The three-time British Olympic medalist is in Puerto Calero, calling tactics for Torbjörn Törnqvist oboard Artemis Racing at the RC44 World Championship. We caught up with him and talked about his new role as Team Manager and the present and future of the team and the America’s Cup.
VSail.info: Let’s start with a personal question. How does it feel to go from flying AC72’s that were doing 50 knots to sailing the RC44’s that do 15?
Iain Percy: It’s a very different boat! You get very used to the speed and certainly it does feel quite slow. It’s funny because when you go from a slow monohull to a catamaran for the first time, they feel very similar in terms of the challenges. When you go back the other way it feels very different, it never feels fast. The AC72’s are incredibly fun boats to sail, they are truly awesome bits of kit. They, obviously, have to be treated with huge respect, something that, as a team, we probably know more than anyone but they are incredible bits of engineering and design and produce the fastest boat upwind and downwind that has ever been by any margin.
VSail.info: As a tactician, what is trickier for you? An AC72 or an RC44?
Iain Percy: It’s funny, I had thought and people would have thought that your decision-making must be much faster on a bigger boat but the truth of it is that on any big boat, be it an AC72 or an RC44, you can’t do a maneuver 10 seconds after the last maneuver. You always have to wait for 30 seconds, so you still have the same amount of time to make those decisions that you do. In some ways, in the Star class or the RC44’s where there are 14 boats, you have to make quicker decisions because suddenly a boat below you will tack and you will instantaneously have to decide what your response is. In some ways, in the older Version 5 boats or the AC72’s, you have that time. You made your maneuver and you have another 30 seconds before you do another straight away. The difference on the AC72’s is that in those 30 seconds you traveled a lot of distance.
VSail.info: What is the next small boat you will sail now? The Moth?
Iain Percy: I wanted to sail a Moth and I asked my friend Adam May who works for Artemis Racing. He said I wasn’t allowed to sail it because I was too fat and I was going to break it. We are trying to find a solution to that with a different boat. We will do a lot of foiling in-house and that’s, obviously, the future of the America’s Cup. You see it everywhere, it is becoming the future of sailing as well. It is a real step change, it’s a cool feeling and it’s incredibly efficient.
However, the focus now for myself and Artemis Racing is to build a strong team, capable of winning and dominating the America’s Cup arena. That’s our goal, that’s Torbjörn’s goal. Artemis went through some very tough times last year and some real highs when we managed to race against all the odds. It’s time now to show we are a winning team, a serious, professional team that is going to win the next America’s Cup. That’s the team we are building right now, quietly, as we tend to do, not always to the pleasure of everyone else, including the press, but we get on with our business quietly, respectfully to all our competitors. This is the way Torbjörn likes it, the way he is as a man. We are very professional and with a real will to win.
VSail.info: I’d like to step back to the previous America’s Cup. Artemis Racing was one of the teams that started very early, as early as the fall of 2010, had ample resources and became the Challenger of Record. However, it suffered from a series of very serious setbacks that culminated with the unfortunate and tragic accident last May. In hindsight, looking back, what were the errors the team committed? What lessons did you draw so that you avoid repeating them in this America’s Cup?
Iain Percy: Huge lessons! To be fair, I think that all teams that did this new challenge for the first time learnt a lot and you learn from doing things badly. Like everyone else we learnt through both, through making mistakes. I wasn’t very involved until after the 2012 Olympics but I must say that in the final 6-8 months, because of guys like Bart, Nathan or Iain Jensen, the feeling in the camp was absolutely incredible. I have, personally, never worked in such a politics-free team, such a hard-working, driven team. Where we were for most of the time I experienced, there was very little wrong. We are now going to be one team, in one venue, concentrating on winning the America’s Cup. This is probably our central message.
VSail.info: In what regards the 34th America’s Cup as an event how would you assess it? What do you think were its strong points and where do you think it could be improved? Do you have any criticism regarding the organization, the format or what you personally think should be done?
Iain Percy: One thing I never doubted was that Larry’s and Russell’s vision, what they truly believed, was going to be the best for our sport and the best for the America’s Cup. I always supported that, I never was one of those cynics and, in the end, I think that the final product proved to be a step transformation for our sport. Finally, it was very appealing to the non-sailing public as well as the sailing public. Like we all learnt from our good and bad things, I’m sure the event will too. I think it’s clear that both on the safety side and the cost side, it would be good to increase safety and reduce costs, so that we have more teams.
VSail.info: This means you personally think there should be more teams. Isn’t the America’s Cup after all meant to be just for the Torbjörn Törnqvists and Larry Ellisons of the world?
Iain Percy: I think the America’s Cup will always be exclusive, it will always be the premiere event and it’s never going to be an event for the masses. This is clear, it never has been and never will be. This is precisely part of its appeal. For centuries we had the involvement of people like Sir Thomas Lipton and it’s always going to be the pinnacle and premiere. Just like Formula 1 or Premier League Football, it’s an expensive game. However, there is a balance. You can make it so exclusive that just one man in the world can afford it and you can go down to the Optimist level where you have hundreds and thousands of people.
I think that collectively, ourselves, Torbjörn and the other teams would like to see a few more teams involved. It doesn’t need to be a huge event, we want to keep it exclusive and we want to keep the “wow” factor in there and a few of the things that were breathtaking, not just on TV but also from the shore. I think that requires a certain boat size but for sure we support very much the efforts of Oracle and we are regularly communicating with them about cost, trying to get that balance just right. You want to keep the development element as much as possible, the excitement and the “wow” factor, that also comes from the development.
VSail.info: Everybody’s raging about foiling but, after all, it wouldn’t have existed if Emirates Team New Zealand hadn’t developed it!
Iain Percy: Absolutely and that’s another thing I have huge respect for them, having led the development side of that cycle, but there is a balance. We are trying to bring the costs down by 20-30% so that the next Cup can include a few more enthusiasts of our sport, companies and commercial partners, to join and make it slightly bigger.
VSail.info: That would also allow your buddy Ben Ainslie to find the adequate corporate funding and come in with a British team, wouldn’t it?
Iain Percy: That would be great. I’m really proud of what he’s trying to achieve. It takes a lot to take that on. He’s genuinely trying to be a businessman as well as a successful sailor. Whether he succeeds or not takes nothing away from the effort he’s putting in, which I think is fantastic for the sport. He’s a huge name for our sport, he’s a good friend but also incredible competitor. It takes personalities like him to take our sport beyond its traditional public and as a result, I really support what he’s doing. I talk to him regularly and I wish him very well with that.
VSail.info: If at the end, unfortunately, he’s unable to come up with the necessary funding for the British team, will you hire him for Artemis Racing?
Iain Percy: We are currently building a team independent of that, we have to. Myself and Ben are pretty open with each other that we don’t need to play games with each other, after knowing him for 30 years. We at Artemis Racing need to build a team that is capable of winning and dominating the Cup arena. We are going ahead doing that.
VSail.info: If I’m not mistaken, the official title you have in Artemis Racing is Team Manager. Does this mean there will, eventually, be a CEO in the team or are you the boss?
Iain Percy: Torbjörn and myself wanted to pick a name that was a little bit less hierarchical. It is quite significant, we don’t want to have a team that has too many layers, we are a flatter structure and Torbjörn has ran his business in this way. It was a subtle but significant change in the title for the leadership of the team. in some ways, even in business, the almighty CEO title is going away and this is ironically coming out of California. Companies are working now in a slightly more collaborative way, maybe with strong leadership and direction, but not necessarily in a hierarchical top-down layer structure. Torbjörn is very innovative in his business and although it is a subtle name change, it is significant.
VSail.info: Will you be onboard the boat?
Iain Percy: Yes, if, of course, I’m up to standard.
VSail.info: Can you be the team manager, CEO or call it what you like and at the same time sail?
Iain Percy: I think if you have a lot of support you can. If you look at all the successful Cups, probably before this one, the leadership of the team came from the boat. You can think of Brad, Russell and Dennis before that, it was very unusual for the team leader not to be intrinsically involved in the boat.
VSail.info: Russell Coutts won the Cup without going onboard.
Iain Percy: That’s why I said before this Cup. This was probably the first time with Russell a CEO that wasn’t sailing. You can do it in both ways but technically it doesn’t hurt to be that type. You win the America’s Cup by going faster the right way and starting better. We can’t lose sight of that and if you’re on the boat, you’re living it, and you bring it back home to the base when you make decisions. It’s much easier.
VSail.info: In a recent statement by Torbjörn Törnqvist on Bloomberg, you and Nathan Outteridge are the nucleus of the core group that will form Artemis Racing. Will Nathan be again the helmsman?
Iain Percy: We aren’t going to make these announcements right now. We are building a team and it’s going to be a very, very strong one. It won’t be long before we make any announcements, both on the sailing and design side, that, I think, will impress the people who study this game closely and you will realize what I mean when I say we are very serious about dominating this game.
VSail.info: I look forward to reading that impressive press release. However, you still haven’t officially challenged for the 35th America’s Cup. When are you going to do that?
Iain Percy: Torbjörn has made no bounds about his ambitions to win the America’s Cup. The only thing, of course, we need to check are the rules of the competition… [Laughs] There is absolutely no cynicism in that, we are in regular contact with Russell and Oracle Team and we share very much their vision on where to take things. We don’t foresee any problem there but I think it would be prudent to wait and see what the rules are before we make that final commitment.
VSail.info: You stated a few minutes ago that one of the things you were working on was a 20-30% reduction in costs. How would you do that? Will a smaller boat bring down costs or should the next Cup also be sailed with the AC72’s?
Iain Percy: I don’t think that size is particularly the crucial factor. There has been some talk about a slightly smaller boat and to me that wouldn’t matter, to a point. Myself and Torbjörn talked a lot about this because we watched quite a lot of that fantastic final from the shore and it is important to know that, even though they are huge boats with huge wings, you couldn’t get that much smaller and still be able to watch it well from the shore. That is quite an important element of bringing that to the people of San Francisco and to those that travel to watch it. I would, personally, be happy to see a slightly smaller boat to save costs and increase safety to some extent, which is also very important.
But, the way you really reduce costs is by reducing the amount of people you have involved and you have to look at how you do that. This is something we are doing quite collaboratively in our discussions and one thing Russell is looking really hard at is how to best reduce numbers of people, number of design hours, number of sailing hours without reducing from the event. There will be a one-design element involved in that.
VSail.info: Are you in favor of incorporating one-design elements in the new America’s Cup boat?
Iain Percy: Yes but with a lot of careful forethought. I come from a dinghy background where I have seen one-designs like the 49er which I don’t think it is necessarily right when you see the top 49er sailors having to buy 20 masts before they find the right one. My opinion is that when the boats get more and more critical and technical it’s much harder for them to be one-design.
If you supply equipment where even half a millimeter makes a difference, like daggerboards, you open up the event to a lot of problems if someone suddenly feels they were supplied with a poor set of daggerboards. It would become the story of the Cup and that would be a real shame. Let the guys build their own daggerboards, it’s a small design sphere and it wouldn’t really affect the cost very much. There are bigger items of the boat, maybe an element of the wing, the beams maybe or some other elements of the boat that organizers can overbuild, supply, make them very safe without affecting performance too much.
That’s the key point for me, to find the elements that aren’t critical to performance because that would be a difficult game for me. It’s also the interesting part for both the public to watch and the teams to do: Daggerboards, hull shapes, to some extent maybe the elements of the wing and the mechanical systems. These are the things that are extremely exciting and interesting to watch and understand for an increasingly technical viewing public. But how do we cut costs? We have to look at one-design elements without really affecting performance. You see that in Formula 1 all the time. There are elements they try to keep the same to keep the costs down but they are also trying to keep as much of the design element for the spectators that very much enjoy that aspect.
VSail.info: We are sitting right now in the Puerto Calero marina and right in front of us we have the Team SCA VO65. There you have an example of race organizers that go all the way to one-design where everything except clothing, food and logos will be strictly the same.
Iain Percy: For me that’s gone a little bit too far. I think it takes away an interest from technical partners. I think that one thing that differentiates our sport is its so visibly incredible technology. That aspect is very attractive to partners that are in that sphere. I think that could be another slight danger, if commercial partners can’t be seen to be making a technical difference. It might distract them from wanting to be in the sport.
VSail.info: Another major unknown is the date of the next America’s Cup. Conventional wisdom wants it to take place either on 2016 or 2017. Do you have any preference?
Iain Percy: I don’t think Torbjörn Törnqvist minds particularly but we don’t want it to be too long away. It’s also very tricky with the Olympic year, in 2016, and it would have to be 2017 if they want to encourage new teams, as early in the year you can in San Francisco. It was a fantastic venue and there aren’t many places in the world that allow you to guarantee start times and wind conditions every day. There are a few but San Francisco is the home town of the Defender. For me, I can see no reason why it wouldn’t be in San Francisco in 2017, unless they have issues locally.
VSail.info: If it’s in 2017, as early in the year as possible as you stated, would San Francisco be the ideal venue in, let’s say, spring?
Iain Percy: It doesn’t have to be as late as September and I think we can start a little bit earlier, in May or June. I’ve been there for the last summer and conditions started getting pretty good as early as April. It wouldn’t be good over the winter as the conditions then wouldn’t make it viable. The seabreeze and the pressure difference, obviously, must be established and that comes in spring. It could be some time in the summer and we could move it a little bit forward but last time they tried to have it as late as possible.
VSail.info: Do you rule out 2016?
Iain Percy: It has always been a challenge for the Cup as the Olympics are a huge sports event, as is the World Football Cup. It’s hard to find the dates in which such a premier sporting event can stand alone and stand out. From a commercial standpoint it’s also good not to be in an Olympic year.
VSail.info: The city of Cagliari announced that Luna Rossa had officially requested space to have a base there for two-three years. Is this something Artemis Racing will do?
Iain Percy: Yes, you need to have a base but then again you don’t make any commitments until you absolutely know where it is exactly going to be held. If, for any reason, the Cup is in the Mediterranean or on the US East coast we would need a very different base than if it were in San Francisco. For sure, we are a technical sailing team and we will need a base to develop and train.
VSail.info: Short term, what is your goal on the eve of the RC44 World Championship? Is victory a feasible goal?
Iain Percy: Victory should always be your goal! This is my second regatta in the class and I really enjoyed the first one. Again, for me it has been a long time since I had done this style of grand-prix racing and there are some excellent teams here, full of past RC44 champions, America’s Cup sailors. For me it’s actually the start of the RC44 season even if it’s the end and for sure I haven’t been into any competition without wanting to win it and do as well as we possibly can. We will fight for every place in every race. Next year and the year after we will be doing the RC44 circuit and this has been a big part of Artemis Racing.
This has been a sailing team, not solely an America’s Cup team, for a lot of years and Torbjörn has been a huge supporter of a lot of classes, the TP52’s, the RC44’s and the D35’s. We look forward to the 2014 season and we will have more involvement from our America’s Cup guys, I will be more involved and that will be fantastic for a couple of reasons. Firstly, we will have the chance to develop and race a technical boat together. We will also have more time to interact with Torbjörn and having been through last year with him as the leader of the Cup team, each time we have his involvement we make smarter decisions.
VSail.info: Won’t that interfere with the America’s Cup World Series or whatever that America’s Cup circuit is called?
Iain Percy: Artemis Racing and Torbjörn were active in the RC44 class in the past and that hasn’t clashed with the America’s Cup campaign. We are going to commit to the RC44 class and I think it’s a great boat for us as a squad and I don’t think the America’s Cup will ramp up that much for a little while and that fits very well. It gives us the opportunity to develop our team before the AC45 or whatever circuit they produce.
VSail.info: Are you in favor of the AC45 circuit continuing as well?
Iain Percy: Yes, I think that everyone felt it was a real success. It was fun to do, it was great for the spectators. Fleet racing is exciting and always gave good capsizes. The AC45’s are great boats that can capsize safely, they never break. Artemis Racing had 14 capsizes and nobody was hurt. I think it’s a fantastic boat, very well designed by Oracle Team and it was a good circuit. I look forward to Oracle taking the lead again and don’t forget that takes a lot of investment in time and money that Oracle did last time. We are very grateful and we hope they will do it again this time because it is good for our sport. It is very good for sailing, it is fun for the teams to do and builds interest among the spectators.