.
Teams prepare during a practice race prior to the Louis Vuitton Trophy, which gets under way today in the waters off Dubai.

Francesco Bruni has relished every challenge he has faced in rising to the pinnacle of sailing in his native Italy. He was, after all, the driving force behind establishing Team Azzurra as a force in the current series of Louis Vuitton Trophy regattas.

Today, however, Bruni faces tidal-wave-sized obstacles when he and his crew - some of whom met for the first time only last week - start their campaign to rule the seas of the Gulf and lord it over five other of the world's finest helmsmen. It is likely to be his toughest task yet.

The collapse earlier this year of Azzurra - crewed entirely by Italians who had been hand-picked by their skipper - came as a crushing blow to Bruni. The pain, however, was short-lived because unrest in the rival and predominantly Russian Synergy camp led to the removal of Karol Jablonski, their Polish captain, and Bruni being parachuted in as a replacement.

Consequently, Bruni arrived at the Dubai International Marine Club, host venue for the two-week yachting spectacle, needing to shake hands for the first time with several of the 16 teammates who will race with him in two series of preliminary matches to decide which four of six teams will survive to the semi-finals on November 26.

"Time is not on our side," said Bruni in advance of today's opening clash with the Swedish entry Artemis, the first of a programme of 15 round-robin races facing each of the crews. "We have had only three days to prepare ourselves to compete against some of the top crews in the world, and that is obviously going to be a big problem for us."

Bruni believes that a crew who performed nobly under their ill-fated captain at the last regatta at La Maddalena, Sardinia, when they led the eventual champions Emirates Team New Zealand 2-0 before losing the five-match final, will adapt to his different style of leadership.

"I am in charge of a very good bunch of sailors," he said. "But at the moment I have not yet been able to integrate fully with them. I know we will gel together before long. We are just hoping that we do that before it is too late because we don't want to fall out of the competition at the first stage." Bruni and his crew, including five Russians, are helped by the new scoring system of this regatta, in which one point will be awarded to the winners of races in the first-round robin with two points on offer in five second-phase pairings.

That adjusted format is designed to help slow-starting crews get into a groove without losing too much ground on their opponents. It obviously is welcomed by Bruni.

"The longer we spend on the waters here the stronger we will become, because this crew have proved that they are without doubt a match for all the others here," Bruni said. "I am a good helmsman and I know the other guys are all accomplished in their various roles. It is all a chemistry between the skipper and the crew and that comes with time.

"But I have never seen a team give such a nice welcome to somebody new coming on board like me and then working as hard as they have done to create that chemistry."

After today's first two races against Artemis, Synergy will take on, in an order to be determined, Team Emirates New Zealand, the American-backed BMW Oracle, the Franco-German entry All4One and Italy's Mascalzone Latino Audi.

Emirates Team NZ are brimming with confidence, having won three of the past four Louis Vuitton regattas and finished runners-up in the other. Dean Barker, their skipper, and his crew made up almost entirely of fellow Kiwis, are keen to continue their dominance through to the end of an era in his sport.

Barker knows that there will be an extra edge between rival teams due to the sleek, 24-metre yachts racing here for the last time competitively. "It is going to be sad to see these boats go," he said. "We would love to get another good result to mark the passing of this era in style."

That view was endorsed by rival skippers, led by James Spithill, who led BMW Oracle to their historic America's Cup victory over the defenders Alinghi in Valencia in February.

Spithill and his crew are confident of making a smooth transition from that revolutionary trimaran to monohull racing, and are aiming for a major international double.

Jochen Schumann, the All4One skipper, was on the losing Alinghi side in that America's Cup battle. He is relishing a return to UAE waters after training with the Swiss-backed Alinghi team in Ras al Khaimah last winter.

"We all enjoyed our time here then," he said. "The conditions are great here and we have made the most of them over the last few days to be well-prepared for this competition."

Gavin Brady, in command of the Mascalzone team, admitted to being slightly less prepared than he would have liked for today's opening race against the formidable Team New Zealand. Like Bruni, however, he feels he and his colleagues will improve with each day.




What: Louis Vuitton Trophy 

When: Today-November 27. 

Where: Dubai International Marine Club. 

Format: Six teams in round-robin competition, followed by semi-finals and finals.

Round-robin: 45 races in two series will determine which four yachts contest the semi-finals. The teams meet twice in the first series with one point for each win. The teams meet once in the second series with two points for each win.
Semi-finals: Best-of-five series on November 26.

Finals: Best-of-five series on November 27.