Sailing: Quick step of America's Cup preparations are over - now it's cosmic dance time

As the America's Cup begins off Auckland today, Andy Green, the starting helmsman on GBR Challenge, files the first of his weekly columns
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The Independent Online

After more than a year and a half of preparation for the America's Cup for GBR Challenge, it is getting down to the short strokes. Today is the biggest day in British sailing for 15 years. It is certainly the biggest day of my career.

After more than a year and a half of preparation for the America's Cup for GBR Challenge, it is getting down to the short strokes. Today is the biggest day in British sailing for 15 years. It is certainly the biggest day of my career.

In the rarefied atmosphere of secrets, spying and supreme technology we have been starved of the one thing that will give us the best idea of our chances: how fast are the opposition? We have lived in a bubble of our own campaign where we try to cover every aspect of design, hulls, sails, masts, rudders, wings, pre-start tactics and race strategy, constantly improving on what we think is the standard in a quest for something special that will give us an edge.

The problem with any challenger series like this is that you never know how fast you are and how good your preparation is until you line up against the other eight boats. We are one of the newest syndicates and have a modest budget, a great team and a passionate backer in Peter Harrison. But my instinct is that we are in pretty good shape. Our crew work and sailing skills have been shown to match the best. Now we must hope that our extensive testing has reaped rewards and we have a fast boat. Our last competitive outing was in our practice boats, first at the America's Cup Jubilee in Cowes last summer where we beat the cup holders Team New Zealand and narrowly lost to Prada in the finals of the match racing and then at the International Regatta here in February.

Today sees the start of the Louis Vuitton series here and we are going up against the big boys: Prada, the defending Louis Vuitton Cup winners, and Alinghi, with Russell Coutts and his core team who defended for Team New Zealand in the last America's Cup and were poached for footballer-like signing-on fees (West Ham not Man U, but in the millions none the less).

Oracle-BMW Racing are backed by the computer guru Larry Ellison, who is spending $100m [£65m] as effortlessly as we might buy the morning paper. The mind boggles.

I was employed by GBR Challenge as a match-racing specialist for one-on-one racing where you end up a jubilant winner or a hopeless loser, an emotional rollercoaster if ever there was one. It is not about stringing together a good series of results in the top 10 of a big fleet regatta: it is win or lose, every race. In 1851 in the first America's Cup match, when the yacht America thrashed all the boats put before her by the British, Queen Victoria asked: "and who is second?" Her lookout replied: "Your majesty, there is no second."

In this set-up it is very clear if you are performing or not, I will be the starting helmsman. When the gun goes we will have performed five minutes of pre-start manoeuvres, a sort of cosmic dance between two 80ft, 25-ton boats. My sole aim is to get a slight, even fractional jump on the opposition out of the line. It's a rolling start where it is possible to twist and turn your way to a superior starting position.

I have to know what I am doing, but I rely on 15 other crew mates thinking with me, grinding the winches, trimming the sails and advising on the best side of the course for the first leg to windward. As the wind builds, the noise increases and the loads on the boat spiral.

Our skipper, Ian Walker, takes over the helm from me after the start and I revert to the role of strategist, providing small snippets of information to our tactician, Ado Stead, who calls the shifts and then positions the boat.

I wind the handles and call the wind and even at 10st 9lb I hope I can help some of our grinders – just a little. After months in the gym, up at 5.30am for strength, fat-burning, boxing and touch rugby, we are physically well prepared, despite a few personal mishaps. After breaking my collar-bone in December and then on my first return to the field fracturing my finger with my first catch, I have decided rugby is not for me. I stick to the exercise bicycle.

The controversy and soap opera that always surrounds the America's Cup is now over. I hope we go well. Winning would be amazing but doing ourselves and our country proud would give us a great boost for another challenge. It's a long haul but we're up for the cup.

Andy Green was talking to Stuart Alexander

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