Thursday, November 12, 2009

A view from the back of the boat

Alejandra Mato (ESP) had the privilege of sailing with the crew as the 18th person on the boat for this morning's race against Emirates Team New Zealand. A member of the BMW ORACLE Racing team since 2004, 'Alex' is the PA to team CEO Russell Coutts, but that doesn't begin to describe what she does for the team.

Here in Nice, a better description of what she's been doing might be, quite simply, 'everything' (with a big assist from the rest of the squad here too!). This includes shepherding the crew - never an easy task - being point person for the team with the race organisers, handling many of the on-site requests for the crew, and dealing with anything else that might come up. And usually, there's plenty that comes up. It is, quite literally, a 24-hour a day job. So when the person originally scheduled to be 18th man had to change their plans at the last minute, it was only appropriate that Alex filled in.

A feature of the ACC boats since they started racing for the 1992 America's Cup, the 18th man position (it was '17th' through the 2003 AC) gives one lucky person a front row seat for the race that is unique in sport. Imagine riding along on an F1 car, or being on the field during a football game.

"It was the first time I've been on board for a race," Alex said. "It's very quiet on board. They know what they have to do, so most of the talk is about tactics and wind, not about what everyone has to do. I was surprised by how much everyone moves around on board, depending on the manoeuvre. You tend to think everyone has a fixed role, but in fact, people do very different things at different times.

"Unfortunately we were behind for the whole race. We were close for the first leg, but never really got in a position after that to challenge. But one thing you really appreciate from on board is how much work it is. You don't get the full idea about that from the TV. It's a constant physical effort for the guys."

Despite the loss, for Alex, the best part of the sail might have been the peace and quiet. It provided a full hour with no email or mobile phone, no troubleshooting, no last-minute requests. Come to think of it, that may be why the 18th man position was invented.