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Kevin Hall - Black Sails White Rabbits - A pro sailor's inside story

by NZL on 1 Jun 2016
Emirates Team New Zealand navigator Kevin Hall using a Panasonic Tough Book Tablet computer aboard NZL84 during a practice session. Valencia 27/7/2006 Chris Cameron
Former America's Cup sailor and Olympic representative, Kevin Hall has spent twenty-five years as a competitive sailor, racing navigator, speed testing manager, and sailing performance and racing instruments expert.

Hall represented USA in the 2004 Olympics in the Finn class placing 11th before shifting across to Emirates Team New Zealand as part of its rebuild following the ignominious defeat in 2003. He was navigator for the Kiwi team in the 2007 America's Cup. Hall stayed on for the TP52 program, while the 2007-2010 America's Cup Court action was underway, and was part of a world championship winning crew in the 52fters.

After exiting the Kiwi program, he signed up with Artemis Racing and was on board when 'Clifford' as the red hulled wingsailed catamaran was known within team, started its final run, and imploded with fatal consequences.

During his professional sailing career Hall has grappled with several personal challenges including a double bout of cancer, working through the highs and lows of bipolar disorder, and more.

Now living in Auckland with his wife and three children, Hall has compiled what is essentially an auto biography of his sailing experiences, the highs and lows of being involved in various sailing campaigns, along with the exits.

Black Sails White Rabbits is available in book-stores in New Zealand including Whitcoulls

Or it can be purchased online through as either a paperback, or downloaded in a Kindle version and conveniently readable on mobile devices. Or, an audio version is available for those no longer able to read - also available through

You can get your copy of Black Sails White Rabbits on

The Links to the Paperback, Kindle and Audio versions can be accessed by clicking here

Following are three excerpts from Black Sails, White Rabbits - with the audio version of the full chapter. Hall's book is a challenging read as he takes us through a series of life and sailing experiences that most can only imagine.

US Finn Olympic trials - 2004:

The first two days of the trials were windy and wavy. I stunned the rest of the field by coming out of the blocks to win the first four races. Putting the entire fleet on the back foot made the rest of the week a lot of fun for me and a lot of stress for them.

One of the best moments of the event came in the fourth race. It was the second race of the day, so we were all tired. One of my main competitors for the Olympic spot rounded the last turn with a comfortable lead into the short final leg. He aimed for the low end of the finish line and went for a smooth style with what’s called “two to one” purchase on his mainsheet. Less load, but also half the stroke when you pump, like rowing with a short oar.

I came around the last turn fully in the zone. It’s in the back of your mind somewhere, quiet and calm, the idea that you will be leading by the finish. Sort of a warmth of confidence, a presence. It’s not a thought. At least for me, when I’m sailing really well, I’m not thinking Grrrr, I’m gonna catch that guy and pass him. You just know. “Balls to bones,” as the Oracle says to Neo in The Matrix about knowing whether or not he’s in love, or knowing whether or not he’s The One. (OK, silicone prostheses to bones in my case, but whatever.)

I stayed on the big chain ring, one to one, direct link to the sail. Long oar. I aimed higher than the guy in front of me. More potential speed, much higher workrate, less margin for error with steering.

The legs push into the lower back. The shoulder pulls hard on a straight arm, mainsheet wrapped around the wrist to prevent any slippage, like a strap for a 330?pound deadlift. Then at the end of the stroke, to make sure to launch down the wave—which gives more speed at the bottom turn to line up the next wave— the arm gives a quick snap to finish the pump. Everything slowed down around me. It was like there was a golden path laid out on the water and all I had to do was steer to keep the bow aimed down it. The sound of the spray shooting away from the boat had distinct elements, not just a general quality. I didn’t look over to see how my gain rate was; I didn’t look up to see how far the finish line was. I just knew.

It would have been a horrible feeling for Mo, when the gun went off before he got to the finish, meaning someone else had gotten there first. When I looked up, his whole body slumped with the disappointment. Right then I knew that there was one less guy to worry about for the rest of the week. In fact, right then I knew there was only one guy to worry about for the rest of the week, and that was me. If I used all my skill, stayed present, and made wise choices at the big moments, it was completely in my hands. For the first time since sophomore year of college, I believed that I’d get to keep what I did for the rest of the week. I trusted myself and I trusted the world.

I made some mistakes over the next eleven races, but I also had a few really inspired moments. I won five of those eleven remaining races, and I secured my spot on the US Olympic Team with one race to spare. I could sit out the last race and still win. Some people choose to do that. Job done, it’s been a long road. Get into the harbor and get the boat on dry land. Get out of the cold wetsuit and into the hot shower as soon as possible. I don’t have a problem with that, it’s just never been my style. I looked forward to enjoying the final race, knowing there was no pressure beyond what I put on myself. I set a personal goal of sailing the entire race completely present. I won by half a leg.

I’m glad I gave myself that moment because the next six months were going to get rough.

Emirates Team New Zealand - 2004:

First stop after the 2004 Olympics was Marseille for my first race with Emirates Team New Zealand. Their playbook had me holding what’s called the “short sheet” around the first mark.

It allows the big winches to be used for the new spinnaker going up while the old genoa is waiting for enough hands to wrestle it back on deck as it comes down. Being cautious, although it was setup for me when I got there, I thought I should double check it. It was wrapped the wrong way! I spun it off the winch, reloaded it properly, and held on. The only problem was that it had been loaded correctly. Now I was holding a rope attached to a huge sail that was helping pull a twenty-five ton racing boat through the water. I had two choices. Let go, or try to hold on.

Team New Zealand had a nickname around the harbor: Team Tough. It was pretty obvious what I had to do. I held on. The skin ripped off my fingers and palms, and I went back to my spot with the little wireless touch screen to hope nobody noticed. The adrenaline wore off just before the finish. It was starting to really hurt. I asked if I could maybe see the medic boat. By the time I was transferred there were cameras shooting the scene. My hands looked like they had been run under a very wide-blade circular saw at a depth just high enough to miss detaching the fingers from the knuckles. It hurt. And, I was sure I was alive.

I could already hear the ribbing I would be getting at the bar. “It’s great you’re so tough and all, but it’s not a good sign that you can’t even figure out which way a winch turns. We were looking for a navigator with a brain…” It would be a perfectly legitimate concern.

Artemis Racing - 2013 America's Cup:

We relocated with the team to San Francisco in July after a year of training in Spain for the home stretch to the America’s Cup. My family and I settled in Berkeley to continue prepping for the 2013 Cup. The first AC72 catamaran we built—the big, red “AR1”—suffered damage the very first time it touched the water, long before a wing or sails or even the sailing team went near it.

During a towing test, before any water had splashed over the bows, the forward beam cracked. The forward beam of a catamaran is like the chassis of a car. Everything rides on it.

There were more delays before our first sail. Instead of being the first team to launch, like we should have been with our budget and schedule, we were the last. We got some good days on the water in San Francisco Bay, but the speed record for our team remained with the old French trimaran, with its tattered cloth sails and rust stains on some of the bolts.

The new design, with the custom titanium pieces, with the huge wing and the latest carbon fiber cables, with all of our cutting edge computer?model?indicated upgrades, took over a year to overtake the top speed of the venerable old French trimaran with the built?in ashtrays.

The team planned one last sail before putting the patched together AR1 (aka 'Clifford' the big red dog) aside as the spare boat and focusing on the new boat. Not long before that, I took Rainer and Leo up to the Lawrence Hall of Science in the Berkeley hills. We learned about structures. Roman aqueducts, bridges, cathedrals. On the way home, Rainer said, “Daddy, shouldn’t your front beam be an arch like the other teams’ are?”

If only our designers had known what the Romans did….

To get your copy of Black Sails White Rabbits from click here

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