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Hamish Pepper on the 2006 Star Worlds - Part 1

by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World, NZL on 11 Oct 2006
Hamish Pepper and Carl Williams, #12 GBR, squeeze by the mark in race three Chuck Lantz
New Zealand's Hamish Pepper and Carl Williams have pulled off one of the most remarkable feats in sailing - winning the Star class World Championships in their rookie year.

In this, the first part of a two part interview, Hamish Pepper backgrounds their year, their boat, their approach to the Worlds and their financial situation.

SW: What do you think were the key reasons for your win?

Pepper: It is an interesting question because a lot of people have been asking us that, I am not really too sure. I think that we came into this regatta and we’ve had pretty good preparation and I wouldn’t say we were feeling confident that we would win it, but we were confident that if we sailed well and it all went right we would place quite high up the fleet. We thought we were in the top five anyway, and if you’re in that position then when other people don’t sail so well, and we sail well, we come out on top. Our preparation was good, and we sailed well.

SW: Can you just cycle back to when you started this campaign? Your first regatta was in January?

Pepper: Yes, in early January I went to Miami. Obviously, a few months before, I had started preparation for our campaign. When I saw you in NZ, in December, I was in the process of organizing charter boats and getting David Giles to come sail with us and things like that. Our first regatta in January was with David, and then Carl sailed with David for a couple of days while I was in Key West and then Carl and I jumped in the boat together.

We were both pretty fresh at that stage. I had also bought a boat in Europe and as soon as we got back to Europe Carl and I were going to pick up a boat and sail it out.

Carl had commitments to BMW Oracle Racing in the Louis Vuitton Acts, and couldn’t really do any Star sailing. So, I had organised David Giles to come over for a month, and we did two regattas - Lake Garda and then the Eastern European Championships. We did a lot of training and a lot of work on the boat as well. Then David went home to Australia, and was back again for Star Regatta in Kiel (Germany).

Each time we’ve done a regatta we’ve had a plan to get there at least four days before the start. Get in the boat, do a bit of sailing. With the Star you’ve got to do quite a bit of work to maintain them, especially the older ones like our boat. After Kiel we were our way to the to the Europeans and then onto San Francisco for the Worlds .

SW: So how many regattas total have you done?

Pepper: I did three in Miami, two of those were just weekend regattas. Up to Kiel I’d done seven. Then after Kiel I was going to do some training with some French guys but we decided to go to Cascais (Portugal) and did a small regatta there, because Carl had time off from BMW Oracle. Then we did the Travemunde Regatta (Germany), another small regatta prior to the Europeans and then over to San Francisco. All told, we have done 11 regattas since we started in January.

SW: What boat are you sailing? How old is it?

Pepper: It is a 2004 vintage. One of its previous owners didn’t seem to have done too much work on it, so we have spent a lot of time getting all the controls working and trying to lighten it up. The boat was 9kg overweight. There were a few other small issues like that.

Many of the new boats have milled keels - which are a much nicer keel, than ours - and with a lot less bulk in the bulb of the keel. The new boat that we are in the process of building, will be top of the line and down to weight, and all those tiny little things that will hopefully give us a little more advantage.

SW: What were the other sailing? Were they sailing new boats?

Pepper: Yes, a lot of the guys have new boats, Xavier Rohart (FRA) has got a brand new boat, Iain Percy (GBR) was using his boat from the 2004 Olympics but that was a special one with a milled keel. Freddie Loof (SWE) has a brand new boat. Robert Scheidt (BRA) has got a brand new boat, which he took delivery of just before the Spa regatta.. So there are a lot of new boats out there and we just need to get into that. These guys seem to be going pretty well with their new gear.

SW: How did you find San Francisco? Were you geared up for it to be a heavy air regatta?

Pepper: Yes, when we first arrived and with all the training before hand we were training with a lot of breeze- typical San Francisco conditions. And then for the regatta the weather turned light which isn’t too surprising for this time of year in San Francisco. But I think it shocked a few people not to have an 20-25 knot days. In saying that we were going really well in the breeze as well, we weren’t too concerned with what conditions we got, we just knew we had to sail well, get good starts and have good speed. As it turned out there were good testing conditions and I enjoy those conditions because it is very technical race. It is something I have enjoyed in the Laser, and all the classes I’ve sailed is that those conditions are very testing. That probably helped us for this regatta.

SW: Do you think the other guys went into it with a fresh air mentality and expectation?

Pepper: For sure, Freddy Loof, who did well in the last few races, was probably one of the favourites and Xavier was obviously a favourite, there were a lot of people who could have won this regatta. If it had been this week or the week before. It could have been a totally different result. Every dog has their day I suppose.

SW: Where to from here for you and Carl?

Pepper: We both leave here and go back to Valencia, on Monday. We are both trying to get our boats across to Miami. It is an expensive exercise (about $4,000 just to get there) and we are just trying to work out how to do that. Then we are in Miami in a month’s time for the North Americans.

We are going to do basically 10 days training before that. Carl and I have probably only sailed together for 30-35 days, so we are still working on our development and teamwork and boat handling. For us, it is important to have time in the boat before the regattas so that we can utilize a coach, and try and develop our skills some more. We are getting Andy Escort to come across again, he was our coach over here and we need to work on a bunch of stuff that we need to do.

SW: What is the situation with coaching now? Is David Giles still with you?

Pepper: He is still firmly part of it, I want to utilize him as much as I can next year because of Carl’s commitment to the America’s Cup. For my sake, and the Olympics sake, hopefully he doesn’t quite make it to the America’s Cup – so we can get back to the boat earlier and have a good chance of defending our world title.

The North Americans are going to be the last chance for Carl and I in the boat together this November. Then it is July. So when he is committed there I hope to employ David Giles again and have a pretty similar campaign as we had last year and do the major regattas and work on getting our new boat up to speed. There are little things, boat handling, starting, tactics.

SW: The 2007 World Championship is going to clash with the 2007 America’s Cup. So how is that going to work, for you?

Pepper: Hopefully, the plan is that I sail with David Giles, until Carl gets released from the America’s Cup. I’ve tentatively talked to David about it and I am keen to do similar things this next year, as we did this year.

However, it is a funding thing for me, really. These campaigns all costs money and it’s an expensive class as it is. We’ve got to buy a 60,000 euro boat at the end of this year, and have to pay for that somehow. Plus there’s the campaign cost, sails and that sort of thing.

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