Right after the presentation of Estrella Damm’s boat and team, we spoke to Jonathan McKee, the American sailor that together with Guillermo Altadill will start off Barcelona next November and sail around the world.
Valencia Sailing: After a successful America’s Cup with Luna Rossa, you choose a completely different path. Why?
Jonathan McKee I really enjoyed the America’s Cup as well as my experience with Luna Rossa but I always wanted to experience different styles of sailing and races and put myself in different situations. For me this is an opportunity to do something completely different. This type of ocean racing, especially short handed ocean racing is something I have some experience with and which appeals to me a lot. One thing that’s great about it is how different it is compared to the America’s Cup, not only in the sailing itself but in that the team is so much smaller and I can be much more involved in its overall decision-making and its personality. An individual sailor rarely has this involvement in the America’s Cup.
Valencia Sailing: You’ll be just two persons sailing together for more than three months. Can this lead to conflicts or problems?
Jonathan McKee For sure it’s difficult and can create conflicts. I’ll have less time with my family; I have a wife and two children and it’s not going to be easy being away for three months. Luckily there is technology that helps in that sense a little bit but still it’s a long time. That’s a positive aspect of the America’s Cup, you can go home every night and be with your family. It’s a much more family-friendly environment. On the other side, this race will be over quite quickly. It lasts three months, it finishes an then you are on to your next assignment, while the America’s Cup last almost 4 years.
Valencia Sailing: Why did you specifically choose the Barcelona World Race and not the Volvo Ocean Race or any other round-the-world race?
Jonathan McKee For me the idea of going double-handed is much more appealing than going single-handed. Compared to the Vendée Globe this is a much more interesting race and more fun. You have more sleep, you share the duties and responsibilities and I’m sure I’ll enjoy it more. As to the Volvo Ocean Race, I also think it’s a very interesting one; it has a different dynamic with more crew, in-port races and stopovers. It’s also a much longer race. It’s an appealing challenge as well and it’s not out of question I would do it also.
Valencia Sailing: What’s your view on the boats of the race, the IMOCA Open 60?
Jonathan McKee I think that technically they are very interesting boats and it’s a very open design platform. Don’t forget that a lot of the big developments in sailing have been pioneered in this class and if you look at the boats they are really incredible ocean racing machines. Having being around for quite a lot of time they are very refined now. They have become more powerful which makes it more difficult for the single-handed type of sailing and better suited to the double-handed. Still the sails are big and moving them around, putting them up or down is a big challenge in a race for only two sailors. That will be one of the big challenges of the race. Nevertheless, they are really fun to sail and just the sensation of sailing them, the speeds achieved is very appealing.
Valencia Sailing: Are there big difference among the 9 boats of the race, at least you are aware of? Better said, do you expect to see big difference?
Jonathan McKee That remains to be seen! Seven of the boats are basically new. Between these latest-generation boats differences will be small. Some will probably be more prepared than others. Some have been on the water for a longer time while some are simply further along on their development cycle. There are two older boats that will certainly be improved but speed wise they are probably not as quick as the newer ones.
Valencia Sailing: So, is this a technology race or a human one? How important is the human factor?
Jonathan McKee The human factor certainly outweighs the technology factor by a big margin. In a race like this, the technology comes in more in the reliability of the boat rather than its pure speed. Very often you are not at 100% of efficiency or capacity. As I said, the new boats will be reasonably close in speed. Probably some boats will have their strong points in an area or another, depending on how they are set up, their sail plan but in the end it’s more about the people and how they sail the boat, the seamanship and probably more than anything is the preparation. If you can make it around without any major breakage, that’s a huge part of this race.
Valencia Sailing: How difficult is the route the organizers have chosen? What is its trickiest point? Approximately half of the race will be around Antarctica.
Jonathan McKee Yes, you do go around Antarctica. For sure it will be one of the most challenging parts of the race but mainly from a pure endurance standpoint. There is a lot of wind, waves and it’s really cold and very isolated. That part of the race is hard although not technically challenging. I think the Atlantic part of the race is more likely where you win or lose overall. You can gain a lot of miles by good tactical choices. Being at the right place at the right time can mean hundreds of miles whereas in the southern ocean it’s more about seamanship, keeping the boat together and a consistent pace and above all avoid any breakages.
Valencia Sailing: In what stage are your preparations for the race, 6 weeks before its start.
Jonathan McKee We are now at the final stages of our preparation. We are trying to focus on improving some of the systems of the boat and their reliability. We haven’t sailed the boat as much as we would have liked either and we are still learning how to sail it. There is still a number of things to do and as a result we are having a tight schedule for the next 6 weeks.
Valencia Sailing: Finally, you had to abandon the Rolex Fastnet last August because of problems with the keel. What’s the situation now?
Jonathan McKee We think the problem has been solved and we have taken care of that issue. Since that incident we sailed 4,000 miles. It was not a structural issue, it was electronics.