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Alinghi’s Peter Holmberg talks to Val Doan

The Caribbean’s
own Peter Holmberg has had an extremely busy year and has proved his worth to Alinghi many
times over.

The lead up to the
America’s
Cup is in a race format called Acts which are raced in the Cup boats in a fleet
race format. This is very exciting to watch because there is so much more going
on than in a two-boat match race. As you can see from the results, Alinghi dominated
at all the events with Team New Zealand,
Oracle, and Luna Rosa battling it out for top spots. Peter shared helming
duties with Jochen Schuemann
and Ed Baird.

Act 4 Valencia,
Spain 1st Holmberg helmed

Act 5 Valencia,
Spain
2nd Holmberg helmed

Act 6
Malmo-Skane,
Sweden 1st Schuemann helmed

Act 7
Malmo-Skane,
Sweden 1st Schuemann helmed

Act 8
Trapani, Italy 1st
Baird helmed

Act 9
Trapani, Italy 1st
Baird helmed

What were the highlights of this year’s events?

“Winning Act 4 was huge
for us. It was the first event of this new cup cycle that we put our full
effort into. The design team optimized the boat and sails to version 5.0 of the
rule and we did a fair amount of two-boat testing, making some mode changes to
the boat. Plus, we did some race practice. So to win against some strong
challengers who had also fully prepared gives us great satisfaction that we
outperformed the competition in this first test.”

Was the announcement of Brad Butterworth as Alinghi‘s skipper
expected? Does it make any difference to how you or the team was operating

“No surprise at all. Brad
is our most senior member and had already been performing this role in the team. It is a nice reward for Brad and he deserves the
honor and title. It also better reflects the current roles and positions on
board race boats these days, where the driver is one of the specialist
positions, and not necessarily the skipper.”

Brad seems like a cool operator under pressure. Does it
reflect on how the team operates as a whole?

“Yes, Brad is a low-key
person, which is a nice attribute in this sport. This is also a team of true
professionals with heaps of experience, so what you see is mostly a class act.
Whenever you have that depth of talent, you tend to operate in the
‘cool’ mode. It’s the same in all sports. You prepare and
train properly and you tend to be relaxed and in control when the heat gets
turned on.”

Are you happy with how your team is shaping up, or are
there issues to resolve?

“We are very happy as a team to be where we are. But
we know that we have to continue making forward progress to stay ahead of the
field, so we must keep pushing ourselves very hard.”

Q What are your thoughts on doing the Acts as a lead up to
the AC-does it enhance the training process, getting to know the competition
and keep the whole program interesting or does it distract from focusing on the
final event?

“There are pros and cons
with everything, but in general the Acts have proven to be a huge success. They
keep the Cup alive and active in the years between events. They give the
sponsors six events per year, rather than one big one at the end. The defender
and the challengers get a chance to guage themselves,
to have some real racing, and the smaller teams get help improving. We as the
defender get to play with the others rather than being isolated as in the past.
The main difficulty for us is that we have a lot of down-time with one of our
boats being on the road for a few months, so we need to better schedule the
Acts so that we can also do our critical testing in the good weather
months.”

How is it working out personally sharing the helm with Ed
Baird and Jochen Shuemann

“We are very happy with
our program of having three drivers. The three of us get along well and buy
into the concept of honest and healthy competition. We actively rotate, which
allows us to see more of the other roles and the bigger picture than when we
are driving. In addition, when we are not driving we play the strategist and
tactical roles onboard which again gives us another perspective and great
cross-training to better our driving skills. It also allows us to continue our
two-boat testing program if one of us is away or at a match race event.

Our goat is to grow the talent
within the team so that we can make the most of our two-boat testing and
racing. To achieve this, we mix the crew around, pair the veteran sailors with
the less experienced and rotate crew in the acts. It worked well for us this
year and we will review everything at the end of the season and set our goals
for the two years ahead.”

Do you think the rule banning departing crew from joining
another team fair?

“Yes, I think there needs
to be some restraint on players moving to other teams, just like in other
sports. To protect the sponsors, protect the intellectual properties of each
team, to not confuse the public and to prevent bidding wars, there should be
these restraints.

I don’t think it’s
good for the individuals or the teams for crew to hop around from team to team.
What does it say about your decision-making process and your commitment if you
change teams often and mid-stream?”

Would you like to see an International Match Race event
come to the BVI? What advantages to potential sponsors and the community would
come out of holding this event in Tortola?

“Having an international match race in the
Virgin Islands would be great for everyone – the
sponsors, the community, the sport, tourism etc. It is different to our annual
fleet events (BVI Spring Regatta etc). Because it can be brought close to shore
for spectator viewing, it is easy to follow by the general public with only two
opponents racing at one time and it is more marketable on television. Our VI
Match Race in the late 1990s was a huge success on all these fronts. It just
takes a sponsor and an organizer to make it happen.”

Final thoughts from Peter about the whole experience

“Living in
Spain has been culturally different
and challenging. It has been great to step out of my comfort zone and enjoy
life in general, although both Denise and I are missing our Caribbean
home and of course family and friends.”

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