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Peter Holmberg – Interview with Val Doan

Editor’s note: Olympian and America’s Cup veteran Peter Holmberg, a Caribbean export, is now preparing for next year’s Cup in Valencia, Spain as a member of Team Alinghi, defending its 5-0 victory in March 2003 over Team New Zealand. The lead up for Cup boats has been a series of races called the Acts.

AAS: Can you give us a rundown of what races you have done this year?

PH: Our year has primarily been devoted to testing and development of our Cup boats, but we did Act 10 & 11 in May, Act 12 in June, and the St. Moritz Match Race in Switzerland in August. The priority at this stage of the campaign is still on developing faster boats and sails through our two boat testing program. We will soon shift our focus to racing and begin an aggressive in-house race program to get us all ready in time for the Cup in June ’07.

AAS: Racing in the Acts has given you insight into how the other teams are gearing up. As you see it now, who are your toughest challengers?

PH: In order of strength, I see it as Team New Zealand, BMW Oracle, and Luna Rosa being the best three Challengers.

AAS: Any teams that are doing better than everyone expected?

PH: The Swedish and the South African teams are two that are making some smart moves and big enough steps that could get them into that final 4 of the top Challengers.

AAS: Unlike other cups where you would be the unknown quantity, this time there has been racing between the Defender and the Challengers in the Acts. How does laying your cards on the table affect the whole feel going into the final year?

PH: Racing against the Challengers in the lead up to the Cup has changed the game a bit, but all for the better. Sure, they have gained by measuring themselves against us, but we have also gained by having a "real" check-in with the Challengers. It will probably result in a closer match in the Cup, rather than the 5-0, one-sided matches we have seen for the last several Cups.

AAS: It seems like it would certainly be much more interesting competing on a regular basis, rather than just doing two boat testing. But does the time away from base break the concentration level, or does it enhance because of the level of intensity?

PH: The long hours of testing can get tiring and dull, but on the other hand, the experiments we are doing are truly fascinating and we are learning heaps about making boats go faster. It is also important to realize the critical difference between the America’s Cup and, let’s say, the Olympics. The Cup allows the freedom to design your own boat within set parameters, so it only makes sense to first work hard on developing a fast boat. Faster boats have won the America’s Cup every time! At a certain stage of the campaign, we will shift our focus to serious racing so that our sailing skills are also at their best in case we end up with an equal or slower boat than the competition.

AAS: Are any other teams going to warmer climates for training this winter?

PH: Yes there are several teams that are going somewhere else in the winter months when the wind in Valencia is not suitable for training. We have decided to go to Dubai where the conditions are very similar to Spain in the summer (8-14kts), and we hear that Team New Zealand and BMW Oracle are both going to New Zealand for the winter months.

AAS: What are the major challenges you are faced with daily on Alinghi? As a Team member and on a personal level.

PH: The greatest challenge for me professionally is to be sharp and consistent on a daily basis so that my driving and speed help us gather the correct data from our tests. On a personal level, one of the biggest challenges of a long campaign with a large group of diverse personalities is to keep everything positive and healthy, so I try to help eliminate politics and keep us focused on our goal of beating the competition.

AAS: Now that you are into the final countdown to the Cup, what is your prime focus going to be as far as boat and team development.

PH: The early stages of the campaign are devoted to the projects with the longer lead time, such as hull and rig design and construction. Once our second boat design is finalized, we will then focus on the projects with the shorter time lines such as sail and appendage development and race practice.

AAS: It is always said that spending the millions on boat development benefits Joe Sailor later on. Any latest and greatest innovations that have come out of the last three years of development that you think will have a positive impact on yachting in general?

PH: There definitely are developments made through our extensive testing program that will benefit the entire sailing community. Some, of course, will only benefit high-end racing programs, but most everything trickles down to the entire industry. Some of these developments are absolutely incredible, but unfortunately I can not tell you about them until after the Cup! Some of the obvious developments are the precise load measuring we do of all parts and components, which helps the entire industry build more accurately. Others include roaches on genoas (free sail area), inflatable battens (lighter and don’t break), and sail materials and designs that are stronger and faster.

AAS: It sounds like Valencia is on track as far as the infrastructure to handle the Cup next spring. Is it more viewer-friendly this time around?

PH: I am really impressed with what the Spanish are accomplishing here and the vision they have for the Cup in Europe. They really are taking some huge steps for the Cup, and for the sport in general, and moving it much further into the realm of other professional sports. They have purpose built an entire basin to house the 12 Cup team bases and two huge marinas, in addition to restaurants, shops, playgrounds, etc. The public has free access to all of it, and on race days there are thousands of people wondering about. It is very much like going to any of the other major sporting events, like Formula One or Football. The start line is also only 1/2 mile off the beach and directly outside the marina, so the spectacle can be seen from shore if you don’t have access to a spectator boat. It really is shaping up to be a great event which should benefit our sport as a whole, and create more opportunities for a career in sailing, something which could benefit some of the great young talent we have coming out of the Caribbean these days.

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