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Brad Webb - Oracle Racing AC72

Brad Webb is a member of Oracle Team USA and participating in the 2013 America’s Cup to be held in San Francisco Bay. Brad has been involved in six America’s Cup campaigns and been a member of Oracle Racing for the last ten years participating as a bowman. Brad was the bowman on the Trimaran USA 17, the winner of the 33rd America’s Cup in Valencia Spain in February, 2010. Brad is a member of the Muritai Yacht Club in Wellington Harbor, New Zealand where he learned to start sailing P- Class dinghies at age twelve. In the last twelve years he has competed in more than 140 events in sixteen countries.

Brad and his wife recently started AC Sailing SF, which departs from Pier 39. AC Sailing SF offers guests the unique experience of sailing on former America’s Cup boat, the 85 foot USA 76.

SZ: You began sailing P-Class dinghies at age 12 on the shores of Wellington Harbor in New Zealand. What early experiences fueled your passion for competitive sailing?

BW: When I got out on the P-Class and I started racing. I guess that competitive spirit was always in me. I tried a lot of different sports before I picked up sailing. Sailing was one of the last sports I tried and in the dingy being at the helm it was all me. I liked that week to week there was always more to learn. There were always little tweaks I could do with the boat and technique. Obviously when I began racing I was way in the back. I found it rewarding each week to go out and try to learn something more and try to get closer and closer to the guys who were out in front finally getting to the front. I grew up by the sea so with sailboats in front of the house where I grew up I was kind of teased for a good dozen years before I finally got out and began sailing. Once I had my little P-Class, when I came home from school I’d rig it up and sail around the bay before night fall. Then I would go home and do my homework and do all the other things I was supposed to do.

SZ: That sounds like quite a pleasant life.

BW: Yeah it was. It was great. But my friends were doing other things. They were going surfing or playing rugby or hanging out at the mall doing whatever kids do, but that’s what I enjoyed doing. When I began sailing on big boats that’s when I really got bitten by the sailing bug. On the big boats I could really feel the loads and the boat going faster and faster. Obviously every kid reads magazines he’s into and I was reading sailing magazines. I saw all these rock stars sailing off on incredible boats to exotic places and that was the life for me.

SZ: What’s the process to prepare for the 2013 America’s Cup? Is it a two year project developing as a team?

Photo credit: Erza Shaw/Getty Images

BW: It varies. The America’s Cup doesn’t have a set date year to year like the Olympics or other World Cup events. The America’s Cup is dictated by the defender which this time is us. The defender decides the venue, dates for the regatta and the class of boat we are going to sail etc., that’s what makes the America’s Cup unique. This time was quite a short turn around just three years from winning it in 2010. But the idea behind the short turn around was not to clash with any of the other huge sporting events that are going to be taking place in 2014. The idea was to try and have the America’s Cup stand alone in 2013.

SZ: To stand alone as an event and create more public awareness and viewing opportunities.

BW: That’s really been the biggest push this time. In 2007 there was an incredible regatta in Valencia, Spain. The reception in Europe was fantastic. Bringing the event to the U.S. market is a little bit tougher because there are so many other distractions and sports in the U.S. to compete with especially as far as viewership and television time. Coupled with the global recession it’s a tough time to be trying to do this but the roads been set.

SZ: A sailing team has many issues to attend to from preparing the boat, getting out to the starting line, weather conditions, the competition, handling the boat, coping with crew issues to name a few. What role if any does sport psychology play in preparing for the demands of a race of America’s Cup magnitude?

BW: It’s all about technology and innovation. Our design team and technical people are incredibly smart finding boat speed on the computer screen. That’s what the America’s Cup has been about since the very beginning. It’s about building a fast boat and using the best technology that’s available at the time. In 1851 the America’s Cup coincided with the 1851 World’s Fair which was about innovation technology. So certainly for me that’s what I love about the America’s Cup. Being a sailor I love the team aspect of it. I love being part of a competitive environment where we’ve been given these tools, these boats that are on the cutting edge. But ultimately we as a sailing team have to go out and sail them and really get the best potential out of them especially now that we’ve gone to catamarans where the performances are off the charts, but also the chance for catastrophic failure are a lot greater as well. The room for error with these catamarans especially with the 72, is so fine that we are really relying on our skill and our team-mates around us to make sure we keep the boat on it’s feet.

SZ: Are crew members on board using a computer in real time reading information to make decisions about the moves the boat should make?

BW: It won’t be as prevalent in the 2013 Cup because the race course on S.F. Bay is very short. With the city on one side and Alcatraz on the other side. In the past when we had long courses it was a much bigger playing field. We will definitely have tablets on board that are telling us loads, boat speed, what the winds and tides are doing. But this time the races are so short and the work load on board is so high we’re not going to have as much time as we’ve had in the past to have someone’s head in a computer. We’re going to have to be making a lot of decisions intuitively as compared to the past.

SZ: What is the decision making hierarchy between the helmsman, tactician and crew during the race? Which situations dictate who decides?

BW: It really depends on the boat. On some sails the helmsman makes all the decisions. But in every case all the boats all the crews are constantly talking about what they see around them. John Kostecki is the tactician and quite often makes tactical calls so Jimmy (James Spithill-Helmsman) can maintain focus on boat speed. But there are other times when Jimmy makes the call completely based on intuition of what he thinks and sees at the time. They don’t always have time for a discussion.

SZ: In an interview with Sail-World.com you describe the AC72 as Alinghi 5 with 17’s wing and “the big deal will be the wing.” Explain the significance of the wing and what benefits it brings to the speed of the boat and challenges it presents to sailing the boat.

BW: We had a wing on our trimaran when we won in 2010. It was a huge gamble that ultimately paid off but it really opened up some incredible possibilities for what we could do with the America’s Cup. There are a lot of logistical issues with the wing. Instead of there being just a mast, boat and hoisting a sail, you’re dealing with the wind from the second you roll it out from the shed. It’s constantly creating lift and it’s a very delicate piece of equipment to get onto the boat and in the water all in one piece without damaging it. The benefits of the wing are incredible. It’s just so much more efficient because it’s an attached wing, attaching flow to the wing, like the wing on an airplane, it maneuvers so much easier.

SZ: Other than being on the boat and sailing what physical training does the crew do to keep their body physically fit for the demands of getting around the boat when at times it’s 20-30 feet off the water?

BW: We couldn’t believe how physical these boats were. While they had the same load as a the Cup boats we’ve sailed in the past, because the crew is dealing with a platform that’s quite wide we’re essentially sailing two boats. The crew works on one side of the boat then runs to the other side and we are constantly running so that requires a higher standard of cardiovascular fitness. Coupled with that because we are dealing with high loads we have to maintain a high level of strength. There is a maximum weight limit to the crew as well so we’re kind of playing this game, trying to get the best fitness and the best strength out of each of our sailors, at the same time trying to recognize how the best crew might be put together. For instance we can’t have too many grinders because they are all over 100 kilos. We also can’t have too many light guys because we still need the strength and the power that the big guys provide to grind the sail, winches, and hydraulics. So that’s a balancing act when it comes time to putting a crew together.

SZ: Do crew members have special diets? Are they aware of their weight?

BW: Absolutely, we weigh in every morning and the fitness department keep tabs on that. They also keep tabs on our body fat and muscle make up to make sure that we are not over doing it in one area or another.

SZ: What tips do you have for spectators who are watching the sailing competitions from the shore so they have a better understanding of what they are seeing, other than which boat is leading?

BW: My advice to people would be to, for whatever reason, find a team to root for. Whether it’s that they saw an interview with someone on a particular boat and they liked what the person said or whether it’s a color of a boat that they like. Just find a reason to focus on a team and follow them. The races are so short there’s an opportunity for everyone in the race to win so while you might think you haven’t backed the right horse in one race, all of a sudden you might find in the next race they’ve blitzed everyone and gotten out in front and won the race. That’s really the exciting thing about this race course, sailing on the city front and the fleet racing that it’s anyone’s game. The race is just so spectacular and it’s getting easier to understand. The way that Stan Honey has set up the television viewing makes it a lot easier for people to figure out who’s in front and who’s behind, along with some of the more technical aspects of the race.

SZ: You and your wife recently created the AC Sailing SF business which sails from Pier 39 in San Francisco. Describe the sailing experience guests receive when they sign up for this tour.

BW: The idea came about after the last America’s Cup. I saw one of our our old race boats, USA 76, still parked in our base in Valencia, Spain and it occurred to me that the America’s Cup excursion model had worked in other parts of the world. San Francisco has a rich history in the America’s Cup. It’s a little bit hidden but there’s been challengers coming out of San Francisco for a very long time. There had been nothing really here for people to touch and feel. So my wife and I made the decision to begin this project. We made the decision to bring the USA 76 here and modify it for tourist service. We made this decision prior to S.F. being announced as the host city for the 2013 America’s Cup. We thought, the Golden Gate Yacht Club is the America’s Cup holder, S.F. is the current America’s Cup team champions, there needs to be something here. The whole idea was to allow people to touch and feel to some degree the America’s Cup experience. We’ve been operating for a year and a half now and it’s going great. Because of my current responsibilities we’ve installed some incredible people to run the program. But I’m still part of it day to day. The experience allows people, even though the boats have gone to multi-hulls, to be part of the crew. Guests grind the sails and trim the lines, drive the boat. We’ve had incredible responses from participants.

SZ: You’ve spent a lot of time sailing all over the world. Do you have any favorite quotes, stories or tips that have given your career guidance?

BW: I always go back to a quote that Grant Dalton, he is the head of team New Zealand, gave me years ago. I was seventeen or eighteen at the time and bumped into him at a yacht club where he was promoting his sail around the world campaign. I was this bright eyed kid and I told him that all I wanted to do was to go sailing and travel all over the world. He said, “Take your time, enjoy your sailing and continue trying to be better because the next 10 years are going to go by in the blink of an eye. You will achieve your dreams but enjoy the ride and really just enjoy your sailing.” He was dead right. Ten years, actually twenty years have gone by in a blink of an eye. By the time I was twenty-eight I had been in three America Cups. When I look back he just said, “Go sailing and enjoy your sailing.” That’s what I did and ultimately I think that’s what led to my success. I was always trying to get up in the morning and do a better job but ultimately enjoy what I was doing. Let’s face it not many people get to go out everyday and make a living doing exactly what they love to do.

SZ: Anything you’ve like to add about sailing or the America’s Cup?

BW: I mentioned it earlier. What we are trying to do within the America’s Cup and AC Sailing SF is to get people to experience sailing. There’s still that stigma out there that it’s untouchable. I bought my first P-Class dingy for $250 U.S. and started a life long passion. The night I got the P-Class my dad pulled out a little note book and wrote $250 at the top and said I got $5 every time I mow the lawns and $5 for washing the car and I had to pay it off.

SZ: You were given the opportunity to take responsibility for it.

BW: Exactly and so I think what we are trying to get people to understand is that sailing is accessible and we are welcoming people in.

SZ: Brad thank you for taking time from your very full schedule to talk with me about the America’s Cup and sailing.

Photo credit: Oracle Racing

*This article can also be read @ examiner.com

*Featured guests are not current nor former clients of Susan Zaro

*Photography credit: Erza Shaw/Getty Images

*Photo credit: Oracle Racing

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