Tuesday, February 03, 2009

First ever Greek helmsman on America’s Cup-level competition

After Saturday’s first ever victory, Greek Challenge wrote another page in the history of Greek sailing on Tuesday. For the first time ever, a Greek sailor took the helm of an America’s Cup yacht during a world-class event. Theodoros Tsoulfas, prominent offshore Greek sailor, helmed the Greek Challenge yacht in the team’s last race of Louis Vuitton Pacific Series Round Robin 1, against Team Origin from the UK.

Gavin Brady, the New Zealander that steered the yacht so far in the Series, switched positions with Tsoulfas on Tuesday and called tactics in what turned out to be a very tricky and shifty day. In addition, 11 out of the 17 crew were Greeks, marking another first. Never before in the Series, Greek sailors were the majority onboard.

The race was closer and tighter than what one would have expected, especially against an outstanding helmsman of the caliber of Ben Ainslie, 3-time gold Olympic medalist. Greek Challenge crossed the starting line on the right and Origin on the left, slightly ahead. During the first beat, the Greeks managed to stay on Origin’s trail, rounding the first weather mark a mere 14 seconds behind the British yacht. Despite being a novice, Tsoulfas was able to stay close in the run and round the leeward gate 17 seconds behind Ben Ainslie. In the second half of the race, Greek Challenge slipped back and crossed the finish line 58 seconds behind the British yacht.

Greek Challenge finishes Round Robin 1 with 1 win and 3 losses. Due to the penalty received in the race against Alinghi, Greek Challenge has no points and will now compete in the Silver Fleet, together with China Team, Shosholoza and Pataugas K-Challenge. There will be no racing on Wednesday and the Greek team will come back on the water of Waitemata harbor on Thursday, facing Pataugas K-Challenge.

For the first time ever a Greek sailor helms an America's Cup yacht in a world-class event. Auckland, 3 February 2009. Photo copyright Ian Roman / Team Origin

Quotes of the day

Theodoros Tsoulfas, helmsman on Greek Challenge: “Without any doubt, this has been an amazing experience. I have been helming boats up to 50ft and this is a quantum leap for me. I was very nervous but I managed to steer the boat thanks to Gavin’s help. We made a number of mistakes in the race but I think we corrected most of them and achieved a respectable result.

There is no comparison between ourselves and the other participants in this event; we have only been 12 times on these yachts while the rest of the teams have been taking part in the America’s Cup for years. In fact, we are honored to be here and stand against them. It’s a fantastic and unique opportunity. We are humbled by the talent around us in this event and it would have been ludicrous to come here and pretend we are equals with Ben Ainslie, Ian Percy, Andrew Simpson or Mike Sanderson. Winning a race is obviously a great feeling but our main goal in this event is to learn.

We are passionate about learning and the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series is just a stepping stone in a long process of building a Greek America’s Cup team.”

Gavin Brady, tactician on Greek Challenge: “Tsoulfas did a good job today, considering the fact it was the first time he steered an America’s Cup yacht. Don’t forget who we were racing against. Still, we sailed well and Origin beat us by less than a minute. The majority of the crew was Greek today and obviously had less experience but we are building here a team for the future, for the long term. So far we have achieved reasonable results and once again, I think that today Greek Challenge was better than yesterday. That’s our goal.”

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