America's Cup World Series
Team Korea's Chris Draper
Team Korea became the first South Korean team in America’s Cup history when their Notice of Challenge for the 34th Defense of the America’s Cup was accepted last May, but it was their sudden ascendance from start-up to Match Racing Championship Finalist at the America’s Cup World Series in Plymouth that put the world on notice. Seeded sixth of nine teams after fleet racing, Draper's crew charged to the Final, knocking off defending America's Cup winner James Spithill on Oracle4, and the #1 Seed Artemis Racing to meet ETNZ in the Final. And this came after they opened their ACWS match racing career in Cascais by eliminating Russell Coutts on Oracle5. Though they might be new to the game, their blend of multihull and America’s Cup experience the Korean team is already a force to be reckoned with.
Led by Kim Dong-Young -- an accomplished sailor and organizer of the Korea Match Cup -- the White Tiger Challenge has only been training with their AC45 catamaran since July, but with two-time 49er World Champion and Olympic bronze medalist Chris Draper at the helm, Cup veterans Matt Cornwell and Chris Brittle, British Olympic Tornado sailor Mark Bulkeley, and former AC45 boat captain Troy Tindill on the team, there is no lack of sailing experience and talent.
That said, if you had told Draper that after two ACWS events Team Korea would have more match racing points than fleet racing points, he would have thought you were daft.
“We haven’t really pulled together as much as we would have liked in the fleet racing,” said Draper.
“We’ve been working so hard to improve our match racing that we’ve let the fleet racing slide a little bit, so it’s important that we get the balance back. But we’re really pleased to be where we are -- we’re under no illusions of where we are actually at. We’re very aware that those are pretty good results and we’re pleased with that.
“The ethos of the team, as it develops, is youth and enthusiasm backed up by solid experience. At the moment, we haven’t got as much of the latter, though we’ve got Magnus Holmberg coming in to help us and he’s been a great help. But it’s been a steep learning curve for us all and that’s going to continue -- and it’s going to be even more so when we get into the 72s. There’s plenty to learn and we’re trying to learn as fast as possible.
“We’ve really focused on getting the boat handling very slick, to be able to put the boat in the right place at the right time. When that breaks down and we don’t do so well, it’s usually because we’re in conditions that we haven’t spent much time sailing in. I’m not able to get my head out of the boat and the guys aren’t able to help with what’s going on because we’ve all got our heads in the boat.
"It comes down to time. We had a fantastic result in Plymouth, but we’ve done nothing for six weeks and most of the other teams have been training, so that doesn’t help. Those sorts of things need to change if we want to improve and develop.”
Off the boat, Job One for Dong-Young and the team will be to generate awareness in South Korea, a country previously known more for its golfers than its sailors. Draper has made two trips to Asia, including a recent foray into the Yi Sun-Sin Cup International Yacht Race, where he led a crew of Korean sailors in a borrowed J/24 to the first regatta victory for the challenge.
“It was really cool to do the event in Korea -- there were 100 boats on the start line! It was a big event and it was good to see so many people enthusiastic about sailing over there. The people were really into the project and there was a lot of very friendly support. My previous trip there had only been for a couple of days so it was really nice to get a week there to absorb some of the culture, to meet more people that are involved in the project and backing the project, and spend time with them, so it was really great to be able to do that. I did eat some pretty wacky food -- raw food and some still live food! But it’s good to get involved in it all and it’s all part of the process!
“Awareness in Korea is really improving. There are lots of steps that have been taken to improve that -- the main television station is doing a documentary on the team here.”
Korea is the world's 26th largest country at nearly 49 million people. If the team draws even a small number then there’s going to be a huge fan base. “The guys are making a brilliant effort to reach people, so I think with the things that are in place now, that’s going to be the case.”
Job Two for Team Korea management is spreading that sort of excitement and securing the funding the team needs to compete at the top level.
“The team is partly government backed right now but they’re working hard to attract sponsors to back that up. There is a very healthy economy in South Korea, as opposed to the rest of the world, so it’s actually a good place to be looking for sponsors right now. We need to be sailing all the time and the project needs to be moving all the time. Hopefully, in the very short term future, that will be the case.”
Even in San Diego, the team is hosting representatives from several companies interested in becoming part of the White Tiger wave.
America’s Cup teams will disperse following the last ACWS event of the year, heading to their bases around the globe to maximize design and training efforts before the next regattas in 2012. Draper hopes an infusion of sponsorship funding will mean more time on the water for the new team.
“Between now and the Europe events in the spring, we’d like to be able to train. There are a couple of different options going about, so we shall see. The important thing is sailing against another boat and I don’t think getting another AC45 is achievable quite yet. But that’s what we’re working towards.”
As for the probability that the White Tiger Challenge will be right there on an AC72 on the start line in San Francisco in July 2013...:
“At the moment, slight fingers crossed! We’re very hopeful, though the timeline is ticking away, but it’s looking positive for the future so I hope we’ll be there!”
--Diane Swintal for CupInfo/©2011 CupInfo.com
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