Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Valencia Sailing talks to Mirsky Racing Team

Torvar Mirsky and his Mirsky Racing Team are in Valencia for a week of match race training and corporate events. The young up-and-coming match race team from Australia is in the host city of the 32nd America's Cup in order to train together with Adam Minoprio and BlackMatch Racing as well as help Victory Challenge with their corporate hospitality program onboard their two America's Cup yachts.

With such teams in town, Valencia Sailing couldn't miss the opportunity to talk to them. Stay tuned for more reports and photos of the two young guns training in Valencia and their maiden race on America's Cup yachts.

Valencia Sailing: Let's start with the traditional question. What is your background and how did you get into sailing?

Torvar Mirsky: I started sailing when I was 10 years old. Our family lives quite close to the ocean and the river in Perth but we don't have a sailing background. Still, a lot of people around me sailed and my parent thought perhaps I would like to give it a go. I started sailing and had a really good bunch of friends around me that also liked sailing and as a result sailed all the dinghy classes. I started in Mirrors, then moved to 420's, Lasers and 49ers, doing the whole progression in dinghy classes, quite successfully.

Then at about 15 years old, I was sort of the leading young sailor at the club and we made a match racing team for the Warren Jones Youth Regatta, probably the biggest youth match racing event in the world. We have quite a strong youth match racing circuit in Australia and New Zealand and the Warren Jones is the biggest of these events. We did quite well in that first event, finishing 3rd. It was my first match racing event and I took my fancy. In Australia and New Zealand there is a circuit you can do, there is Perth, Sydney, Melbourne, Auckland, Wellington. They all have huge regattas and all the same guys churn up really well. James Spithill also comes from the same circuit and we blossomed from that. When I was 20 years old it was the last year I could do it but little did we know that that circuit was very competitive.

In 2007 we went overseas for the first time, putting an end to the youth stage, and were surprised by how competitive we were, having only raced in the youth regattas in Australia and New Zealand. As a result, we thought we should have a crack since we were doing quite well. We dropped everything else; I for example was studying Mechanical Engineering and Physics at the University of Western Australia and, let's say, have postponed my studies.

Mirsky Racing Team on the eve of Match Race Germany. Langenargen, 30 May 2009. Photo copyright Richard Walch / Match Race Germany

Valencia Sailing: You mentioned a few times Australia and New Zealand. How different is the sailing scene in the two countries? Is sailing as popular in Australia as in New Zealand?

Torvar Mirsky: Sailing is definitely less popular in Australia. In New Zealand you can sit down and watch sailing on TV almost every night while in Australia you will hardly see any sailing on TV. The kiwis really live and breathe the sailing. Australians have in general a quite active lifestyle and most of us leave on the coast, so most people are exposed to good weather and some sort of water sport, especially in Perth or Sydney. As a result, there is a lot of sailing in Australia but not as strong as in New Zealand. The proportion of sailors in the general population is much higher in New Zealand compared to Australia. You could say it would have been easier for me if I came from Auckland.

Valencia Sailing: There are three famous Australian match racers currently, at least that I know. Peter Gilmour, James Spithill and you. What is your relation to them?

Torvar Mirsky: Peter Gilmour is from Perth as well and I know him for almost all my sailing life. I have always tried to follow him and copy him in some way. He's given us insight to what it's like being in the big sailing world when we were growing up because Perth is quite isolated from anywhere else, apparently it's the most isolated city in the world. Peter has really been a big inspiration to us and we have now started racing him in the World Match Racing Tour. The first time we raced against him was at the Monsoon Cup, his own event, and it was quite a buzz for us since we always talked about him, looked up to him and we finally found ourselves next to him at the starting line. We also know James Spithill, we've met him a few times at an event in Pittwater (his hometown north of Sydney). We sort of try to copy those two guys, the way they manage themselves and run their teams and then try to replicate it into our team as well.

Valencia Sailing: Does Gilmour get angry when he loses against you?

Torvar Mirsky: [Laughs]... He doesn't like losing to the young guys but he is really supportive and looks at the big picture. He really likes to see we're doing well.

Valencia Sailing: Last year you had your first participation in the World Match Racing Tour. You only missed one event and finished 5th overall, a very honorable result. This year, you are currently 8th, after a 3rd in Marseille, a 10th in Germany and a 7th in Korea. Are you satisfied so far?

Torvar Mirsky: If you asked me before we started in Germany and Korea and after a 3rd in Marseille, we would have answered we were on a roll and thought we had a chance to probably lead the Tour or be in the top three and maintain that but Germany and Korea were really tough events. It's also part of the learning curve not to get ahead of ourselves. We're still in the learning stage of our careers and have a long way to go. This is something we have to work through.

First victory for Mirsky Racing Team in the Open Match Race España 2 years ago. Calpe, 9 September 2007. Photo copyright Pierre Orphanidis / Valencia Sailing

Valencia Sailing: What went wrong in Germany?

Torvar Mirsky: We din't race there last year, so it was our first time and it's quite a unique event. Some of other teams had been there a lot of times and knew the boats, the conditions and the little details and had a big advantage. It's not a traditional event, the wind comes from the lake, the lake is also quite high up, it's shifty close to the shore, there are also currents and the boats are not traditional match racing boats, they are more suited for cruising. The teams that knew the subtleties of the boats did better. I think that next year we'll have a better chance to be higher up in the results.

Valencia Sailing: What is your goal in the Tour? Is a victory in 2010 a realistic target?

Torvar Mirsky: There is still a long way to go. In addition don't forget that you only take into account the top four events plus the results from the Monsoon Cup in your score. We have only raced 3 events so far and still have another 7. Given the fact only 5 of them will count, I think that there will be a lot of dramatic changes in the Tour rankings over the next few events.

Valencia Sailing: Is it difficult for a new and young team to take part in the Tour?

Torvar Mirsky: We will answer yes but the older guys will tell you it's easy for us. We think there are a lot of things we could do better if we had more resources and a larger support network. We had to radically change our lifestyles from a traditional person that studies, then goes on to a job and might do some sailing in the weekends. We come from Perth, we had to stop our studies, our traditional careers, leave our homes and spend most of our time overseas with hardly any money for 8 months every year. It is tough when you are just travelling around with a suitcase for 3 years in a row.

Valencia Sailing: You say "hardly any money". Don't you have any sponsorship?

Torvar Mirsky: We have some supporters but we're not representing any big company for money. We have some people who are helping us out, such as the Royal Perth Yacht Club, Line7 and Harken, but we are still searching for a sponsor. Graeme Spence, our bowman, is in charge of finding sponsors.

Graeme Spence: You could say it's sponsorship in kind but not money. They offer us products. Right now we are here in Valencia because Victory Challenge offer us their SM40 yachts to train in exchange for our participation in their corporate hospitality program. It's bartering and no cash is involved.

Valencia Sailing: Does the organization of the World Match Racing Tour do a good job? Do you agree with the way they run the event? Is there room for further improvement that could also help you in finding sponsors?

Torvar Mirsky: I think the simple answer could be yes. They can improve and I think there are a lot of aspects in sailing in general that can improve in order to make it a more exciting sport, make it easier to understand for the public or maybe simplify it. There's a lot of ideas we talk about. Nevertheless, the World Match Racing Tour are doing a good job in making it the premiere professional sailing series. The best sailors are racing there and we're really glad to be part of it.

A lot of things are changing with the current situation in the America's Cup, the financial crisis and the Tour has its own sort of difficulties in keeping things going. We look at the bigger picture for ourselves and we want to be part of it to change it to something that is on TV more. Korea and the Monsoon Cup are probably instigating, helping it be on TV a little bit more. They were both broadcast live on Eurosport. There are a lot of things that could improve but as a whole it is a really good platform to get into being a professional sailor.

Graeme Spence: The World Match Racing Tour is something we are passionate about and in the previous years you could see it was going in a new direction already. We have two of the biggest events, Korea and the Monsoon Cup, reaching non-sailing audiences and that's an interesting new development and it should continue going into that direction. Sailing should be taken to areas where sailing has not been before. This is important for the commercial viability of the circuit. We talk a lot about it and the good thing about the Tour is that it's really open and the teams work together with the organization towards a common direction. It's going to continue improving.

Torvar Mirsky: A few more people are trying to think into improving it. There is a lot of professional sailors at the moment short of a good job or looking to sail that turn to the Tour to do that. In the current scheme of things, the Tour is the cheap way of doing all these events and be in the limelight of sailing. I think we'll see the Tour evolve into something bigger than it is right now over the next few years.

Valencia Sailing: Let's talk about your team and the way you sail. Who has the final word in a race? Who takes the final decision?

Torvar Mirsky: That's a good question. Something we proud ourselves is having equal responsibilities on the boat and having really taking charge of your own roles. We apply this to everything we do and it's something Peter Gilmour has been very good in expressing to us when we were younger. For me, as a skipper, it is important to allow everybody do their own job without being on their back. I think you would find a lot of young skippers that try to control every aspect of the sailing team. In our team, for example when we approach the bottom mark I don't tell Graeme when to pull the spinnaker down, he just does it. That's his job and I concentrate on sterring the yacht round the mark.

The answer to your question is no, I don't make all the decisions. The guys do their own jobs and we coordinate together. I there is something that needs to be decided in a rush, I'm the big boss.

Graeme Spence: The way our communication is set up, Torvar steers the boat round the course, except probably the prestart where the situation is obviously much more critical. Otherwise, Torvar is told where the laylines are, where the pressure is, when to tack or gybe.

Torvar Mirsky: Kyle Langford is our tactician and our mainsheet trimmer. Graeme is more of a strategist and will pick the left or right side of the course. Then they will both discuss about it and tell me what they think. If I feel there is some other factor that influences the situation I will join the discussion but the real decision is made by Kyle.

Torvar Mirsky racing against Sébastien Col at the Marseille International Match Race. Marseille, 14 March 2009. Photo copyright Gilles Martin-Raget

Valencia Sailing: I suppose the World Match Racing Tour is not the end of the road for your team and you most probably aspire to something bigger, surely the America's Cup. Given the current uncertainty, have you thought about joining another circuit, such as the RC44's or TP52's?

Torvar Mirsky: I think that our team is a solid team of five. Whatever the situation is, whatever the problem is, we always tackle it together. If we are going to do something we don't separate, we really work together to go as far as we can. As you said, match racing is not the end oth road for us and we look to apply our skills to other circuits such as the RC44's, the TP52's or the America's Cup. We want to broaden our skills and apply our teamwork criteria to as much stuff as we can. We think this is our formula to success.

Valencia Sailing: You will take the helm of an America's Cup boat tomorrow, for the first time ever. Are you scared?

Torvar Mirsky: I would be more scared if I were in charge of the mainsheet or some other job on the boat. I will feel more comfortable steering than doing something else but it's really going to be a big buzz because I have grown up thinking the America's Cup is awesome, which it is. To have a go at it, I wouldn't say I'm scard but really excited about it. The biggest boat we have raced so far was in Trieste in 55 footers.

Valencia Sailing: Your sparring partner here in Valencia will be Adam Minoprio. Quite often, when one mentions one of you the other one is immediately mentioned as well. What relation do you have with them? Are you friends or enemies?

Torvar Mirsky: We have gone through various stages. We have always been friends and I think that our team and their team should work together to go as far as we can. We are both young teams and a lot of things go against the younger teams. If we tackle this together we can go further ahead. We will carry out real training sessions on the 12th and 14th here in Valencia and I think this way it will be easier to beat the older and more experienced teams. It's better for the two young teams to be 1st and 2nd rather than 5th and 8th.

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