The first foiling champions in Extreme Sailing Series™ history are ready to go again
Ernesto Bertarelli has had outstanding success in world sailing, not least winning the America’s Cup twice, but the Extreme Sailing Series™ still thrills him and the Alinghi owner would love nothing more this year than to successfully defend the title his team won in 2016.
Co-skippered by Bertarelli and the young Swiss gunslinger Arnaud Psarofaghis, the Alinghi crew became the first winners in the foiling era of the Extreme Sailing Series after an exciting season-long battle against Oman Air skippered by Morgan Larson, a former winner of the Series with Alinghi.
Bertarelli loves the Series and its key attributes – one-design boats, fair competition, innovative technology, international teams and iconic venues - that see him returning each year for more. He has no doubt that the Extreme Sailing Series is what he calls the “reference” in terms of global foiling multihull racing.
“The Extreme Sailing Series never fails to deliver a great circuit where there is an ever-increasingly good balance between sport and spectacle,” he said. “My passion for the sport of sailing is, I think, echoed by the Extreme Sailing Series.”
Bertarelli knows how to build championship-winning sailing teams and his crew on the GC32 – which in addition to Psarofaghis is made up of Timothé Lapauw, Yves Detrey, Nils Frei and Nicolas Charbonnier – draws its strength from its group ethic. Bertarelli has always valued teamwork more highly than almost anything else in one of the world’s most complex sports.
“Alinghi just has this superb team ethic, something I’ve always put at the forefront of what we try to do,” he says. “It’s not just the guys on the boat, but also a superb technical team including coach Pierre-Yves Jorand and shore crew David Nikles and João Cabeçadas.”
The 2016 championship win that was sealed in the penultimate race of the final Act of the season in Sydney, was certainly not easy, as Psarofaghis and his crew fought tooth and nail with Morgan Larson and the team on Oman Air. Bertarelli admits that his boys had to dig deep to get to the top and clinch the first foiling title in Extreme Sailing Series history.
“Coming up to the mid-season stage of the Series we knew we had a mammoth task ahead of us to beat our closest rivals at the time, Oman Air,” he explains. “This is where the hard work of the past years came into place; all the hours and hours of training together on the Lake (Geneva) came to fruition.
“It is precisely the richness and variety of experience of each member of the team that makes Alinghi stand out. Each member can share and express their own experience and ideas with the rest of the team, and spending as much time together as we do helps us to learn from one another and allows every member to up their game,” Bertarelli added.
Worryingly for their rivals Psarofaghis, an accomplished Moth dinghy racer described by Bertarelli as “one of the premier talents in sailing,” believes that there are lots of areas where the Alinghi crew can still improve. “I think we can gain everywhere,” he said.
One particular focus for 2017 will be trying to play the percentage game a little more when a race is going against the team. That means, for example, instead of trying to go for a big play that could produce a podium finish but also risks finishing in the cheap seats, Psarofaghis and his tactician Nicolas Charbonnier will try to go for a safer option that gives them a few points but avoids the risk of disaster.
“I think we need to limit the damage of bad races,” says Psarofaghis. “You need to take risks in the Extreme Sailing Series but we need to be careful not to throw everything on the table and be happy with a fourth or fifth and not end up with a ninth or tenth. That’s easy to say before you are racing but when you are out on the water it is really hard to make decisions that could be the difference between beating one boat or losing out against five others.”
Like his boss, Psarofaghis is a great believer in teamwork. For him it is a great thrill to race with a team he dreamt about sailing with as a youngster growing up on the shores of Lake Geneva. We asked the young skipper to run his rule over a talented group who will all be retained for the new campaign.
Ernesto Bertarelli (team principal, co-skipper and co-helm): “He is a really good sailor, fast on the helm and he has a nice feeling for the boat,” said Psarofaghis. “It is great to have him on board because he lifts our level and gives us extra energy to be even better and also everything is calmer when he is with us – he seems to settle us down well and we concentrate better as a result.”
Timothé Lapauw (floater): “His strength is that he is a really young and powerful guy – 95 kilos at just 20 years old. He is really strong and calm. We need calm people on the boat because I get stressed quite quickly.”
Yves Detrey (bowman): “During the manoeuvres he is the first to get to the new side of the boat and he manages the lift of the daggerboard – he knows everything about the boat and has a really good feeling of how to do the starts.”
Nils Frei (headsail trimmer): “It is so easy to sail with him because you don’t need to look at all and he will just tell you when you are on a good lane.”
Nicolas Charbonnier (tactician and mainsail trimmer): “He is brilliant at choosing the best option and taking everything into account. He will always have a solution – all of his calls are doable in terms of the fleet and where you are on the course.”
It’s an impressive unit and Alinghi will be a tough team to break down this year. Winning last time was one of the peak achievements in Psarofaghis’s career and he is eager to do it all over again, back-to-back. “It was a great moment in Sydney and we worked for it but the next hardest thing is to do it again because everyone will improve and many more people with experience will come into the fleet, so its going to be even harder this year,” he says.
Bertarelli is equally determined to try to impose Alinghi’s dominance on the fleet. He knows that SAP Extreme Sailing Team, Oman Air and Red Bull Sailing Team will be snapping at their heels but he is relishing the fight to come.
“Being the defending champions, we know that we have our work cut out, because we have become the ones to beat but also because – and this is what makes the Extreme Sailing Series so good – the standard of all of our competitors is so high,” he said. “It was always close and hard-fought racing and, given that all of the teams will continue to improve, we need to make sure we are ready to compete.”