Thursday, 4 February 2010

America's Cup: Interview with Harold Bennett, PRO of the 33rd AC in Valencia

Harold Bennett, Race Director and Principal Race Officer of the 33rd America's Cup. Supplied image.

by 33rd America's Cup media, as edited by SailRaceWin

Harold Bennett (NZL) is the Regatta Director and Principal Race Officer for the 33rd America’s Cup.

In 2007 he was Principal Race Officer in charge of the second race area during the Louis Vuitton Cup challenger series.

Harold Bennett (NZL) is the Regatta Director and Principal Race Officer for the 33rd America’s Cup.

In 2007 he was Principal Race Officer in charge of the second race area during the Louis Vuitton Cup challenger series. He was the Principal Race Officer in Auckland for the 30th and 31st Matches for the America's Cup.

Bennett has been involved in yachting administration, coaching and race management for over 35 years. As well as being the National Youth Coach in his native New Zealand, he coached sailors at six Olympic Games, from Los Angeles in 1984 to Athens in 2004.

Q: How have the preparations gone, there are challenges in the short lead in time, the large dimensions of the course and protecting the race area, to name but a few... where do you start?

Harold Bennett: “ It's like any other regatta, you have to prepare well. You have to get good people around you and we have done that. We have been working through a lot of the issues we have found with being so far offshore: communication and conditions. We have been looking closely at that and so it has been a lot of preparation work, but most of it has only really begun – as far as the race area itself is concerned – has only really begun in the last week or two weeks.”

Q: It will mean early starts, and getting out to the race area early?

HB: “Timing is not an issue. We know that if we are going to be out for a 1000hrs or a 1030hrs start we have leave here between 0700hrs and 0730hrs and go to the race area that we think is the best place based on the information that we can compile on the weather. And we will go off and go out and get everything set up so we can start when we are supposed to start.”

Q: And the challenges racing in what is, after all, winter?

HB: “Winter, for a start is cold. The wind chill factor out there is high. On a day when the air temperature around 12 or 14 the wind chill takes it down by 5 degrees and so it hasn’t made it easy. That follows on to the weather, the wind conditions have been quite different and are unpredictable. The guys have found it hard to get predictions which are giving us exactly what they think is going to happen. We have got these issues to deal with on a day to day basis, but you have to just go there and do it.”

Q: Security on this large area is important. What are the provisions and what is the advice?

HB: “We are working with twelve of our own boats and are working in cooperation with the local law enforcement agencies, who assist us to keep the area as clear as possible . We are looking forward to that assistance and cooperation. We are more concerned with keeping the immediate areas clear, around the start, around the buoys, and the race boats. The further assistance comes from the law enforcement authorities.”

Q: Who can go on the water to watch and how?

HB: “ First of all anyone who is contemplating going out there to watch needs to be sure that their boat is certified to go out past five miles, because a lot of the course is well beyond that and in fact goes out into international waters, so boats that are not certified for that are likely to have the law enforcement on top of them looking for the authorisation that they might have. The team boats all have to conform. Any spectator boat must conform to those regulations which are the local Spanish regulations. That is the first issue. Anyone who is contemplating going out there needs to be well prepared.

“ After that around the starting areas it is going to be a fairly big area which is going to be closed off.”

“ No one has seen two of these boats operating together, these boats need a lot of room to manoeuvre, and hopefully we will get that right, because the first time we see two together will be in the first race. We have to be mindful to get that right. People have to abide by instructions given to them on the water by our patrol boats and law enforcement boats, and I think beyond that they should be listening on VHF and we will be keeping communication on VHF Channel 77. Although it may a way offshore, those in the near vicinity of us will be able to pick up any instruction we might have.”

“That will be important, to keep the radio on and listen for any instruction which might be given, because the main thing with these boats is they travel so fast. They are not as manoeuvrable as a monohull boat. If you get in the way you are likely to get run over, and the last thing we want to see is some form of accident. Anybody going out there has to listen to and adhere to the guidelines being issued on the water, and through the media.”

Q: The speed of these boats is going to make it difficult for the umpires, and others to keep up. Who else is allowed to follow the race boats?

HB: “The umpires are well aware that their job, to keep up, is not going to be easy. And we know from our experience already, that chasing after these boats is going to be challenging as it will be for anyone. And by that I mean anyone who is authorised to follow these boats, that is the first response of the chase boats of the teams, the back-up chase boat for the team, the umpires, one of our RIBS, which is for communication from us to the race boat and there is the likelihood of a guardia civil boat. As far anyone else is concerned, no, the law enforcement will keep them out.”

Q: What other challenges are to deal with?

HB: “There is a big learning curve for everyone. And so one thing going for us is that we know Valencia, but the weather is different and a little more challenging. But as far as the boats are concerned we are learning every day that we go out and we are seeing things a little more differently, and we talk to the sailors and keep up with them and what they do. The 32nd America’s Cup there was a lot of lead up time, with the Acts and all the rest of it. But this time we have to get it right on the first day. And that for us is a challenge.”

Q: You used to coach both BMW ORACLE RACING’s Russell Coutts and Alinghi’s Brad Butterworth around 30 years ago and have a strong relationship with them both, how might that affect how you go about the job which has to be done here?

HB: “ My relationship with Russell and Brad, and in fact a lot of the other guys out there on the boats, goes back something like 30 years, when a lot of them were sailing junior boats. How do I deal with that? I have a job to do. They have a job to do and on any given day I’ll guarantee that the three of us will not agree. And if that is the case then we will beg to differ on those occasions. But once it is all over, it is done. That’s it. And although the three of us are all on different sides of the fence, we will do the jobs the best we can, we will look for the best solution to how we achieve our own personal part of these jobs to achieve them. To me that’s not difficult, I have a job to do. If either one of them doesn’t like it, well, they will tell me, and once that is done it’s done. And we will get back to the friendships we have had in the past. I don’t think that is an issue. I know them very well, and how they operate. They know how I operate. It’s that simple really.”

33rd America's Cup

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