Wednesday, 4 February 2009
Greek Challenge versus Britain's TEAMORIGIN. Image copyright Pierre Orphanidis.
by Pierre Orphanidis
After Saturday’s first ever victory, Greek Challenge wrote another page in the history of Greek sailing on Tuesday. For the first time ever, a Greek sailor took the helm of an America’s Cup yacht during a world-class event. Theodoros Tsoulfas, prominent offshore Greek sailor, helmed the Greek Challenge yacht in the team’s last race of Louis Vuitton Pacific Series Round Robin 1, against Team Origin from the UK.
Gavin Brady, the New Zealander that steered the yacht so far in the Series, switched positions with Tsoulfas on Tuesday and called tactics in what turned out to be a very tricky and shifty day. In addition, 11 out of the 17 crew were Greeks, marking another first. Never before in the Series, Greek sailors were the majority onboard.
The race was closer and tighter than what one would have expected, especially against an outstanding helmsman of the caliber of Ben Ainslie, 3-time gold Olympic medalist. Greek Challenge crossed the starting line on the right and Origin on the left, slightly ahead. During the first beat, the Greeks managed to stay on Origin’s trail, rounding the first weather mark a mere 14 seconds behind the British yacht. Despite being a novice, Tsoulfas was able to stay close in the run and round the leeward gate 17 seconds behind Ben Ainslie. In the second half of the race, Greek Challenge slipped back and crossed the finish line 58 seconds behind the British yacht.
Greek Challenge finishes Round Robin 1 with 1 win and 3 losses. Due to the penalty received in the race against Alinghi, Greek Challenge has no points and will now compete in the Silver Fleet, together with China Team, Shosholoza and Pataugas K-Challenge. There will be no racing on Wednesday and the Greek team will come back on the water of Waitemata harbor on Thursday, facing Pataugas by K-Challenge.
Quotes of the day
Theodoros Tsoulfas, helmsman on Greek Challenge: “Without any doubt, this has been an amazing experience. I have been helming boats up to 50ft and this is a quantum leap for me. I was very nervous but I managed to steer the boat thanks to Gavin’s help. We made a number of mistakes in the race but I think we corrected most of them and achieved a respectable result.
There is no comparison between ourselves and the other participants in this event; we have only been 12 times on these yachts while the rest of the teams have been taking part in the America’s Cup for years. In fact, we are honored to be here and stand against them. It’s a fantastic and unique opportunity. We are humbled by the talent around us in this event and it would have been ludicrous to come here and pretend we are equals with Ben Ainslie, Ian Percy, Andrew Simpson or Mike Sanderson. Winning a race is obviously a great feeling but our main goal in this event is to learn.
We are passionate about learning and the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series is just a stepping stone in a long process of building a Greek America’s Cup team.”
Gavin Brady, tactician on Greek Challenge: “Tsoulfas did a good job today, considering the fact it was the first time he steered an America’s Cup yacht. Don’t forget who we were racing against. Still, we sailed well and Origin beat us by less than a minute. The majority of the crew was Greek today and obviously had less experience but we are building here a team for the future, for the long term. So far we have achieved reasonable results and once again, I think that today Greek Challenge was better than yesterday. That’s our goal.”
The Greek team was honored today by the presence of famous kiwi sportsman Bruce Kendall as its 18th man. Competing in windsurfing, his first medal was a bronze at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. At the 1988 Olympics in Seoul he improved to win the gold medal. Bruce also competed at the following Olympics in Barcelona, just failing to win another medal due to faulty equipment. At the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Kendall was a sailing coach for the New Zealand team.
In 1993 he won the Olympic Class World Championships with 9 firsts and one second place. This was the first time a New Zealander won an Olympic Class Windsurfing World Championships. The following year he finished 2nd overall.
Bruce is the older brother of Barbara Kendall who is also an Olympic gold medallist. They are the only brother and sister to have achieved this feat for New Zealand.
His connection to Greek sports dates from the Athens Olympics when Bruce coached Greek champion Nikos Kaklamanakis to the silver medal.