Thursday, March 19, 2009

What it took to win...

What it took to win – a chat with the 2009 Audi Etchells World Championship Team of Racer XY (AUS 874): Jason Muir, Matt Chew, Paul Wyatt & Bucky Smith.

Paige Brooks
NA Etchells Class Correspondent
March 18, 2009
Photo by Andrea Francolini

Last Friday, March 13, this Queensland based team clenched the Etchells Worlds with one race to spare. 85 boats, with crews of highly decorated sailors, competed in the worlds hosted this year in Melbourne, Austrailia by the Royal Brighton Yacht Club. When the last day was cancelled due to weather conditions, Jason Muir’s team had won the Worlds by twenty points over second place Damien King, and twenty-two points over legendary skipper John Bertrand. This team of generation X and Yers (perhaps the reason for the boat name), may be young in years, but they are wise in experience. Muir’s team sat down this week to answer a few questions about their regatta win, and what it took to get there.

Congratulations to you! So has it sunk in yet? What have the first few days post winning been like? Any surprises?

Jason Muir: No, just lots of phone calls from family and friends.
Bucky Smith: Thanks, it’s beginning to sink in. The first few days have been a bit head in the clouds, but that came crashing down when I was faced with catching up with 2 weeks worth of missed work at the sail loft! [Bucky works for Ullman Sails in Brisbane]

Matt Chew: It’s been surreal. At times I’m over the moon happy, at times I’m quite just reflecting, and at times I think it was all a dream.

[Paul Wyatt was unavailable this week due to racing commitments]

Tell me about your other teammates. Are you all professional sailors?

Matt: No I’m not a pro, I have always had a supportive family which has helped me remain a CAT1. Jason owns a chandlery and is a CAT2; Bucky is a sail maker and is a CAT2; Paul is a CAT 1.

Jason: We are all accomplished amateurs.
I met Paul [Wyatt] when he took me overseas in 1984 to crew for him in the inter cadet worlds. We ended up 10th, I think. Adrian Finglas [the team’s coach] put me onto Matty Chew in 2007 for Mooloolaba Nationals and has been with us since. Bucky [Smith] jumped on board just 3 weeks before Worlds and slotted in straight away.

Tell me about your sailing experience.

Jason: I’ve been sailing since I was 11 in sabots, 420s, and 470s. I have won a couple of Australian championships in these classes.

Bucky: I grew up around sailmaking and sailing from a very early age. I’ve sailed a lot of different classes and designs over the past 25 years, both racing and cruising, but the highlight to date has certainly been this Etchells World Championship win.

Matt: I won the 2001 youth world bronze medal in the 420, and more recently trimmed main in one design racing on a Sydney 38 and a Farr 40.

How were the jobs distributed on the boat?

Jason: We work together like we are all joined at the hip - we just click! Matty on main and rig; Paul does compass and works with Bucky on tactics and where all the other boats are. Bucky does weather and tactics and does it very well.

Matt: We work very well as a team as we have a lot of respect for each other. As when it all boils down, we are 4 friends!

Bucky: Basically, Jason steered the boat fast, Matt made the boat go fast with rig setup and mainsail trim, Paul did higher-level strategy and compass numbers and kept in my ear the whole time about all his thoughts, and I did tactics and headsail trim. Obviously, I didn't do tactics in isolation, I ran ideas past all the boys, and often tacking or gybing was a confirmation from Paul or Matt. The key about this was we really came together as a champion team and we all performed our tasks well individually which meant each other person didn't have to give anyone else's task a second thought. Jase and the boys put a lot of trust in me tactically but operating in their team environment made performing the job easy. There was no second guessing, no issues, just positive comments and tactical contribution from the boys with information and ideas to consider before I made the hard decisions. They put a lot of faith in me and I'm very proud and relieved at the same time we were able to put together such a clean consistent scorecard.

Any more about how you work together?

Bucky: Jason asked me to come on board as tactician and headsail trimmer. The great part about that was Jason, Matt, and Paul were already very well rehearsed in running the boat, making it go fast, etc. so I was truly able to come on as tactician and focus 99% of my attention on that task. I believe this was one of the keys to our success. I had all the tactical information at hand and was able to sit on the boat constantly running tactical options and scenarios through my mind to make my decisions. This would not have been achievable without Jason driving the boat perfectly, Matt making the boat go as fast as possible and giving me his tactical input as well, and especially without Paul keeping in my ear about our bigger picture strategy we had come up with before each race and with things like our overall positioning on the race course, the compass numbers info, etc. This enabled me to make informed, quick decisions.

What attracted you to the Etchells Class? What were your results in recent Etchells regattas? How much did you practice together leading up to the regatta?

Jason: The best sailors in the world sail them.
My record in the Etchells so far:
1. 3rd Winter Nationals Mooloolaba 2004
2. 11th Worlds Mooloolaba 2004
3. 3rd Winter Nationals Mooloolaba 2007
4. 2nd QLD state titles December 2007
5. 1st Austrailia National Titles 2008
6. 3rd Winter Nationals Mooloolaba 2008
7. 1st Worlds Austrailia 2009

Bucky: In Australia the Etchells Class is currently the “top of the game” for one design fleet racing. There is no fleet that rivals the Etchells racing in Australia in my opinion and I wanted to sail against the best people. Not only that, Etchells World Titles is one of my favorite regattas for the competition, socializing, and general quality of the regatta.

Matt: As a kid I was totally attracted to the class. They attract the best sailors in the world in a boat that is just beautiful to look at. I have always dreamt of winning an Etchells worlds, but thought it would happen when I was 45 years old due to needing to weigh 90-100kgs. The introduction of 4-up crews opened the doors to many of us dinghy sailors.

Bucky: Regarding our pre-world practice together, basically I came on board about 4 weeks before the worlds. The boat was already prepared very well and was up to speed. We did a few club races together and the Brisbane Fleet Championships, which we won. After the fleet championships we were able to identify areas of improvement in our on-water processes regarding crew work, tactical information gathering, starting strategy, and decision making. We then took the boat to Brighton and did the pre-worlds regatta and kept building on what we were learning about how were racing the boat and interacting together and communicating on board.

Was winning the Worlds a goal for your team? How did you go about preparing to win? Was physical fitness a big part of it? How did you handle the weight limits?

Jason: YES it was a big goal of mine.

Bucky: I’m sure winning the worlds was a dream for all of the team and definitely on our minds. But we set modest expectations before the regatta; we really didn’t focus on the result too much in order to minimize pressure and also to make the main focus the processes involved with sailing the boat well.

Matt: Yes. We won the nationals the previous season and the worlds were an achievable goal, along with 10 other boats that in any given series could have won.

Bucky: Physical fitness did come into the program a bit. We are all keen cyclists and Matt and Jason extend this to triathlons. Regarding the weight limits I had to lose a few kilos to make my target! I switched my training focus to aerobic based activities like running, swimming, cycling, etc., and basically went on a diet for a month!

What did you all do to prepare the boat? What sails did you use? How much tuning did you do with other teams? How did they help? Did you have help from a coach –what sort of work did he have you do?

Jason: We had a great team of guys who do their jobs very well. We sailed AUS 874, but did very little to prepare the boat and used North sails.

Matt: We do very little tuning. We use a widely used tuning guide on stock standard sails. Our boat speed edge comes from what we see and feel.

Bucky: I was lucky enough to step into Jason’s program which already had a very well prepared and fast boat and the boys had already put in a lot of the hard work with boat preparation, equipment testing, tuning, and coaching. Luckily, my longer-term coach happened to be the same coach as theirs – Adrian Finglas – and this definitely helped me slip comfortably into Jason’s team and fit in.

We read a bit about your strategy for the last few races, what was your strategy at the beginning of the week? What were your toughest moments?

Bucky: The main element of our overall regatta strategy was based on being conservative and going for consistent top 10 finish. My plan was top 15 places in the races would be respectable, consistent top 10 finishes would put us in the top 5 overall and in a position to play the game at the end of the regatta, top 5 finishes on average would easily win the regatta. This meant we were on a mistake-minimizing strategy, risk-minimizing, but taking the opportunities as they presented themselves. Essentially, keep it clean at the start, get on the lifted tack or head to what I though was the favoured side of the course, get the boat going as fast as possible for as long as possible, minimise tacks upwind to keep the boat at full speed as long as possible in the lighter conditions, sail in lanes of clear air, stay in phase, etc., be top 15 at the top mark and chip away from there, if the opportunity presented itself to win a race later in the race then we could get a bit of separation and leverage but don't risk losing places in the process - easier said than done though!!

Matt: Very simple. Sail the favored side, take minimal risks and let the other players lose the event. That’s basically how it happened. We nailed every first beat and we were in the top 15 at the top mark.

Bucky: Our race strategy was initially based on the weather models I was getting. I looked at what the models were saying the wind would do around the start time, and then finalized on-water when I was able to compare what the wind was actually doing to what the models predicted and my own judgement. An overall start and first beat strategy was usually agreed upon by 10 mins to go to the warning signal. We also had to adapt to any weather changes in the final 15mins to the start.

The toughest moment was probably missing a big left-hand shift after the start of race 7 and having to take a lot of sterns to get out to the favoured left side of the course. We made it out there eventually and got to the first top mark in good shape but there were some pretty tense times on the boat on the way.

Jason: The toughest moment for me was steering at 110% for long periods of time. Very mentally challenging - it's hard work -you can't take your eyes of the jib at any stage.

You won the regatta without a single bullet, does that surprise you or was that part of the plan?
Jason: It was part of the plan we just wanted to finish inside the top ten in every race

How did you feel about the competition (John Bertrand, Jud Smith, Chris Busch Stuart Childerly, etc). ?

Matt: Amazing respect.

Jason: They are all awesome sailors it was a big thrill to beat them.

Bucky: The pre-worlds regatta gave us a good idea of the main competition and really just confirmed in our minds who was fast. In terms of specific competitors, I have always maintained that I was well aware of the calibre of who we were up against. Every race I knew of the company we were in, and I had the utmost respect for John Bertrand (and his team of Ben Ainslie and Andrew Palfrey), Jud Smith, Chris Bush, Stuart Childerly, even the Barry boys, along with many others in the fleet. In fact, we went through the entry list after the pre-worlds and specifically identified who we thought were going to be the top 10 (this was tough because of so many top crews) and we memorised their bow numbers and sail numbers, and the Barry boys [who finished 2nd overall] were on the list right from the start. This made it much easier to know who was where on the race course and I think this is testament to how much respect we had for the fleet, basing some of our decisions on where our top competitors were positioning themselves on the race course.

Matt: I have grown up following all of those guys. To race against them at the highest level is an amazing honor. The greatest moment in my life was receiving a standing ovation from them

And finally, how was the Worlds event? What was the club like, the social events…any good stories you can share? What’s next for you

Bucky: The Worlds as an event itself was awesome. We got a great weather window at the regatta location and had nice mostly sunny skies and light-medium air. It was truly fantastic but tricky and shifty sailing conditions. The Royal Brighton Yacht Club and Melbourne Etchells Fleet put on a fantastic event and it was a real privilege to be part of such a successful event on and off the water.

Matt: What’s next… Well I don’t know exactly. My idea was to have a couple of months off and get a perspective on things and to deal with some real world issues. However I’m sure the holiday won’t last long as the phone is ringing with some great offers .

Jason: No not really any good stories...I am fairly low key these days, but let me say the yacht club did an amazing job. As for what’s next, I don’t know, I will go back and do some triathlons for a while.

Now that you have a berth in every future Etchells Worlds, do you plan to go to Ireland in 2010 or San Diego the following year? I didn’t know that - it might change things a bit….

Once again, congratulations to you all for a job well done.