Thursday, August 27, 2009

A take on Graeme Spence, Mirsky Racing Team Bowman

How did you get into match racing? When you started did you think it was possible that in a few years time you would be one of the top 4 teams on the World Match Racing Tour and on the verge of breaking into the America's Cup?

I did my first match racing event when I was 22. It was the Perth qualifying event for the "Warren Jones International Youth Match Race", Torvar was looking for crew the day before the event started and I got the job on bow for him. My sailing background up until this event had almost purely been offshore racing and although I had very little understanding of what was going on I loved the short, intense racing format. We sailed ok and although not qualifying directly Torvar received a last minute entry into the 2005 Warren Jones. I ended up committing to do the event with an International entrant from Great Britain, which meant I was racing against Torvar. Throughout the event I was further impressed with Torvar’s skill, we got together after the event and decided to form a team and prepare properly for next years Warren Jones. Figuring with his talent and my organisational input we could make a pretty good team. That was really the beginning of MRT.

Torvar may have had ideas of international success when we started the team, but I was in it purely as an opportunity to learn from sailing with people who were better sailors than me. Like any successful endeavor we have always set goals and worked towards them. Initially it was to win the Warren Jones, MRT did that in 2007 and 2008, then it was to win a grade 1 event and hold a top 10 ISAF ranking, we achieved that later in 2007. I guess around about this time we knew we could be successful on the world tour. In 2008 we received invites to 9 of the 10 stages on the world tour and finished 8th overall. This year we received guaranteed entry into the full 2009 tour in January, won our first tour event in June and now lie 4th on the leader board 2 points behind match racing legend Peter Gilmour. Whilst still focused heavily on winning the tour it is fair to say our personal and team goals are now shifting beyond the World Match Racing Tour. With a solid track record behind us we have every confidence in our potential to succeed as a team and as individuals in any area of the sport.

Graeme Spence and MRT no their way to victory at the Portugal Match Cup. Photo copyright Wander Roberto

Your position on the bow is quite unique, how does a match racing bowman differ from a fleet racing bowman and what is required to be the best?

I guess the main difference is that every crew member of a 5 man match racing team has a lot more to do, in a much shorter space of time, than a comparable fleet racing crew. I often compare my role in the team as closer to that of a mast man than a bowman. Fleet racing bowmen such as on a farr40 will generally be smaller and lighter as they have a mast man backing them up for spinnaker hoists and drops. In a match racing team the bowman covers all of that by himself; therefore being tall and strong helps!

The facet I enjoy most about being the bowman in a match racing team is that I have far more strategic input than I would doing bow in a fleet racing class. As I am looking out of the boat for the duration of the upwind and downwind legs I am in the best position to feed wind information to our tactician. I enjoy having an input on our race strategy. Pre-Start is also interesting for the bowman as you have a large part to play in managing time on distance to the line, boat position on the laylines and communicating the swing/bow position to the helmsman. These roles are mostly unique to the match racing bowman.

I’m not sure if I have the experience yet to tell people what it takes to be the best. I have always looked to the guys that I think are the best and tried to improve from them. Myself and many others rate Peter Gilmour’s bowman “Fuku” as the best in the world and many of the things I do on the bow I have copied directly from him. I have also been watching Andy Fethers (ex Luna Rossa bowman, sailing with Team Pindar) a lot recently - his precise and consistent communication pre-start is very intimidating, I’m working on that!

You are known to be one of the fittest sailors competing on the World Match Racing Tour, what training do you and your team do to be the best?

We train on average 4 times a week, and this varies depending on which phase we are in. We mix western style resistance training with eastern techniques developed from martial arts, and of course regular cardio training, either running, swimming, or rowing ergo. We have received a great deal of instruction from local Perth physio and sailor Gregg Kerr an expert in his field he is an asset to MRT.

You have been training with Oliver Bond from GBR in preparation for the mini transat, is single handed offshore sailing where you can see yourself in the near future?

I have really enjoyed spending time helping Olli to prepare for this years Mini Transat. It is a great event, an awesome class, and definitely something I am seriously looking into for coming years. Whether I see my future in single handed sailing I’m not sure about. I love match racing and am heavily focused on a career in the America’s cup. I see the Mini as a great project in a very different area of yachting that I can pursue whilst we all wait for the next multi challenger America’s cup.

The Volvo Ocean Race is the pinnacle event for offshore sailing, is this a goal of yours, and is it possible to combine the VOR with the Americas Cup?

I see the Olympics, the America’s Cup and the Volvo Ocean Race as the big three achievements in sailing, and therefore many of the worlds best sailors compete in two or more of these events. With the Cup out of action for a while there will be many sailors and teams looking to the Volvo to fill this void. The Volvo has grown into an incredible event and it is definitely something I would like to do during my career. All teams are required to meet a minimum number of crew aged under 30 which opens up opportunities for sailors in my age bracket to get into Volvo teams.

Graeme Spence and Nick Blackman during the finals of the Portugal Match Cup. Photo copyright Wander Roberto

What other acheivements do you have away from sailing and do these contribute to your sailing career?

I think that regardless of where your career takes you you’re always able to draw from previous experiences despite how remote they might be. I have always been a very keen sportsman and always encouraged to pursue anything that took my interest by my parents. As a youngster I rode horses, and played T-ball and Football, later I played Australian Rules Football and elite level Waterpolo. Whilst at University studying Business Management I played bass in a few original rock bands, whilst a very average musician I did learn it was easier to manage a sailing team than a band! As far as work goes I have done most things from Antique furniture restorer, to professional fisherman, to IT technician (anyone who has seen me operate a computer will laugh at this).

I believe my most valuable achievement is my university degree, having a formal qualification whether it is a trade or a degree is an invaluable asset to forwarding a career in any field.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years time?

In 10 years I’ll be working within an America’s Cup team, perhaps the defender…maybe based in Perth… and representing Australia, likely still with the core guys from MRT.

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