Sailing: It has been a grind, but we are finally in business

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The Independent Online

The last seven days have shown the extremes of America's Cup racing and sailing. The weather, which was too windy for sailing early in the week, has become very calm and the only huffing and puffing has been caused by our efforts to keep cool and avoid sunburn. These days are long and tiring, as it's time spent on the water trying to keep focused while waiting for the wind to pick up. Races have been abandoned half-way through or not started at all.

The last seven days have shown the extremes of America's Cup racing and sailing. The weather, which was too windy for sailing early in the week, has become very calm and the only huffing and puffing has been caused by our efforts to keep cool and avoid sunburn. These days are long and tiring, as it's time spent on the water trying to keep focused while waiting for the wind to pick up. Races have been abandoned half-way through or not started at all.

These are not the days for the grinder. When the wind doesn't blow, all the loads become far easier to handle. Instead of needing six men working as hard as they can, a job can be done by two or three trying to keep quiet and cause minimum disturbance. It's harder for us to make our mark on the race and prove that we're better than our counterpart.

For our race against the French Le Defi Areva team, it seemed like there would be no wind and we would be on our way home after the 4pm cut-off point. By 3pm, there was no breeze at all. Some people deal with these delays by chatting about the opposition or the wind patterns on the water, while others look to a more distant horizon and discuss what they may do after the Cup. One or two of the guys, specifically our only Kiwi in the crew, recount details of their success rate off the water.

Others take the opportunity to lie on the sails and sleep. I was part of a group who went on to our hospitality boat to drink (tea) and supplement my boring packed lunch (which hasn't changed much in 12 months) with titbits like brownies and expensive sandwiches.

Suddenly the stillness is broken by a call to action – flags are being put up and guns fired off. We need to be ready and we're only just going to make it. The call is made to change our mainsail as it's quickly become quite windy. The new sail is ready just in time, but disaster – a baton has fallen out and we can't race with it like that. We drop the sail, remove the offending baton and rehoist, arriving late into the start area, but in the race. The missing baton makes us slower than we should be, which raises tension on board. I remind myself that it's times like these that require cool heads.

At the first mark the boats are close enough to collide and we control ours better as the French team-work is less efficient. They foul us and are penalised. We sail away behind them, but they are now a penalty down and we know all we have to do is stay close so we can pass when they perform their 360-degree turn. We do this successfully and our first point is secured. It won't be our cleanest, but it counts. Like the late goal scored by Man United in a midweek fixture, this could be the one which makes the difference.

The win disproved the old adage so popular with sporting coaches and army officers about "preparation preventing poor performance". After all our intricate work we have been unlucky to hit trouble. In the last week we've encountered all sorts of new problems; winch connection boxes, spindles, the mainsail baton and the spinnaker pole not working. These are frustrating for the team as we are very detailed in our maintenance checks. There has been good news this week as two of the team became new fathers on consecutive days. This has provided a great lift to the team, including the wives and girlfriends, except the pressure will mount on a few of the younger lads. Both dads were able to be at the birth and missed a day's racing, which gave others their first chance on the race boat.

Although I was aware we need to rotate to keep everyone fresh mentally and physically in this marathon event, I was initially disappointed to be told I'd have to step off for at least a couple of races out of the first eight.

As with all pieces of sporting selection the timing of the news could have been better, but I now feel glad of the rest. We all like to feel we are indispensable to the team and that things will not go as well in our absence. I like to feel I am the best person to do the job and I enjoy knowing my team can trust me to cope when the pressure comes. When you're told they can do without you it's a reality check, which is probably quite healthy. I justify to myself that in these light wind conditions it's not so important who is doing this physical role. I also know we have a strong squad and the other grinders will perform well.

At this stage it looks like we will end the first round-robin in the bottom half, but not in the relegation zone. More Tottenham than Southampton, sorry lads.

This means we are likely to be in a reasonable position to carry on into the knock-out stage of the competition in November. By then we hope to be faster as we still have a few tricks up our sleeve.

Greg Searle, the former Olympic gold medal rower, is a grinder with GBR Challenge

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