Most of the teams competing in the America’s Cup have large enough sailing squads to allow for crew rotations in the case of burn-out or injury during a crammed schedule of racing.
But, without any racing yet in the Louis Vuitton Cup, crew changes are being considered for a different reason – to provide fresh topics of conversation as the yachts drift about waiting for wind.
'We have run out of stories,' said BMW ORACLE Racing sailing manager, Craig Monk. 'We need new material. We might have to start rotating the crew if this goes on much longer.'
After two days of no racing, the Cup community in Valencia is getting desperate for the action to start. 'If we lose a third day in a row, it is going to get tough,' said Monk. 'It is hard to explain to the mums and dads back home.'
On USA 98, the crew set up an awning to provide shade and then settled in for the long wait for wind. 'Everybody deals with this waiting in different ways,' said navigator Peter Isler. 'Mostly the old sea stories come out. Yesterday, we spent a lot of time talking about classic offshore races, like the Sydney to Hobart.'
That particular event has a strong resonance for team owner Larry Ellison, skipper Chris Dickson and several other members of the USA 98 crew who were on board Ellison’s maxi yacht, Sayonara, when it won the stormy race of 1998, in which six sailors died and several yachts sank.
Stretched out on sailbags down in the black confines of the carbon fibre hull, Phil ‘Blood’ Jameson and several other crew members escaped the sun and talked about round the world yacht racing. 'It gets pretty weird sometimes,' said Jameson.
'The weather is a great leveler,' noted operations director Laurent Esquier. 'You must take it in your stride. If you are a sailor, you have seen it all before.'
Come what may, the grinders need to maintain their food intake to provide fuel for all the energy they burn during racing, so they keep the food box on board and eat. For the first two days, BMW ORACLE Racing at least has had the pleasant distraction of two beautiful models, German Tatjana Patitz and Spaniard Laura Ponte, at the back of the yacht as 18th man guests. 'The grinders don’t pay much attention to that,' quipped Monk. 'We might miss out on the food. We leave it to the smooth talkers in the afterguard to do the entertaining.'
'I think we will take i-Pods out with us today,' suggest fellow grinder, Ian Baker, 'so we can listen to some music.'
One of yesterday’s topics of conversation related to the non-payment of crew fines. These are ‘punishments’ imposed for offences such as wearing items of clothing from rival teams, not wearing bicycle helmets on the way to and from work, being late for the chase boat and so on. 'The fines range from one euro to a million euro, depending on the offence,' said Jameson, 'but we are having a problem with non-payment. The bad debts are listed on the board in the crew room. We have considered imposing fines for the non-payment of fines. Maybe we will have to engage a debt-collection agency.'
Is there a fine for telling jokes everybody has heard already? 'No,' replied Monk, who gave an indication of how desperate the situation has become when he added, 'any topic is welcome.'
Despite the jokes and the relaxed appearance of the crew lying about on deck like tourists at a holiday resort, make no mistake – they are ready to spring to action at a moment’s notice. 'At the first indication of a racing breeze, we can have sails hoisted, the extra gear transferred off the boat and be ready to race in 12 minutes,' said Monk.
'We are trained professionals,' added Isler. 'We want to hear the guns go off so we can start racing. We can flick the switch to full-on race mode pretty quickly.'