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AC36: Interview with Gilberto Nobili (ITA), Operations Manager, racconta l’organizzazione delle atti

SAN FRANCISCO (#1209) — As we await news on the launch date of the Challenger of Record's first of two permitted AC75s — Boat 1, or "B1" as the teams refer internally to their first boat — here's an interesting interview posted on Friday by Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli with our former AC teammate (Oracle Team USA 2010 and 2013), the hard-working and popular Gilberto Nobili (ITA). Your Ed. has taken the liberty of italicizing a few of what we see as Gilberto's key points....

The Challenge Machine

He won the America’s Cup 2010 and 2013 editions with Oracle Team USA and in 2017 with Emirates Team New Zealand. In addition to the Cup, he has participated in several international sailing events in the TP52, Maxi and Extreme40 classes, and raced for four years (2004-2008) in the Olympic Star class as bowman to Francesco Bruni. This is his sixth America’s Cup.

What does managing an America’s Cup Challenger base mean?

When I took up this role with the Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team, I knew exactly what I would be dealing with from a technical standpoint. I did not imagine, however, just how important human resources management was going to be.

What are the most complex moments you deal with at the base?

The critical moments have yet to come. As far as I’m concerned, they’ll start the moment the boat arrives. In the America’s Cup one of the most difficult things is to find a balance between the hours spent on the water and those on land, between training and boat development. Then there’s risk analysis and management. It’s here that in the 20 years I’ve been involved in sailing I’ve seen some great mistakes made, but I’ve also seen some amazing solutions.

For example?

There are teams that spend too much time in the water and too little developing the boat or team, underestimating the risks and breakages, compromising the final result. When the boat is in the water, we cannot afford to break items that have long delivery times. If you break a keel, you’re grounded for four/five months and you lose a card to play, because the number of components you can use is limited. You have to proceed in phases, optimizing the components without exposing them to elevated risks of breakage.

How do you decide when to go out to sea and when to develop on land?

I collect information from all team departments and integrate them with updated weather forecasts. I then verify that the plan is feasible and in line with the long-term objectives. Once completed, I share this data with the team and coordinate the sea trials. Overall, I try to take advantage of my experience to avoid making the mistakes I’ve seen committed in previous Cups.

What is the typical Luna Rossa team day like?

For the sailing team, from 7:30 to 9:00 am gym, breakfast, then everyone moves into their particular work group. At 8:00 am the shore team arrives, at 9:00 am the designers. Depending on whether it is a navigation or development day, the program can be dictated by weather forecasts. Putting the boat into the water is an activity that takes between two and three hours. You’re on the water from three to six hours, then you work on the ground to fix the boat and make any modifications or improvements. Finally, there are meetings and debriefs of the day’s work.

What is developed entirely within the walls of the base?

Several custom pieces that need to be integrated with the boat and other components, as well as the mechatronics - that mix of mechanics, hydraulics and electronics that allows us to manage the movements of different elements like the keel and sails. This is a part of the project that I’m personally involved in.

How does it work in practice?

Mechanical energy is produced by the grinders, the guys who turn the cranks; when it’s not used by the winches, we can use a sort of computer to redirect it to any of the hydraulic circuits. By regulation, the underwater movement part (foil) is powered by the same standard batteries for all the teams.

When Boat 1 is launched, what will happen?

I imagine that the first few months after Boat 1 is launched will be rather complex, because we will have to get to know it and it won’t be easy to follow the planned timetable. The time it takes to get to know the boat will have consequences on subsequent developments. Then, when the first races take place, the performance of the different hulls can be compared and we will start to understand the positives and negatives of the design choices and their sustainability over time.

Will the new boats require considerable physical commitment from those on board?

The crew of a traditional 72-foot race yacht is composed of 14/16 people, the AC75 foresees 11 and will sail three times faster. It is estimated that the crew will be subjected to loads way beyond those of a traditional boat of the same length. In addition, the races will last forty minutes instead of twenty like in previous editions.

How do you balance work and rest?

For now, I am insisting that everyone has two days of rest. There will be a time when we can no longer afford it. In the final six months of the last Cup, we didn’t take a single day off. Over four years, one of the risks is burning your people out, a bit like at the Olympics: it’s not those who are very strong at the halfway point who win, but those who are fitter than others at the end. The America’s Cup athlete is anomalous because he must use his experience, excel at his talent, talk to the designers and work as a team to fully develop the boat.

Your typical day?

I get up at 5:00 am, study the weather and organize the activities. I come to the base at 7:30 am and go to the gym and then try to be home at 6:00 pm every day. At least for now.

Are you generally satisfied in the evening?

I have a habit of setting myself very ambitious goals, so it’s unlikely to happen.

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