At the Festival of Sails 2012 there are a couple of big America’s Cup names in town for their maiden Festival of Sails, and these ‘rock stars’, as they are known in the sport, are loving the stage and the crowd.
New Zealand America’s Cup hero, Chris Dickson, and former managing director and design coordinator of the Swiss Alinghi team, Australian Grant Simmer, might be squaring off in Audi Centre Geelong Premier Racing Series Division A, but off-water they are both enjoying the many offerings and the ease of being at a regatta in a smaller city.
'It’s my first regatta here and I am amazed at the number of people and boats. It’s an organisational feat to run so many fleets concurrently,' said Simmer dockside today.
'The sailing waters are great and running it from a mid-size town means everyone’s together. Socially it works, as well as on the water,' he added just before jumping aboard Rob Hanna’s TP52, Shogun V and pushing off the dock.
On his nemesis, Chris Dickson, who has the same role as tactician on an opposing boat and the current clubhouse leader, Jim Famer’s Georgia, there is a great respect. 'Georgia has improved a lot and is going to be hard to beat, particularly if it stays light. Dickson is very impressive'.
Simmer has returned to Australian shores after 11 years living in Europe. The highly respected yachtsman is racing with a number of crews including Shogun V for the Festival of Sails and super maxi Wild Oats XI in last year’s Rolex Sydney Hobart.
He’s seen plenty of talent among the high-end IRC fleet this week and is buoyed by the Australian Sailing Team’s (AST's) dominance along the trail to this year’s London Olympic Games.
'I’ve been working in the sport from a management side and haven’t had the opportunity to do much sailing. I’m enjoying it. There is a whole new generation of sailors in this country in their early to mid-20s who are bloody good.
'The AST team are obviously at the top of their sport and they have huge careers ahead of them. I just hope they can finish the job at the Olympics'.
In particular Simmer cites America’s Cup skipper and helmsman James Spithill’s decision to bring multiple world Laser champion and Australian 2012 Olympic squad member, Tom Slingsby, into the Oracle Racing fold. 'It’s a good decision by James and a great opportunity for Tom'.
Being a professional sailor is by no means a typical career move and is a hard concept for grasp for the office-bound. For the cream who do rise to the very top of the sport, it’s hard work but there are obvious benefits.
So how does a rock star switch modes when sailing with different grand prix crews?
'Sometimes it’s difficult getting on and off different boats. I just let people do what they are good at and encourage them to speak up. You don’t want people clamming up because someone with a reputation has stepped on the boat,' Simmer added.
Shogun V has today and tomorrow to claw Georgia and Calm back in the Division A pointscore, then his focus will switch to Etchells and the class’ upcoming nationals and worlds.
Grant Simmer is one of the guest speakers at tomorrow’s official presentation breakfast at The Pier for those divisions finishing their competition today.
The remaining divisions – Premier Racing Series, Sydney 38s, J24s, Sports Boats, Melges 24s, SB3s and the International Cadets – will head out again tomorrow to scramble for final precious points before the curtain closes on the 168th Festival of Sails.