Thursday was day off for most of the teams in Valencia and we visited the Shosholoza base to talk to Paolo Cian, helmsman of the first ever South African America’s Cup challenger. Despite the calm in the rest of Port America’s Cup, the South Africans were busy preparing Saturday’s unveiling ceremony, allegedly full of surprises.
Valencia Sailing: Louis Vuitton Act 13 and the Louis Vuitton Cup are just around the corner. What are your expectations?
Paolo Cian: Our first goal for Louis Vuitton Act 13 is to get the extra bonus point and pass from 1 to 2. In order to assure that we have to be ranked above both +39 Challenge and Areva Challenge. Obviously, all our preparation has been focused on the Round Robins of the Louis Vuitton Cup. This has been our program since the first day of sailing in 2007 with the modified RSA-83. As you know, the boat has undergone major changes in hull shape and appendages and there has also been a massive improvement in the sail program. We are very happy with the performance of the boat, especially in the light to medium-air range. For that reason I’m confident we can earn points no only against our similar-level teams but even against the bigger ones.
Valencia Sailing: Captain Sarno has stated many times that his goal for Shosholoza is to reach the Louis Vuitton Cup semifinals. Is that just a beautiful dream or a feasible target?
Paolo Cian: No, I don’t think it’s a dream. It is clearly related to wind conditions. The three top teams (Emirates Team NZ, BMW Oracle and Luna Rossa) have what I call a statistical advantage. They are the most reliable in the majority of conditions. But I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them was beaten by a smaller team in a day with out-of-range wind conditions. If you have one or two days with wind out of your range and start losing 1 or 2 points it wouldn’t be impossible to get out of the semifinals, even for a big team.
Valencia Sailing: Why should this happen only to bigger teams and not the smaller ones as well, like Shosholoza?
Paolo Cian: Of course, but there are more small teams ready to steal points in their conditions. Even if you are a strong team and get caught out of your usual range and start losing 2-3 points in ranges where smaller teams could beat you, it’s not that difficult to get in trouble. As a result, I think that getting into the semifinals is a feasible goal, obviously not only for us but for Victory Challenge, Desafío Español, of course, as well as Mascalzone Latino Capitalia Team and Areva Challenge. It’s going to be tough though for all of us.
Paolo Cian at the helm of RSA-83 (Press play to start video)
Valencia Sailing: Concerning your performance, I have personally watched a number of your training races against other challengers and I must admit I was pleasantly surprised. Should we pay any attention to these results? Do they reflect the real situation of the teams?
Paolo Cian: The teams that are on the same level normally will do their best to win a training race. I don’t think either that a big team racing a smaller one would want to lose, even in training. Now if you see a big gap, maybe the bigger team pulled back in order not to increase it even further. On the other hand, if the race is close you should watch it carefully and know at what moment the leader got in front and took control. I wouldn’t be surprised if the bigger teams are in control since the start of the race but even if a smaller teams starts in front, it is difficult to overtake.
Valencia Sailing: So, these results are important and reflect the conditions of a team.
Paolo Cian: Yes, but don’t forget that a fresher sail of a newer-generation shape can make a difference. Teams don’t always train with their best gear. In my opinion, the observer of a training race must take into account the whole picture; wind conditions, sea state, sails and the key moment of the race. If it’s a split race or a controlled one since the beginning. If there is an even start and a tacking duel that keeps to the weather mark then the performance of the two boats is very similar. Every race has its own story and in order to interpret the result you need to know the whole picture.
Valencia Sailing: There is a general consensus that Shoholoza is one of the teams that improved the most in the last year or so. Is this entirely due to your and Tomaso Chieffi’s arrival or has the whole team greatly improved?
Paolo Cian: There are two important factors to remember. First, if you are near the bottom of a group, you have much more room to improve considerably. When you have reached a stage of last refinements, it is very difficult to see the change, even if it exists. In addition, it is normal for a young team to improve. It is the whole team that got better and in my opinion the biggest improvement took place since the last Louis Vuitton Act, last July. For this reason we are very happy with the work on the boat, the sails and the way we sail this boat.
Valencia Sailing: Did the fact that you are now the only helmsman have also a positive effect?
Paolo Cian: That decision was taken by the whole team together with Captain Sarno. I find it similar to the decision Areva Challenge took to have Sébastien Col as their helmsman. The reason we changed the configuration of the afterguard was the departure of Dee Smith. He was the tactician and Tomaso and I took mutually agreed the most consistent decision would be for me to helm the boat, as a match racer, and for him to call tactics and focus on race management.
Paolo Cian at the helm of RSA-83. Valencia, 11 October 2006. Photo copyright Pierre Orphanidis / Valencia Sailing
Valencia Sailing: How does the modified RSA-83 feel? In what areas do you see the most improvements?
Paolo Cian: I think the boat is faster and more maneuverable. One of her weakest points in the past was maneuverability in prestart, especially at a low speed. She mainly didn’t like cutting corners. Now she is much better and it is really impressive to see the difference after the modifications.
Valencia Sailing: How does she compare to the rest of the new fleet?
Paolo Cian: I think we now can rotate the boat as quick as the other teams and we can play real match race in prestart. She is now much more competitive in all conditions and prefers the light to medium range. I don’t think, unless we see some big surprise in Unveiling day, that any team has pushed their design to a direction focused on strong breeze. Of course, we know that two-boat teams have in advantage in match racing.
Valencia Sailing: That was exactly going to be my question. A couple of other smaller teams have two boats. Is that a disadvantage for you?
Paolo Cian: It depends on the way you manage it. It is not easy to manage two boats and I think that probably, Victory Challenge, Desafío Español and Mascalzone Latino Capitalia Team did a good job and carry out high-level in-house races. On the other hand, the relaxation of the rules allows us to carry out match races with other teams and this is very efficient because you have two A teams fighting each other, instead of an A team against a B team. In an in-house race one of the boats is always stronger in a given wind range and as their names imply one team is inherently better than the other one. All in all there is a small disadvantage in having just one boat but in our case it’s not that important.
Valencia Sailing: Last but not least, which of the challengers is in your opinion the strongest?
Paolo Cian: I think that up to now, Emirates Team NZ show having the best preparation. I’m sure they worked very well during their winter training in New Zealand. BMW Oracle is also very well prepared although they were slightly slower with their first boat USA-87. They changed her dramatically, a sign they were unhappy with her performance. All the other challengers also worked hard here in Valencia but still Team New Zealand is the strongest in my view.
Valencia Sailing: Thanks a lot. I suppose I can’t wish you good luck.
Paolo Cian: No! Never to an Italian!