Red Bull Makes You Fly
Story and Photos by Heike Schwab
There is a general expectation that fashion-forward Dubai has a future in America’s Cup competition. If you find that far fetched—for an Arab Emirate lying across the Persian Gulf from Iran and 500 miles from Iraq—offer a different explanation of why the America’s Cup and the Louis Vuitton Cup and longtime master of ceremonies Bruno Troubl were flown to Dubai for the press conference that closed the training session for Swedish Cup challenger Victory Challenge.
Just to get to Dubai on time, the team went the expensive route, flying SWE 63 and SWE 73 on giant Antonov aircraft. It’s probably relevant that their primary sponsor, Red Bull, has a huge market in Dubai. And let’s not forget the company line, Red Bull makes you fly.
Now picture this:
0645: It’s still dark in Street 5 in the Greens, a residential district between Emirates Hills 2 and the Mall of the Emirates. Fourteen Swedish sailors pass the portier of the Nuran Greens with their racquets to catch a bus for ice hockey training, their “warmup” for a day of sailing. They arrive and play hard. Outside the Al-Nasr Leisureland, the temperature is 75 degrees Fahrenheit, meaning the dead of winter in the United Arab Emirates.
And no, it is not strange to find a place for ice hockey in this land of hard desert, and yes, it could easily be 110 degrees outside when summer comes. If you haven’t heard about the indoor snow skiing at the Mall of the Emirates, you haven’t been paying attention to international buzz, and there are no less than three ice hockey rinks in the United Arab Emirates. A bit surreal, as we said. The real question, however, is where were the other members of the sailing team? The only likely answer is, in the gym or doing road work. They’re not all from the north of Europe, but all of them have to be fit.
Team Victory Challenge won its bet on coming here. While other second-tier America’s Cup challengers languished in the fitful Mediterranean winter of Valencia, sailing when they could—which in any given week might not be all that much—the Swedish challenge emulated the Swiss defender, Alinghi, in taking advantage of the brilliant sailing conditions of the Arabian Gulf. They’ve been sailing as much as they want. Bert Willborg, Head of Team Communications, sounds authentic as he tells reporters, “It was more than we expected and extremely productive.“
(Team Alinghi will continue in Dubai through February 19 with two-boat, in-house competition between Ed Baird and Peter Holmberg. The two rivals for the Alinghi helm ended their round one competition last week, tied on points.)
For Victory Challenge, the Dubai session turned on a snap decision in December that gave Operations Manager Scott McAllister only two weeks to set up a fully equipped base in yet another foreign country complete with sail loft, travel lift, container-workshops and all other facilities necessary to run an America`s Cup campaign.
The attraction, says skipper Magnus Holmberg, was straightforward: ”Our meteorologists studied the weather conditions here and said that they should be excellent at this time of the year. They have in fact been better than expected. Dubai is a hidden treasure for the world of sailing.”
After setting up the base before Christmas, the Swedes started to sail on January 4. Their last sailing day was Sunday (January 4, 2007), but the whole financial effort, as well as the logistical nightmare, was worth it, They bought valuable time by going out every day for sailing, testing and practicing in a breeze always between 8 and 16 knots. Only a breeze of 20 knots was lacking.
When helmsmen Magnus Holmberg and Chris Law were matching each other, the races were close. Only three maintenance days and two vacation days interrupted a compact sailing program that didnt even leave time for practice racing against Alinghi. The results already are influencing the finishing details of the new boat, SWE 96, under way now in Valencia. The team line: “Without the training and the technical expertise we gained in Dubai, our time in Valencia for optimizing SWE 96 would have been very tight.“
This is the first time that boats of the AC class have sailed the Persian Gulf. To accommodate Alinghi, the Dubai International Marine Club prepared new fingers for the travel lift. For Victory Challenge, megaproperty developer Emaar dredged the waterway at its Dubai Marina Motor Yacht Club, the biggest man-made marina in the world, still to be finished and right next to the DIMC. However, the extreme depth of Cup boats (a draft of 13 feet) meant that Victory sometimes put in at the DIMC, waiting for the rise of a tide that runs 3-5 feet.
(Emaar is also building the Burj Dubai, intended to be the highest tower in the world with an announced height of nearly 2,900 feet. To hold competititors at bay as long as possible, they won’t announce the exact height until the tower is finished in 2008).
Presumably not missed in this training session: Victory tactician Morgan Larson, a California guy, skipped the Dubai training session but won the 49er class at the Rolex Miami Olympic Classes Regatta—time well spent.
With the South African team, Shosholoza, making noises about its prospects for making the final four in the challengers’ eliminations, the heat is on Victory and Italy’s Luna Rossa to measure up. The boats that will race in Valencia beginning in April represent the fifth generation of IACC design, and recent changes to the rule have aimed at making the boats more similar and the racing tighter.