Behind the Scenes, September 2020
Published on September 15th, 2020
I just couldn’t resist! The September images in the 2020 Ultimate Sailing Calendar are a ‘take two’ from the thrilling Rolex TP52 Worlds in Cascais, Portugal. Conditions were spectacular – fresh to frightening – and I couldn’t decide between these and our February 2020 shots.
And why should I? All four represent the top talent in the world racing at the pinnacle of the sport, in robust conditions. Ultimate Sailing indeed!
September features the grand prix TP52 fleet charging down the course: kites swollen as they crash through the turbulent seas in tight formation.
Have you ever imagined what it’s like to compete at this level? Well I have a treat! This month we transport you onboard with two of sailing’s ‘rock stars:’ Morgan Larson, helmsman and tactician for Bronenosec Sailing Team; and Ed Baird, helmsman with Quantum Racing.
Ed Baird: Quantum Racing
We found Ed making the best of the pandemic with his wife Lisa, renovating their St. Petersburg, Florida home – although he admits being “desperate to get back out on the racecourse!”
These Ultimate Sailing Calendar images transported him back to Cascais, he exclaims. “When I look at those photos it reminds me what an amazing place it is to race! High powered, windy and very exciting!”
Ed, 62, is a champion in America’s Cup and multiple other classes and was inducted into the National Sailing Hall of Fame in 2016 and is an inductee into the 2020 America’s Cup Hall of Fame. Helmsman onboard Quantum Racing’s TP52 involves “a lot more than just driving,” he says.
“First and foremost is my responsibility to drive the boat well, but along with that, the critical responsibility of understanding how everyone else does their job, and making sure I don’t ask more of the crew and the equipment than they’re able to give me.”
That means he can’t just throw the tiller over whenever he wants, he adds. “I need to make their job do-able and make the outcome successful, and if everyone’s not ready, it’s not going to work.”
The TP52 is a racing machine, he says. “This is exactly what they’re built for – they love it when it’s windy. Maneuvers take a lot of coordination and effort, but it’s manageable for the crew.” The Class weight limit typically translates to a crew of 12: but with half those sailors turning the winches, he says, everyone is busy.
Describing the setting in this image he explains, “The fleet is sailing in 26 or 28 knots of wind, but if you could look to the right about one mile, there’s virtually no wind at all: the mountain straight behind shuts off the breeze from the north.”
The wind is predominantly from the north in Cascais and the Sintra mountains can cast a huge and tricky shadow. “As the wind wraps around the mountain it creates a cloud that comes up and over.” The bigger the cloud, and the farther it comes down, the windier it will get.
“The first thing you notice is everyone is on starboard jibe coming out of the weather mark. You really have to get going fast before you can jibe over, particularly in that much breeze.”
But tacticians have to thread the needle carefully: go too far into the ocean and massive waves will slow the boat down; go too close inshore and risk sailing into the lee. “So the goal is to get your kite up and get going; jibe early to stay on a smoother racetrack, but still catch the wind.”
Ed points out the entire crew is clustered aft until a maneuver, when they all scramble to their stations. In this kind of breeze, “everyone has to do their job perfectly,” to prevent injuries and damage. “Communication is paramount!”
And at the finish of a day racing TP52s in Cascais, he reminisces, “You’re cold, wet, exhausted and exhilarated – and wishing you could go right back out for another one!”
Morgan Larson: Bronenosec Sailing Team
That other St. Petersburg – Russia – is home to Bronenosec Sailing Team, where Morgan Larson is helmsman this year. “It was an exciting opportunity, cut short by the pandemic,” Morgan admits, having advanced from tactician in 2019.
But he is looking forward to the 2021 season, scheduled to open May 4 with Saint Tropez Sailing Week.
Although Morgan sails with a Russian team, he is a three time All-American living in Hood River, Oregon; and a champion in boats from 505s and 49ers to Farr 40s and TP52s. We caught up with him cruising with his family – wife Christa and children Lola and Taj.
Having raced around the world on various platforms, “I used to be the young person that didn’t have to deal with the big responsibilities,” he recalls. But now, as helmsman and skipper, “My job has morphed. I’m the guy people are looking to for guidance and decisions. ‘Get the right sailors onboard, pull the team together, organize meetings, communications, plan the event and logistics, handle the protests, and so on.”
“Over the years, working with pros like Russell Coutts, Paul Cayard, Terry Hutchinson and such, I’ve learned how they plan and win the event even before the race begins, by having the nuts and bolts together and all the right people in place, and orchestrating logistics and strategies well in advance. That aspect is starting to be what I enjoy more.”
“But there’s always that element, that special spark that happens on the water. And it’s especially fun when you can involve the next generation of young guys and girls, whose instincts and skills are so sharp and good. That’s the best part of our sport.”
Morgan points out the TP52 presents both physical and mental challenges. “From grinders and a flexible athletic bowman, with the brainpower and experience of trimmers and navigators and others who have been in the sport for a long time – it’s a beautiful mix. Everyone brings something to the table … and it pushes us older guys to keep in shape,” pointing out he is “nearly 50.”
Comparing TP52 racing to Grand Prix Formula One, he continues, “The level of talent is incredible, supported by a dedicated shore team of five or six people, plus an amazing commitment from owners who are so passionate and driven. You feel a big responsibility to put your best foot forward; the pressure to succeed is intense.” In exchange, sailors’ time commitments are “exhaustive” during the campaign: typically 16 to 18 hours a day.
After the St. Tropez opener, the TP52 2021 Super Series will take competitors to some of the most elite, exotic venues in the world, including Galicia and Mallorca, Spain and back to Cascais.
“I just pinch myself!” says Morgan. “These amazing boat owners allow us these great careers; I feel super lucky to be able to do what I do. It’s a sport, not a job, and I would sail as much as I do and do it all for free if I could.”
“And I’m honored to have met people like you and your team at Ultimate Sailing, and appreciate what you do for the sport, plus the people putting on and sponsoring the events, doing the social media and coverage, and making things happen.”
Okay, I’m blushing now – but honored too, to have had the opportunities to experience ‘Ultimate Sailing’ with such top-notch competition and athletes. Thank you, Morgan and Ed, for taking us onboard with you!