America's Cup: Where to now, for Artemis? Iain Percy gives the answers

Iain Percy - Skipper Artemis Racing - 34th America’s Cup, San Francisco

Iain Percy, the three-time British Olympic medalist is in Puerto Calero, calling tactics for Torbjörn Törnqvist onboard Artemis Racing at the RC44 World Championship.

European sailing website vsail.info's Pierre Orphanidis caught up with Percy and talked about his new role as Team Manager and the present and future of the team and the America’s Cup.

VSail.info: Let’s start with a personal question. How does it feel to go from flying AC72?s that were doing 50 knots to sailing the RC44?s that do 15?

Torbjorn Tornqvist and Iain Percy
© Sander van der Borch / Artemis Racing
Percy: It’s a very different boat! You get very used to the speed and certainly it does feel quite slow. It’s funny because when you go from a slow monohull to a catamaran for the first time, they feel very similar in terms of the challenges. When yo go back the other way it feels very different, it never feels fast. The AC72?s are incredibly fun boats to sail, they are truly awesome bits of kit. They, obviously, have to be treated with huge respect, something that, as a team, we probably know more than anyone but they are incredible bits of engineering and design and produce the fastest boat upwind and downwind that has ever been by any margin.

VSail.info: What is the next small boat you will sail now? The Moth?

Iain Percy: I wanted to sail a Moth and I asked my friend Adam May who works for Artemis Racing. He said I wasn’t allowed to sail it because I was too fat and I was going to break it. We are trying to find a solution to that with a different boat. We will do a lot of foiling in-house and that’s, obviously, the future of the America’s Cup. You see it everywhere, it is becoming the future of sailing as well. It is a real step change, it’s a cool feeling and it’s incredibly efficient.

However, the focus now for myself and Artemis Racing is to build a strong team, capable of winning and dominating the America’s Cup arena. That’s our goal, that’s Torbjörn’s goal. Artemis went through some very tough times last year and some real highs when we managed to race against all the odds. It’s time now to show we are a winning team, a serious, professional team that is going to win the next America’s Cup. That’s the team we are building right now, quietly, as we tend to do, not always to the pleasure of everyone else, including the press, but we get on with our business quietly, respectfully to all our competitors. This is the way Torbjörn likes it, the way he is as a man. We are very professional and with a real will to win.

Iain Percy at the helm of Artemis Racing - RC44 Cascais Cup 2013
© MartinezStudio.es
.info: I’d like to step back to the previous America’s Cup. Artemis Racing was one of the teams that started very early, as early as the fall of 2010, had ample resources and became the Challenger of Record. However, it suffered from a series of very serious setbacks that culminated with the unfortunate and tragic accident last May. In hindsight, looking back, what were the errors the team committed? What lessons did you draw so that you avoid repeating them in this America’s Cup?

Iain Percy: Huge lessons! To be fair, I think that all teams that did this new challenge for the first time learnt a lot and you learn from doing things badly. Like everyone else we learnt through both, through making mistakes. I wasn’t very involved until after the 2012 Olympics but I must say that in the final 6-8 months, because of guys like Bart, Nathan or Iain Jensen, the feeling in the camp was absolutely incredible. I have personally, never worked in such a politics-free team, such a hard-working, driven team. Where we were for most of the time I experienced, there was very little wrong. We are now going to be one team, in one venue, concentrating on winning the America’s Cup. This is probably our central message.

VSail.info: In what regards the 34th America’s Cup as an event how would you assess it? What do you think were its strong points and where do you think it could be improved? Do you have any criticism regarding the organization, the format or what you personally think should be done?

Iain Percy: One thing I never doubted was that Larry’s and Russell’s vision, what they truly believed, was going to be the best for our sport and the best for the America’s Cup. I always supported that, I never was one of those cynics and, in the end, I think that the final product proved to be a step transformation for our sport. Finally, it was very appealing to the non-sailing public as well as the sailing public. Like we all learnt from our good and bad things, I’m sure the event will too. I think it’s clear that both on the safety side and the cost side, it would be good to increase safety and reduce costs, so that we have more teams.

Artemis Racing’s Sailing Director, Iain Percy polishing a daggerboard - Artemis Racing - Media Tour of Alameda base, July 7, 2013
.info: This means you personally think there should be more teams. Isn’t the America’s Cup after all meant to be just for the Torbjörn Törnqvists and Larry Ellisons of the world?

Iain Percy: I think the America’s Cup will always be exclusive, it will always be the premiere event and it’s never going to be an event for the masses. This is clear, it never has been and never will be. This is precisely part of its appeal. For centuries we had the involvement of people like Sir Thomas Lipton and it’s always going to be the pinnacle and premiere. Just like Formula 1 or Premier League Football, it’s an expensive game. However, there is a balance. You can make it so exclusive that just one man in the world can afford it and you can go down to the Optimist level where you have hundreds and thousands of people.

I think that collectively, ourselves, Torbjörn and the other teams would like to see a few more teams involved. It doesn’t need to be a huge event, we want to keep it exclusive and we want to keep the 'wow' factor in there and a few of the things that were breathtaking, not just on TV but also from the shore. I think that requires a certain boat size but for sure we support very much the efforts of Oracle and we are regularly communicating with them about cost, trying to get that balance just right. You want to keep the development element as much as possible, the excitement and the 'wow' factor, that also comes from the development.

VSail.info: Everybody’s raging about foiling but, after all, it wouldn’t have existed if Emirates Team New Zealand hadn’t developed it!

Iain Percy: Absolutely and that’s another thing I have huge respect for them, having led the development side of that cycle, but there is a balance. We are trying to bring the costs down by 20-30% so that the next Cup can include a few more enthusiasts of our sport, companies and commercial partners, to join and make it slightly bigger.

Artemis Racing competing in the Semi-Finals of the 2013 Louis Vuitton Cup in San Francisco
.info: That would also allow your buddy Ben Ainslie to find the adequate corporate funding and come in with a British team, wouldn’t it?

Iain Percy: That would be great. I’m really proud of what he’s trying to achieve. It takes a lot to take that on. He’s genuinely trying to be a businessman as well as a successful sailor. Whether he succeeds or not takes nothing away from the effort he’s putting in, which I think is fantastic for the sport. He’s a huge name for our sport, he’s a good friend but also incredible competitor. It takes personalities like him to take our sport beyond its traditional public and as a result, I really support what he’s doing. I talk to him regularly and I wish him very well with that.

VSail.info: If at the end, unfortunately, he’s unable to come up with the necessary funding for the British team, will you hire him for Artemis Racing?

Iain Percy: We are currently building a team independent of that, we have to. Myself and Ben are pretty open with each other that we don’t need to play games with each other, after knowing him for 30 years. We at Artemis Racing need to build a team that is capable of winning and dominating the Cup arena. We are going ahead doing that.

For the rest of this fine interview click here

Iain Percy and Bart Simpson cross the finish line in the Medal race of the Star class in the 2012 Olympics to win the Silver Medal, having led the fleet going into the final race.