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W I NN ER ' S DEBRIE F / i nt e rview by s t uart s tr euli

Luna Rossa, 2005 Corum Melges 24 Worlds

There were plenty of teams with more experience in the Melges 24 at the class's 2005 world championships in Key Largo, Fla., but none had the pure talent of James Spithill's Luna Rossa crew. In addition to himself—the 26-year-old Spithill is the reigning ISAF match racing world champion and currently helming his third America's Cup campaign—the crew in-

for a keelboat?

JM: Being new to the class we needed to gel as a team just getting around the marks and doing basics like tacks and jibes.

The class allows shroud adjustment during racing; were you doing anything special there?

JM: We used as our basis the Ullman Sails tuning guide and we did a little bit of

Kneeling on the deck downwind afforded helmsman James Spithill (top) a better view. His crew included (l to r) Mac Agnese, Manuel Modena, Charlie McKee, and Jonathan McKee.

cluded two-time Olympic medalists Jonathan and Charlie McKee, Italian 49er sailor Manuel Modena, and 11-year-old Optimist star MacAgnese. Ofcourse, they also did their homework, placing second at 2005 Key West Race Week, winning the class's Atlantic Coast Champs before the Worlds, and training with top Melges sailors Dave Ullman and Brian Porter. We interviewed Spithill and Jonathan McKee to get some insight into their victory.

With the team's limited experience, how did you approach your training?

JM: You can't have any real big weakness, so you have to make sure you cover all your bases: speed, boathandling, and communication. Most of our training was split sixty-forty between speed and boathandling, and we did enough regatta training to get our starting, tactics, and communication down.

Isn't that a lot of time on boathandling experimentation to get to places where the boat seemed to go well. I think we did a little more adjustments of our shrouds than the other teams.

That can't be easy during the race.

JM: That's why it's good to have the responsibilities divided. The forward crew, which in our case was Charlie, would do the adjustment. You can't quite hike as hard when you're doing it, so you've got to do that pretty quickly and accurately, and get back to hiking.

Avoiding bad starts is vital in a big fleet—there was 98 boats at the Worlds; how did you accomplish that?

JS: We wanted to sail a conservative regatta. We didn't want to try to nail a start at the boat end or pin end every time because it was just too risky, with 11 races and one throwout.

I found it quite nice starting around the mid-line boat. On a conventional starting line it's hard to judge [where you are]. But with the mid-line boat you know exactly where you are. If you start with the midline boat to leeward of you, similar to the pin, then you have a really nice gap to leeward. For me that was the most comfortable start; you had the freedom to sail fast-forward mode. We didn't mind being 10 lengths down from the pack, we just wanted to be able to go straight for a while.

The winds were shifty and puffy.What were you doing to change gears?

JS: I was pretty much doing a full loop. Pull on the backstay, adjust the mainsheet tension, and then adjust the traveler. As soon as the breeze was up and the guys were fully hiking, I found the traveler was the best thing. At 16 knots and above I vang sheeted the main and centered the traveler. That was physically the hardest thing, but I'm convinced it was the fastest. With the waves, adjusting the traveler didn't give enough of a groove.

All the while, the crew is hiking as hard as possible.

JM: It's not easy. Fortunately our middle crew, Manuel Modena, is in really good physical condition and he is the biggest of all of us. He set a great example and Charlie and I would just try to follow as much as our aging bodies would allow.

What was more important on the first leg, boatspeed or tactics?

JM: It always takes both and certain races were more one than the other. Almost every race had significant shifts, sometimes as many as 10 per leg. There was a real premium on tacking at the right time.

How do you prefer to track the shifts?

JM: I tend to trust the compass quite a lot, especially in the upper wind range because your pointing isn't so much driven by whether there's more or less wind—in light air that's a big factor. We focused a lot on the shifts.

Was protecting the high road the most important thing on the crowded downwind legs?

JS: I think so. It's so easy to get caught up with the boat in front of you and by the time you look behind it's too late to protect your lane. Once one rolls you, there's a train following them.

Downwind, how did determine when to heat up and plane and when to soak

What would you do?

Prior to the start your astute tactician discovers the 10 knot wind is shifting every 6 minutes, and detects a shift 3 minutes before the start. How soon after the start will you get the next shift? (Are you sure?)

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2006 Racing Seminar Schedule*

Vermilion, OH Sat. Mar. 11

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*1-day racing seminars will cover either Rules & Tactics or Wind & Strategy. 2-day racing seminars cover Rules & Tactics on Saturday / Wind & Strategy on Sunday, and attendeed may register for individual seminars or both. Please visit the North U. website for complete information on all seminars and schedule updates.

low and aim more toward the leeward mark?

JS: In superlight wind it's obvious what your VMG [velocity toward leeward mark] is as you're in a low displacement mode. When it's real windy, you just light it up and send it. But in that in between wind range there are a couple of different modes you can sail which I think are the same for your VMG. You can do a fast plane or low displacement mode. It all depends on what the puffs are doing and what your fleet strategy is. It was fortunate for us that we did a bit of work in light conditions with Dave Ullman's team and Brian Porter and the Full Throttle guys. We actually tried going wing on wing. In a certain condition it seemed like the best VMG, but it just doesn't work in a big fleet.

How important was trimmer-helmsman communication when trying to keep the boat on a plane?

JM: In the stronger winds it isn't so much a matter of communicating the pressure on the sheet as it is the helmsman sensing the speed of the boat and keeping the right attitude to the wind. In light wind the communication is a little more important.

JS: It's a good thing we had Manuel; he's so physically strong.

Sharpen Your Tacks

Tacking tends to not get as much effort as boatspeed, tuning, etc., but it can cost you those few meters needed to cross a port tacker or hold a lane on the front row. By the end of a regatta everyone is tacking well, but if you can start at that level, it can help you when tacking in some tough spots.

I felt one key ingredient to our tacking was having the fifth person on board-11-year-old Mac Agnese. He would do the traveler in all conditions, except when it was fresh and I had it centered and was vang sheeting. This allowed me, the helmsman, to concentrate on making a consistent smooth turn that was in time with the crew weight and jib cut. When you have the backstay on, there isn't a lot of room to swing the tiller behind you on a Melges 24; if it gets stuck it usually results in a sharp turn and bad tack. We focused on moving our crew weight together as a unit in all maneuvers, not just tacking-something that is done on the match race circuit.

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