Youth AC Skippers On ‘Invaluable Experience’

May 20, 2017

With the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup 2017 rapidly approaching, the next-generation skippers aged 18 to 24 are opening up about their training, the 45-foot foiling boats, and what they think it will be like to sail on Bermuda’s Great Sound this June.

“Participating in the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup will be an invaluable experience. Whether it be the Olympics or the America’s Cup, this is a huge step towards making our dreams come true,” says Ibuki Koizumi, who will skipper Kaijin Team Japan in June’s youth sailing regatta.

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The Japanese team is one of just 12 selected for the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup, which was conceived by Austrian double Olympic Gold Medalists Roman Hagara and Hans Peter Steinacher to provide an unprecedented path toward a career in the America’s Cup.

How seriously do the young team members aged 18 to 24 take the event that will fly on AC45F foiling catamarans?

Neil Hunter, skipper of Land Rover BAR Academy [GBR], explains, “We’ve been working towards this for over a year, competing in the Extreme Sailing Series. The goal from the beginning of this campaign has been the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup, so it is our main focus.”

One reason the sailors find the experience to be so valuable is that the AC45F foiling catamarans are the same boats used by professional sailors in the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series.

“We looked at some pictures of our training in March, and we all said, ‘Wow, we are on the AC45! It’s us!’ remembers Team France Jeune skipper Robin Follin. Six of the teams, including the French entry, are being mentored by America’s Cup teams, and Follin emphasizes, “That’s a real opportunity, also, to have one of the America’s Cup teams behind us.”

Some of the sailors are familiar with non-foiling AC45s from the first Red Bull Youth America’s Cup in San Francisco [2013]. Daniel Bjørnholt, current skipper of Youth Vikings Denmark, recalls, “I sailed the selections series for the last edition with the non-foiling boats, and they were great! It felt amazing on the water, so I can only expect this edition’s boats to exceed that. The competition is going to be close and exciting for sure.”

While the teams come from varied sailing backgrounds, all had to demonstrate exceptional competence to make the cut for June’s regatta, and the playing field is leveled somewhat by the fact that foiling is such a new way of sailing. Very few sailors – even professionals – have had the opportunity to fly an AC45F. Teams have each been limited to seven days of training on the cutting-edge catamaran before official practice begins in June, and they’re all eager to test the water on the Great Sound, in the same racecourse that will host the America’s Cup.

“The sailing waters in Bermuda are fantastic. The water on the Great Sound is crystal clear, and the conditions for foiling are perfect. The flat water and good breeze couldn’t be better for the AC45F,” says NZL Sailing Team skipper Logan Dunning Beck. “I think it will be spectacular.”

Team BDA [Bermuda] skipper Mackenzie Cooper couldn’t agree more: “Being the home team, we have spent a lot of time sailing on the Great Sound and feel very comfortable out there. I anticipate the racecourse being a tight one that’ll create some really close racing.”

After June’s practice sessions, Qualifiers kick off, with six teams in each of two pools. The top four teams from each pool will advance to the Finals.

What will it take to prevail? The skippers tend to share the opinion of Spanish Impulse skipper Jordi Xammar, who says, “Consistency will be the key. On these boats you pay a lot for a little mistake.”

Lukas Höllwerth, skipper of Austria’s Candidate Sailing Team, elaborates, “The key to success is to make fewer mistakes than your opponents. Thinking ahead and good communication are essential. Another factor is physical fitness for the high forces due to the high speeds. Starting is the biggest part of the race, but boat speed and clean maneuvers are also important.”

The skipper of Sweden’s Artemis Youth Racing, Gustav Pettersson, adds, “Our goal is to go out every day and perform at our absolute best. If we do that, we know that the results will follow.”

Even for the planet’s most talented young teams, which include national and world champions as well as Olympians, it’s been a long road to the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup. “We want to deliver a good performance for ourselves, but also for the hundreds of people back home who supported us over the last 15 months,” acknowledges Max Kohlhoff, the skipper for SVB Team Germany. “For sure we will be giving our very best out there to make that hard work pay off.”

And just what is the “pay off” of participating in the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup? The skippers all chime in with a flurry of thoughts: The honor of representing their country ranks highly, as does the opportunity to improve their skills among the world’s best young sailors and learn to fly big boats on foils. Many of the young athletes, from sailing powerhouse countries as well as nations that are still growing their sailing programs, mention that they want to share their passion and set an example that will inspire kids back home.

And then there’s the lifetime chance to showcase their sailing right in front of the America’s Cup syndicates, which will wage their own campaigns within days of the youth event.

“We’ve seen many sailors from the previous Red Bull Youth America’s Cup joining the big teams of the America’s Cup, such as Emirates Team New Zealand or ORACLE TEAM USA. This brings some extra motivation!” points out Sébastien Schneiter, skipper of Switzerland’s Team Tilt.

“I think the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup is an ideal stepping-stone,” affirms Next Generation USAskipper Carson Crain. “Members of our team have ambitions of winning Olympic medals, competing in the Volvo Ocean Race, and competing in future America’s Cup regattas. Having the experience and expertise to handle the AC45F provides an inside track, and I’m sure members of our youth teams will be prominent in the highest level of sailing for years to come.”

The Red Bull Youth America’s Cup will fly in Bermuda this summer, with Pool A and B Qualifiers scheduled for June 12-16, 2017, followed by the Finals, broadcast live on Red Bull TV June 20-21.

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