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This Article Last Updated: Oct 14th, 2010 - 15:13:49 

Seahorse Magazine Talks to Torben Grael
By Tim Jeffery
Jul 15, 2003, 08:57

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SH: Has the arrival of a new generation of Olympians rejuvenated the Star class?
TG: It’s changing for sure. Twenty years the class was concentrated on its national and regional fleets, but now you have sailors who go to Miami, Barcelona, Palma, Spa and the big championships. It's too much for an old guy like me! It's impossible to do all the regattas, especially as a Brazilian living far away. But we have a good fleet there with good sailors.

SH: As a class, the Star is fascinating in its diversity and anachronism. Take one example: a Bacardi Cup fleet could be 100 boats, yet at the Olympics it is the smallest event with just 10-15 competitors...
TG: The Olympic format has become so different from our normal sailing. A starting line with 130 boats like we had at the Worlds in Punta Ala or Annapolis is almost the length of the beat we had at the last Olympic Games. Myself I don't like the Olympic format now, with many small races and no more reaches. It's good for some classes, dynamic boats like the 49er and Mistral, but not for the Star.

SH: How special is the history and traditions of the class; things like the chevrons or gold Star sail insignia for those who have won titles?
TG: It's pretty nice. The handbook is great and the organisation of the class is fantastic. You can participate; propose changes to the rule; get balloted for every change being considered. Few classes are like that now. I used to sail the Snipe a lot and they have a board now who decide everything. It's very important that classes should remember to consult the sailors; we are actually the ones who go and sail the boats. In this sense, the Star is a very democratic and very modern class.

SH: Does the Star merit its place in the Olympics when there is pressure to reduce cost and boost participation?
TG: I don't agree with than description. The Star isn't any more expensive than other classes. On the contrary, the Tornado and Finn class, with all their recent changes, and the 49ers which simply don't last very long, they are expensive boats to campaign. A Star with two persons is proportionately cheaper than a Finn. Also, in every sport you need people who are known and famous, and they tend to be older. Champions can't stay in Lasers and 49ers forever. One of the special things about our sport is that you can compete for a long time.

SH: Related to fitness and dynamics is the debate about Rule 42. Did something need to be done to control illegal means of propulsion?
TG: In the Star class, I did not agree with people standing up in front of the mast. It's obvious that this promotes rocking of the boat and that offends the rule. The class itself ruled to stop this. But Rule 42 is very difficult because boats are so different. Doing things in a light boat in light air can have big impact. I like the 470 class rule where they have decided on a wind limit over which you can do anything you like.

SH: Was ISAF correct in forming a working party to write interpretations and educate judges?
TG: In big events it would be good to have the same officials all the time so there is consistency, but this is very difficult in reality...

SH: Four medals from five Games... do you face selection for the Brazilian team?
TG: Yes we will have trials at home. One, maybe two events early next year.

Torben Grael and Marcello Ferreira
SH: Meantime you are working on the first Brazilian Volvo Ocean Race entry?
TG: We want to bring on Brazilian big boat sailors. Alan Adler [another former Star world champion] is trying to put it all together.

SH: What's the vision of the Brazilian entry?
TG: We want to raise the money at home and put some Brazilian sailors on the boat. It's too early for us to be thinking about designing and building the boat in Brazil and only having Brazilian sailors involved. We need help from outside to build our experience in the race and in running such a project. We could build the boat in Brazil but that may lose us too much time.

SH: So being competitive is a higher priority than a 100% Brazilian project.
TG: Yes.

SH: Yachting is still largely for the elite in Brazil. You're trying to change this with the Grael Trust?
TG: Brazil is a country of contrasts. There are a lot very, very wealthy individuals and also so many poor people. We believe there are a lot of people who should have the opportunity to sail. We don't have a tradition of the sport on a broader level and we are trying to help a greater percentage of people to try it. It is changing slowly - it sounds ridiculous to say this, but Brazil's best Olympic sport is already sailing! So when we go to the Olympics and come back with medals the media get more and more behind us and this helps to get sponsors.

SH: So what does the Grael Trust try to do?
TG: We try and get students from the state schools to learn sailing. Some of the promising ones then get adopted by a yacht club; all of them at least then get to spend some time in the sport. The programme is also trying to build up sailing as a profession, so that people can work in the industry as boatbuilders and so on. Actually we've changed the original name of the Projecto Grael to the Instituto Rumo Nautico. My older brother Axel is running that now and getting good partnerships with sponsors. Lars [Tornado bronze medallist] also does a lot of work for sailing, and also for rowing.

SH: Looking back to Auckland, Prada had the assets needed to mount a competitive challenge but fell short. Why was that?
TG: For sure it was not happy outcome. Every time personal agendas getting bigger than the team, then it is a big step towards failure. It's a pity. Basically we had all that we needed for a good performance, but we didn't get there. So a lot of mistakes were made. Many people will learn from it. I hope.

SH: If you had been able to fix the broken parts of the team structure, how close could Prada have been to the potential required to match Alinghi?
TG: Actually I think we were quite fast. But if you analyse the end result, we were pretty even with OneWorld and they lost 5:0 to Oracle - who lost 5:0 to Alinghi, so it is still quite a big step that we still had to make. The boat had a lot of potential downwind, but we could never change its performance sufficiently upwind. And if you are too far behind in a match race upwind, it is very difficult to ever overtake – as Russell was well aware when briefing the Alinghi designers….

SH: So do you have another America's Cup in you?
TG: I'm not sure yet. I will take a little time to let things happen. I want to spend time with the family. My kids are now starting to go to sailing championships overseas so our time is even more complicated! The America's Cup is very hard on family life and yet it offers wonderful opportunities. We lived in Italy and New Zealand for long periods. So the kids learn new languages and cultures. It's quite an experience for them. It's better than any school can give you.

Torben was talking with Tim Jeffery. Article reprinted with the permission of Seahorse Magazine.

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