knut knows, part 2
Shanghai Sailor nails another VOR Innerview for us, this time with VOR CEO Knut Frostad. Part two of the transcript below:
SS: Now the VOR70 is in its third race now and third version. In Race 1 I saw keel problems, in race 2 big problems with the forward sections of the hull particularly in the leg up to Qingdao and already in this race 3 rig failures, 2 resulting in the loss of a mast. It’s a great boat but isn’t is bit like sending an F1 car round a World Rally Championship stage?
KF: You could argue so. It’s not about the boat, it’s extremely powerful, yes one of its challenges is, yes, there’s a benefit in pushing it to the limit while the boats we had before, the so called Whitbread 60’s.
SS: You did your first race on Intrum didn’t you?
KF: Yeah I did three races in that class and that boat was a bit under rigged and you could push it as much as you wanted with the rig in the water and couldn’t do any damage to it really although the first year we had delamination problems but that was a very safe boat and it doesn’t really have too much potential. I think that the boats that we have today are much better than we had 2 aces ago than on the previous race to. I am very disappointed about the rig problems. If we didn’t have that rig problem the race would have been very good and obviously we had those special conditions going up to Qingdao but in general it seems like the boats are fairly strong and it sounds a bit like, you have to be careful with your words when you say these things but people don’t understand from outside that while people are asking ooh – why are they having breakages but you have to understand how fast these boats go, I mean today they are doing 13 knots upwind which is incredibly fast. It is so fast you are almost planing upwind then they are jumping and this whole thing is holding together with the keel out the side and a lot of stability and it still sticks together so I think the boats are pretty good for what they are doing and I think they are too expensive but the rig failures should definitely not happen and the rig failure doesn’t have anything to do with the class or with the size of the boat of a Volvo 70 and the development that has gone on and people didn’t know what they were doing.
SS: Pushing it a little bit too far?
KF: Yeah, too far but it’s a material, construction and so on. They could have just gone for a safer carbon rig or similar style on what they have on Camper which they have been proving again and again that works but then they have to go thinner, and laminated together and very stiff and hard so I think that the boat is fairly good but it’s definitely a beast.
SS: So you’ve been there, you’ve done that, you mentioned you did three of your races on the 60s, so you are more qualified to be sitting where you are sitting than anyone else but, do you miss it? Being out there, the buzz, the adrenalin rush?
KF: Sometimes I do, sometimes I miss it because it’s such a nice life. I think the guys who race the Volvo Ocean Race are quite fortunate, they complain a lot about how hard life is but they are paid to race around the world, quite fortunate.
SS: I think Peter Blake put it best, it’s painful but you wouldn’t want to do anything else
KF: No, so I think for me what I miss from it is the simple life where you have one objective in your life which is to win your leg, or win your day or win your sked and that is fantastic. The camaraderie between the guys and they have really good racing out there. I mean when we spoke to the guys when they arrived here. It’s been hard, it’s been upwind, fishing pots and you name it but bloody hell it was racing non stop, it was relentless. If you just one little tack you’re gone, you lose a place. And that’s on and on and on for two weeks. That is fun, that’s got to be fun but I’m also happy I am not doing it I’m realizing that you have to want this race, you have to want to do it so hard, so badly.
SS: So putting you on the spot for just a second. Nav station or CEO’s desk, what would you rather be sitting behind?
KF: that’s a good question, says a lot about my job. I think I would rather sit where I sit, I think so.
SS: You have enough t-shirts?
KF: Yeah, I’m not there any more, it’s more because I am very realistic what it takes to do a good job at it and I’m sort of off pace but if I still was capable I probably would have liked to sail on board because my job now you so many stakeholders, so many objectives so you can never, never win. You can win some small battles but in the Volvo Ocean Race as a sailor you can really, really win. You can win a leg or you can win on that day whereas in my job today you can win some media coverage or a happy sponsor there but you have too many stakeholders and too many goals so you can never win them all. But the nav station is quite stressful too. Its stressful to be there and I don’t envy the guys, there are two or three teams now, Groupama, Telefonica and Camper are right up there. They clearly had a little bit of an edge, not because they are faster, they have just been more consistent which puts a lot of pressure on Puma and Abu Dhabi and Sanya, they have a huge amount of pressure on them.
SS: That showed a bit in the last leg with them banging the right hand corner
KF: yeah, it’s just hard to go round the world if you have that pressure and the difference between hero and zero is nothing.
SS: Of course the Volvo has Chinese masters now, at least partly, does that mean we are likely to see more stopovers in this corner of the world in the future?
KF: Yes and no, in general we are not trying to increase the numbers of stopovers because it does drive the costs up for the teams.
SS: What I meant was come to China again?
KF: You mean coming back again? I have a hard time seeing us not going back to China or South East Asia the next time. Obviously it was the first time last race and the big change in the Volvo ocean Race was the last race which was a change that was made by my predecessor, I was left to do the job with India and China which was a massive change for us and the teams. It’s made the race a lot more complex, tougher , longer, harder and hard to manage but for the sponsor there is no doubt for the sponsor the return is much, much bigger and frankly I don’t think we have too much choice. We have a choice we could go to Australia and then go to New Zealand, its possible.
SS: But it’s 20m against 1.3Bn.
KF: Yeah, it is the number of people, every single sponsor we have in the race has strong interest here. We see the difference between 2009 when we were in Qingdao and now in 2012 in Sanya is huge. It was important when we were in Qingdao but that is nothing compared to what it is now. Next weekend we have 12,000 corporate guests, all the sponsors together and if you take the biggest weekend we had in Alicante, we ever had was just over 3,000. And 3,000 corporate guests is a lot and here we have 12,000. We have so many corporate guests that we have filled every hotel in Sanya. We have 24 big spectator boats. You cannot get a spectator boat in the whole area. And that to me says everything. I don’t think ka sailing event – including the America’s Cup has had that many guests on one weekend and that says everything.
Volvo probably counts for 60% of it but even companies like Groupama which is a French Insurance Company, it’s the biggest stopover for them. They have started a business in China, this is one of the big future markets for them. Even for them this is super important so going forward I am very confident we will be here for the foreseeable future.
The tough challenge for us is to ensure that sailing becomes a sport in China because it cant only be business, it has to be the sailing side too and we some light in the tunnel which I am very happy with which we didn’t see in the last race. We have Team Sanya, we have at least one sailor, last race we had a media crew member. We had the Optimists racing this weekend the guys we had as coaches said the kids we had here were the best they had seen, they were better than those we had in Spain so they were really good sailors so things are starting but still a long way to go.
SS: Of course the Volvo stopover is more than just R & R for the boats and crew and an opportunity for sponsors to show their name, there are a number of events and promotions happen at each port. Putting you on the spot are there any of these that are particularly close to your heart?
KF: The Academy is very close to my heart, I believe that sailing is failing big time with connecting kids, this is a big failing that we want to change something about. Go back to the yacht clubs, why in sailing clubs in Europe do they have the kids in dinghies far away from the guys in the big boats? SO they never really get to meet and what we are trying to do is to let the kids have a little bit of an insight into the professional big world, meet the top guys, get down in the bases and be an inspiration, so the Academy is big for me, sailing schools and we have the try sailing school and we hope to teach 15,000 kids how to sail throughout the race and we are just about 10,000 already and that cost us nothing to do, it was a fairly small investment from our side, we bought 45 Optimists, a few Ludics, a few other bits and pieces but it wasn’t massive. I am just thinking what we can do next time based on what we do now, we could do this five times bigger.
We didn’t know really how it was going to work in China, the kids? Do they exist? More importantly do they have an opening after we leave, can they continue to sail after we leave so that’s close to my heart. The Skeleton sea is also an important thing but that’s a place where I just like to do things and not so much just talk about it. Too many people talk too much.
SS: Now it’s often been said that this is the century of China. How do you think it will be until there is a fully fledged Chinese team in the race rather than just a Chinese funded team?
KF: I still think it’s going to take some time to be honest, I wish I could say next race but I don’t think so. The biggest challenge I find here now is not to find the Chinese sailors it it’s the companies, the e Chinese companies are not really sponsors yet, the sponsorship is not really developed here. One is the Chinese brands are not really going abroad yet, very few are so they don’t really have a need for it and secondly they haven’t needed it they have been kind of successful in their home market so why look abroad? But I think it will come, I hope it will come. If I was optimistic, I think I would hope for the race after next we could have a fully Chinese team. There is some push in the government that they will try to have two teams in the next race where one is fully Chinese and the other is more like Team Sanya, sort of have them training together. I think it is a very good idea but I am not sure how realistic it is but I think it is a very good idea.
SS: Now you’ve seen Beijing as part of the signing of the Sanya stopover, Qingdao in the north, obviously here in Sanya, China’s tropical paradise. Have you had the opportunity to play the tourist at all? And are there any parts that you would like to visit if you had the opportunity, and the time of course?
KF: I’ve played a little bit, the tourist, not so much this time but quite a few times before the stopover, to be quite honest I have gone off tourism, you are here to work, you travel so much but I like walking down the back streets here and the small old village.
SS: Proper tourism!
KF: Yes, proper tourism had some adventures on the street. People are very nice here, very friendly. I like the atmosphere in Sanya. I’ve been to quite a few places in China and I find people here extremely friendly. Wherever you meet people, I don’t understand a word they are saying but they are always very welcoming and helpful and positive and smiling and I’ve done a bit of hiking here but it’s just a bit mind blowing to walk around and see how quickly things are changing.
SS: So often keen sailors get involved in running our sport, whether at club level or all the way up to this, the Volvo Ocean Race. Do you get much chance to go sailing yourself? And do you miss your time on the water?
KF: I sail way too little, that I can tell you. I have a formula 18 Catamaran in Spain which I do sail once or twice a month with one of my staff who is also a catamaran sailor. We go sailing together and we try to do some club racing but it’s way too little and it’s a scary thing that being involved in managing the sport of sailing there’s no time left so you lose touch with the real stuff which is scary and I hope I am not going to end up that I stop sailing completely because you then end up like one of the politicians. You have to be careful because you make big decisions about sport and you have to make sure you are in touch with what really happens. It’s a bit like when we select the classes for the kids that we want to have in our event. You try to be smart about it bit you have to be careful because if you haven’t been on a windsurfer or a 29er or a 49er, foiling Moth or anything like that for years be careful of making the decisions because you have to listen very carefully to what people are doing today.
SS: Now I’m not asking you to take sides but Telefonica, according to the scoreboard are the class act in this edition of the VOR but the last leg saw only 2.5% performance difference between the first 5 boats. Do you think they are likely to continue to have the edge with the next 3 legs having much more downwind sailing or is it all still up for grabs?
KF: It’s a good question. They are looking very strong. There’s no doubt that they are very strong upwind and they sail with confidence. I’m very impressed with them actually. One the team side if this, they are very well bonded together, Iker Martinez impressed me, has grown so much as a sailor from being a 49er dinghy sailor. In the last Volvo Ocean Race he was not here at all, he was not at that level. He did the Barcelona World Race and he has changed, very complete now, doesn’t have any pressure, he never built himself up to be a favourite in this race, people though about Puma, Camper, and Frank Cammas had pressure from France to do well but no one even talked about Telefonica before the stat.
SS: A very effective sail programme as well?
KF: Yeah, very good. I think they are going to be strong, I have no doubt they are going to be strong. I think their biggest asset at the moment is the pressure the other teams are under (to catch them) so I think the other teams are more likely to make mistakes as they are under a lot of pressure to gain back the points difference very quickly while Iker and his team can afford to finish 2nd or 3rd for the next two or three legs. We will see, it’s going to interesting
Thank you so much for your time and here’s to the continued success if the Volvo Ocean Race and it’s impact on the profile of our sport around the world.