26th of June, 2012

Jeremy Robinson: “We are not racing to be best owner-driver but to win”

Jeremy Robinson runs the sail programme for Rán Racing and has sailed with Niklas and Catherine Zennström for five years, since they moved into big boat racing with a Marten 49, racing in the Caribbean.

Here he reveals a little of his role with the team, what his role is on the water – he is a permanent fixture in the chase boat – and off, working with North Sails. Robinson is a past 505 World Champion and is one of the helms aboard the 72 foot MiniMaxi Rán, sharing in all their offshore successes to date:

Can you just outline what your role is with the Rán Racing programme:

I work for North Sails and obviously Niklas Zennström is a fairly big account for us. He has three race boats, the Mini Maxi Rán 2 the 72 footer, Rán 4 the TP52 and back in the UK Rán 3 which is the Farr 45. I look after sail programme, make sure we are moving forwards with the design and schedule the ordering, different things we are looking at and down to basics like making sure the sails are here, ready on time for each event.
Tim (Powell) and I look at the programme at the beginning of the year and go to Niklas and say this is what we are after. We plan for the season ahead and that is always a compromise between having enough time to look at, and test and have time to design and have sails ready for the event. There is a little bit of juggling!

Typically what does that involve at a 52 Super Series regatta

If we have new sails I will go on the boat, photograph them and check they are OK. And then when I am not on the boat one of the trimmers will scan them. In looking after the sails I will scan them all and look at pictures of them to check we are getting what we asked for, I keep a record of all the sail hours and how often they have been used.

What would be a broad brush comparison between yours and other sail programmes in this fleet:

I guess I am here at regattas with Niklas all the time, I guess for example that Gladiator don’t have someone here all the time, Quantum will have someone doing a pretty similar job to me, and I am not sure exactly how the Azzurra one works but the lead designer is here pretty often, I see him out on the boat regularly, Juan Garay. We go about it in different ways because we use different designers and lofts. North Sails UK make our sails and we use Tim Corbin in the loft for design, and Mickey Eckhart. I look at this as a team thing though. Tim Powell is the skipper and the input from Jon Gundersen and Andy Hemmings and I go back with their thoughts to the sail designer. If we have views then I try and make sure they are implemented. So really that part of it very much is a team game which way push the designs.

To make any radical changes over the season is pretty hard

What have been the key changes between Barcelona which you won at the end of last season and this:

We were pretty happy with our downwind speeds generally last year. We have changed some of our upper end chutes, we changed our lower end chutes have changed a little. Jibs this year we are allowed five battens in the jibs and we have played around with that a little. We like the five batten jibs. We did a bit of development with our J1’s which we had not had a chance to use much yet. And the mainsail was more evolutionary than anything. We knew what we did not like about last year’s and set about changing that, we have done that and it has given us a little more performance upper range. It is very hard with the TP’s in that you have to decide what you want at the start of the season and then stick with it because of the sail carding. You can look at new sails at PalmaVela in April and then you can really only go sailing for a day before you have to decide what you want for the next event.
To make any radical changes over the season, then, is pretty hard. Micky has been with the TP class for a long time, Tim (Powell) has raced in the class for a long time, we were pretty happy with a good starting point this season.

How do you bring new sails on stream, what changes can be incorporated from one regatta to the next, and – in effect – does the sail card system work?

The sail carding itself is one thing, but there is really little time. If you wanted a new jib between Barcelona and this event you’d be hard pushed, you might be able to turn up for a new jib for the third event. You can almost, but not quite get two of everything. If you want a spare, ready to go, in case something happens, you don’t really have time to do a new design.

What do you do on the water?

Sailing, we are in the RIB. Our tuning partner is Azzurra and so we will line up with them before the start and I will just comment on the different set ups, I will describe what’s happening and if we maybe think they have something better, or not, and that is pretty important to make sure we are on the money before the start. I will follow them in a RIB with a radio. We line up on a tuning run, I talk to the boat about any changes maybe, it is more about giving them feedback on what the set up. They are all good sailors and know what works and doesn’t. If something looks wrong I say. Azzurra is doing the same, and often the coach boats will swap over. I will go behind Azzurra and they will go behind us.
During the racing we will video the start, generally from behind, they know how close they are to the line, but if we do it from behind we see how the boats are manoeuvring, when they are tacking for the line, timings and acceleration. We will then video the hoists but really only if something goes wrong or not working, but we video all the mark roundings. We have a de-brief in the evening which everybody is at, if there are any specific boat handling things then I have that on video. We don’t look at everything. Adrian Stead will run through the races, what he thinks and the team will add comments. Ado has a lot of experience in the class and we can through specific instances when maybe Quantum was fast and he has a view.

But you have been with Niklas and Catherine since the beginning?

We have been together for a while. Some of us started sailing with Niklas in 2007 on the Marten 49, Steve (Hayles), Tim (Powell), myself, Willy (William Beavis), Boycey (Jon Taylor), and then we have moved on with him to the (first) TP and added a few, and then we had the 72 and added a few more.

Tim and Steve have sailed a lot together. Ado and I go back a long way to youth championships in the early 80’s and Andy Hemmings has sailed with us all a lot. But for us as sailors it is also about making it as nice as possible for Niklas and Catherine so that they enjoy it, and giving him the capacity to improve.

Can you give us an insight into the progress that Niklas has made, people perhaps overlook the fact he has only been seriously racing for five years.

Niklas started off sailing on the boat and Tim steered, back in 2008, we did some regattas in the Caribbean on the Marten 49, Niklas was one of the crew. We changed to the TP52 and Niklas steered a little, offshore, for example in the 2008 Middle Sea Race, and then from 09 onwards he was always one of the three helmsmen offshore along with Tim and myself. In 09 we sailed the Mini Maxi with Tim steering, the intention was always to bring Niklas into it. In 2010 Niklas steered mostly and then last year we cam into the TP52 class. He is the helmsman. So that was why the Farr 45 was purchased, to do some sailing in England, giving Niklas doing more steering on that since 2010.

And what is he like to sail with, one would assume he’s an owner who is fully involved?

Niklas is great to sail with, quiet, very good in the technical side and he always knows what is going on. And to me he is an owner who just wants to get better at sailing. He has given himself every chance with the way he has set the programme up. This year we are not racing to be best owner-driver but to win the 52 Super Series. And that is pretty good in that short period of time.

What do you think of the 52Super Series, and how can we get more owners and crews to join in

I think it’s a shame there are not more boats because these are the best boats out there. It trucks along upwind and downwind it is amazing. And you throw them around the race course, it is just great. If we can get the IRC boats sailing then that will be brilliant. I think, for example, that Tony Langley has a good sail programme now, they have some good sailors and Tony is capable of winning races and could win an event in the right conditions.

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