(Wednesday 28th March, 2018) – “It will be hard to finish in the top five this season! Equally, it is even harder to predict who actually will finish in the top five,” so says Nacho Postigo, the navigator wizard who sails on Provezza, who knows the TP52 fleet better than just about anyone. Having been one of the prime movers in getting the class up and running in the Med some 13 years ago, Provezza’s Palma-based Postigo has been constantly involved since then. He is visibly excited at the prospect of the coming 52 SUPER SERIES season even if he can’t really gauge where Provezza might finish.
Ergin Imre’s Turkish-flagged team showed huge promise last season. Bringing Peter Holmberg on to steer saw them lead into the final race in Key West but they failed to convert their first regatta win. In Porto Cervo, they momentarily had the overall regatta title in their grasp. But in July, in Puerto Portals, Provezza clinched a hugely popular first circuit regatta win for Imre. They finished fourth overall for the season behind Quantum Racing, Platoon, and title winners Azzurra.
When it became apparent that several owners were going to build new boats for the 2018 season, Imre did not flinch in his commitment to ensure his team is equipped to win, and a new Vrolijk design was commissioned. The new Provezza is in build in Italy, one of three TP52s currently being completed at Persico, one of the two Vrolijk designs among the nine new builds. The build is being managed by Provezza mainsheet trimmer Chris Hosking, who is building his seventh TP52 after Illbruck, three Artemis, Rán Racing and the 2015 launched Vrolijk-designed Provezza.
Ever enthusiastic and passionate, Imre commissioned a full debrief review of last season, the very good, the good, the bad and the downright ugly. Rather than a sterile office, a mountain retreat or a waterside villa he brought everyone on the extended team to Persico. to enjoy the motivation of seeing the new boat in build. Project manager and tactician Tony Rey explains:
“The whole team was in Persico about a month ago, Ergin flew us all over and we had some really productive team meetings. To see the parts all laying out on the floor and see how the boat is, it was really cool. I’ve never done that before. It was nice to be up in a mountain environment. And you get a lot more done there like that for everyone, rather than on Skype or over email.
We literally ripped everything apart… everything from our run sheet – that is our schedule for each day – to how the coaching side is going to work, to our sail programme, to our training partners. We worked through all the different details.”
The conclusions were many and varied, but adding up to enough to improve their consistency and hopefully step up to the podium overall. Interestingly both Hosking and Rey point to the Vrolijk boats for 2018 looking to be easier and more ‘user friendly’ to sail. Hosking is convinced the new Vrolijk design will be “a weapon”. And, logically, with seven new Botín designs to two Vroljk’s there is a good chance that if there is an inherent design advantage, not everyone will have it.
“Vrolijk have put an awful lot into these boats. They really need to be winners this time and for them a lot depends on how these boats go this year,” observes Hosking.
“We’re looking to work on two dozen little things, ” Rey highlights, “it is just a lot of small things. We analyse every race, every regatta throughout the season and look at where we were weak and where we think we were strong. The thing is, with nine new boats and a couple of new teams it’s a bit of a clean slate. There are the two Vrolijks and seven new Botín designs, and to me they’ve kind of crossed each other over in terms of upwind and downwind performance. The Botíns look more Vrolijk and the Vrolijks look more Botín, but we don’t really know!”
“That is just glancing at shapes and looking at pictures and things on Facebook. What else do you do in the winter? We look at theoretical performance, but of course in the end it is all theoretical. It’s a little bit like the difference between the forecast and the weather.”
They had a clear, defined brief for the Vrolijk design office, even if the same goals hold true for most teams. Rey highlights:
“It is like everyone would say: ‘We want to go upwind and hold our lane off the starting line’. The last boat was moded too strongly for downwind and not enough for upwind. That made it harder for us off the starting line and so we all added more rake to the rig and rebalanced a bit. We are hoping the boats have a good balance point off the line. As a racer, what I want is for the boats not to be faster but to be more ‘raceable’. Raceable – that means easier to sheet in and go. The Botín boats last time had their weaknesses but in the end, they were easier to race, to sail, to sheet in, lock in, hike hard, and be right up there. It’s about the balance point.”
Rey emphasises that that detail, the “tweak-ability” remains a big attraction of the class and the box rule design, but ease of locking in to a lane is vital:
“We want to focus on racing hard, and not focus on why the boat feels like this and that. Last time the boats were a bit grumpy in certain conditions but we were faster than others. I just want a nice, easy, ‘boring’ boat and then it’s on us. We’re just refining the tools? It’s not a systems thing, and we are always going to tweak, it’s what we do. We are going to be refining the sail shapes and the crew weight on the boat, and all sorts of things like that, until we are kicked off the boat at night.”
The role of coach John Cutler, America’s Cup sailor and Finn bronze medallist is strengthened:
“He is taking on even more of the leadership of the team, which is great. He is a real voice of experience. He’s a much greater asset than people realise. He is not just sitting in the coach boat… it’s the conversations at breakfast, and it’s the conversations walking to the boat. It’s the little things. John is so good at the little things.”
In light of the success of the Quantum Racing three-boat programme, teams are pooling information and planning to work together.
“We are doing a little bit of a shared programme with Sled and Alegre before the start of the race, and then, not really data sharing, but a bit of ‘parking lot chat’ to sort of agree.
To me, my attitude is that we are an open boat. We’re just trying to learn and if we see what they’ve got, and they see what we’ve got, and it’s up to all of us to learn from there. That’s our attitude.”
The Provezza project manager is relishing the season ahead.
“A year ago, if you had told me there would be nine new boats this year I wouldn’t have believed you. That fact alone is a little daunting and intimidating but we have some great new sailors and programmes coming in. But we are the Provezza programme, and we have a certain way of doing things, and that’s not going to change. We are still going to have a good time and enjoy ourselves. We will be up late at night and up early in the morning and enjoying it, that is Ergin’s way and that is the way it will stay. He’s brilliant. He’s positive, he’s focussed on working for a winner. He extends his family out to his sailing team. We would shed blood for Ergin!”
But although Provezza had their share of successes now, so too they have been haunted by very disappointing ends to the season – in 2016 especially – and missing out on regatta wins at the very last second. Rey and the team have worked hard to deal with these dark clouds:
“You can’t let the bad finishes sit with you, you have to turn the page and learn from the mistakes you’ve made,” but he admits, “For sure you wake up at three in the morning in February and think ‘what if I’d just dipped that guy instead of…’, but that’s life, that’s yachting, that’s sport.”
The whole crew embrace the Turkish history and philosophy of the team, Imre has friends and sailors who have been with him for 30 years and the whole crew share the enjoyment that this brings.
“Its good they keep their Turkish roots and it would be a shame to change it away from what it is. It wouldn’t be the same.
Every owner in here at this level of sport has one thing they want: that is to win. They want to be on the podium, and they want to have that trophy, but there’s one other thing they all want, and that’s the piece we have to deliver. That is what we’ve got going on. We do that with everyone, no exceptions.”
The new Provezza is following a slightly different schedule and pathway to the season’s start, and will not race at PalmaVela, but instead sail in Ancona, Italy, before heading to Croatia for the first 52 SUPER SERIES event: the Sibenik 52 SUPER SERIES Sailing Week, May 23rd to 27th.
“The boat’s going on the water May 2nd at 8am,” Rey confirms.
“We’ve decided to take a little bit of a different approach, take the pressure off a little bit on the build side because Persico’s building is a jam. They work at one speed and that’s what is working best for their project, so we have changed our style a little bit. We’re going to go to Ancona, Italy. That is the best location for Persico. We’re going to sail by ourselves. Any other teams are welcome to come and join us and that will be in early May. It would be too much of a hurry to make PalmaVela, and we’re too concerned about relying on other people’s schedules and shipping and rigs being built and things like that, but Ancona works great, it’s locked in and it’s reasonable economical, and then we can get the boat quickly across the Adriatic to Croatia. So that’s our plan and we will see if it works!”