South African America's Cup Challenge 2007


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 CupInfo Interviews Shosholoza's Geoff Meek and Paul Standbridge


 

Reflecting the South African Spirit

 
 
 
Photo ©2005 CupInfo
 
 

There’s something special about Shosholoza.  An early sentimental favorite in Marseille and Valencia for the first three 2004 Louis Vuitton Acts, the South African team launched by Captain Salvatore Sarno surprised the America’s Cup community.

Cheered by both spectators and competitors, their refreshing approach and their astounding spirit earned tremendous popular support. 

Despite building from scratch, the team is also exhibiting a strong desire to perform well and win. Sailing Manager Paul Standbridge and Skipper Geoff Meek are pursuing great goals for the first-ever African team to compete for the historic America's Cup.

The 2004 season proved an inspiring start for the challenge. Despite being newcomers to America's Cup racing, Shosholoza showed great character in their matches with the established teams.  In anticipation of the 2005 season, CupInfo interviewed Paul and Geoff about the team’s inspiring past, very busy present, and ambitious future.

 
 

CupInfo:  Shosholoza is the first America's Cup team ever to challenge from South Africa. Can you describe for us what the feeling is within the country towards the team?

Geoff:  I find the general public incredibly enthusiastic and supportive of the event. Our aim is to have the base of local media support grow to eventually have most of the public following our progress.

CI:  It seems an aggressive endeavor, to build a team from the ground up. How would you rate your performance thus far?

Paul:  I don't see this as an aggressive endeavor, but we are building from the ground up. I arrived to a clean sheet of paper and we have built the team from there and unlike other syndicates, we have not hired heavies with previous AC experience. We are doing it in-house and so far we are pleased with our results in as much that we have a good sailing team with good morale, good work ethic, and our skills are improving daily.  Our team also has a highly motivated design team.

 
Photo © 2005 CupInfo
 
 

CI:  The statements about your early goals were refreshing: put the sails up, tack the boat, and finish the races in 2004.  Captain Sarno said the overall goal was to make the quarter-finals. How would you rate your chances ?

Paul:   Yes, our immediate goals were not that high. Day 1 sailing was to get the sails up and down, tacking and gybing. We were happy with our results in 2004, competing at a high level and beating one team in one Act.   As for our goals, we want to pursue a professional challenge where we are aiming to be in the quarter-finals.

CI:  There has been some discussion about two tiers developing, as happened in Auckland in 2002, with some teams very much ahead of the others.  Some say the Act structure leads to the “rich getting richer,” leaving others further behind. Which group do you think most profits from sailing in the Acts?

Geoff: I am very happy and positive regarding the new format which allows us to race against the "big boys" in many races.  I really feel this allows us to improve with them and stay more in touch with the correct trends.

CI: Last month you announced a major sponsor, German telecommunications group T-systems. How will the infusion of 100-million Rand impact decisions for 2005 and onward?

Paul:  This does not greatly change our decision making process for 2005, it merely enables us to continue on our previously planned programme. There is no excess of money to extend or make our programme more ambitious.

CI: Your trial horse, RSA-48 is one of the oldest boats racing, circa-2000. How did it feel in the Valencia match racing to nearly beat powerhouse BMW Oracle, Challenger of Record, on USA-71?

Paul:  We were very excited when we were ahead of BMW Oracle during a race in 2004, but obviously we appreciate that it was a very light and fluky race - that could have enabled either boat to win.

CI: Early indications were you will be one of the first teams to build and sail a new boat. Are there changes in plans? Can you give us an update ?

Paul:  The new number for the new boat is confirmed. It is RSA 83 which is the next consecutive number for an IACC yacht.

CI:  Will you bring RSA-48 up to version 5 of the ACC rule? Is she expected to be in the water practicing, metering speed, in the new 2007 configuration?

Paul:  No, we will not. We do not have the time to take her out of the sailing programme to change her to Version 5 nor do we have the budget for that exercise.

CI: Some say the weather off South Africa is not ideal for practice, for developing the potential of the team or boat.

Paul:  Table Bay is perhaps not the best place to tune an AC boat, but we have certainly made the most of it and we have no excuses with regards to the weather in Cape Town. I would suggest that it is not a particularly good testing venue because of its shifty and gusty conditions.

Geoff: As an area for single boat crew training, it is perfect as we are constantly battling the weather as well as doing tight manoeuvres in changing winds.

CI: Geoff, part of the team has been competing on the Swedish Match Tour and other match racing events. Has this been beneficial so far? Do you intend to compete in more match racing events this year?

 
Photo © 2005 CupInfo
 

 

Geoff:  Swedish Match racing has been a great help to us as we have been very out of touch with that form of yacht racing for many years. We intend to do many more of these when ever possible.

CI:  Paul, you called your former GBR Challenge teammate Andy Green onboard Shosholoza for the first three Acts. What did Andy bring to the team during these races?

Paul:   Andy Green was invaluable to our team during the first 3 Acts during 2004, he came with a great deal of match racing and rules knowledge, which we were surely lacking. He was a good team player and we valued his input.

CI: Geoff, is there an alternative for North Sails in the America's Cup, and did Shosholoza select a mast provider yet ?

Geoff:  There is really no alternative to North Sails due to the 3DL product and the advanced sail design technology that can be integrated with mast and hull designing.

CI:  Speaking of design, what is the interaction between the sailors and the design team led by Jason Ker, when it comes to drawing the new boats?

Paul:  For our first new boat, we pretty much left the design of it up to our design team led by Jason Ker, purely because our sailing team is inexperienced and the fastest way to get our boat in the water was not to interfere. The crew will begin to have input in their own individual and specialised departments. We will definitely include more of the crew input into the design of boat 2 when we have more time and the crew would have more experience to base their judgment on.

CI:  Winning aside, what would be the best outcome from having entered the competition?

Geoff: To have done much better than the perception of where we should have finished as well as having the media 100% behind us as they were in 2004.

Paul:  Second! To be more serious - in the first four.

CI:  Thanks Paul, Geoff, for taking the time to talk with us. See you in Europe this summer!


 
 
Photo ©2005 CupInfo
 


Paul Standbridge
Sailing Manager
The 45-year-old British-born yachtsman was named Sailing Manager for the South African America's Cup Challenge in 2004.

America's Cup experience:
1987 - Bowman, Royal Thames YC
2003 - Sailing Manager, GBR Challenge

Other sailing achievements include:
5 Whitbread Round the World Races
14 Fastnet Races
4 Sydney-Hobart Races
16 Atlantic crossings
 

 

Photo ©Di Meek

 

Geoff Meek
Skipper
The 52-year-old Meek is a world-champion yachtsman.

America's Cup experience:
1987 - Alternate Skipper, Royal Thames YC

Other sailing achievements include:
As skipper and helmsman, Geoff Meek has won in the Fastnet, the Sydney-to-Hobart, SORC Race Week, Block Island Race Week, the Sardinia Cup, the Southern Cross Cup, the Onion Patch regatta, numerous SA offshore races, and the Cowes Week Maxi One Design event.

20 Table Bay Race Week championships
5 Lipton Challenge Cup regattas, including victories for the Royal Cape YC and Hermanus YC.
SA Yachtsman of the Year (5 times)
SA Colours for yachting (6 times).  

 

 

Photo ©Di Meek

       

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