Musical Chairs

“Did you get the call?” The five words haunting and stalking the Cup community right now as the transfer window opens and the game of musical chairs begins. If you’re good, you’ve already had the call. If you were on the periphery or past it, that job offer from the local sailmaker is mightily attractive. Maybe start your own business. Are the TP’s racing again this year? Might see if the Chinese Sail GP Team need a hand. What’s that maxi owner’s name again?

©ACE / Studio Borlenghi

The 24/7 commitment to the commitment is fading fast. There’s no canteen to get the morning fuel from now and the gym sessions that you loved to hate are no longer compulsory and you secretly miss them. It’s not the same doing it at home with those shelves to put up and the Ikea wardrobe still in its cardboard and the missus dropping hints about ‘hanging space’ – which has several interpretations. The school run beckons and hero status, the morning dock-out cheers and twelve hour days out on the water are a distant memory. Making a living in the Cup game is a hard old roller-coaster. It’s the same in most professional sports.

But for those in the magic circle, with youth on their side and a desired pedigree, the keys to the Cup kingdom are yours. The phone call came. You’re into ‘negotiations’ and delightfully you feel wanted. People you’ve never heard of have got your number and are arranging coffee or dinner (if you’re really good) and are talking knowingly, with great certainty, what’s happening and where the next one will be.

They have a hotline to the boss and have known the skipper for years. He wants to meet you in person. Money’s not an issue. Accommodation will be superior. You’re exactly the missing piece of the puzzle that they didn’t have last time and if you sign, you’ll be standing on that podium with the Cup aloft as sure as night follows day. He’s in. She’s signed. He’s almost certainly coming. The design team is amazing but I can’t tell you about that. We’ve got so and so from that team doing the mechatronics. You won’t believe who’s joined the sail team. You’re joining the winning team. Best decision you could make.

©ACE / Studio Borlenghi

You sign. And then comes the moment you have to tell the current team. You send a few texts. Yeah I’m going with them. It’s been a tough decision. Doing it for Karen really. She wants to be closer to home. I’ve really enjoyed it. Had the best three years of my life. It’s been such a great opportunity. I’ve learned so much. It’s the lads I’ll miss most. I’ll never forget this time. It’s not you, it’s me. I’m ambitious.

And then there are those on the outside looking in. Those that missed out this time. The ones that sat on the sidelines and haven’t got the relevant experience but have been to the Olympics, know about foiling and are either established or promising talent.

This is a tough time. The coffee got cancelled. WhatsApp’s are read but unanswered. Calls go to answerphone. The network, your mates on the teams, are all saying the right things but it’s just not happening. Your profile isn’t quite right and they already have someone in that position. And that time in San Francisco in that bar hasn’t been forgotten. You upset the tactician in Bermuda. Telling the sporting director your true feelings about the way the last campaign was being run has got back. That was a mistake. You’re a bit difficult to work with. Not sure you’re a team player. The owner’s wife hasn’t forgiven the way you treated her pooch. That just wasn’t funny. You’re getting the cold shoulder and it isn’t happening. That sailmaking job in Melbourne is looking like the only option now. The Moth Worlds might be a good idea. Need to raise my profile.

©North Sails

You see. The transfer window is a horrible time. It’s a time of uncertainty and a feeling that the party is going on somewhere else. The salary rumours make it worse. Sign for this amount now and you’re closing the door on potential elsewhere. Become a bad leaver and your actions can haunt you for years to come. Your reputation is on the line and this is the clickiest sport in the world.

When Eddie Irvine left Ferrari in 1999 he promised all the pit crew a Breitling watch and then reneged on the deal as he landed at Jaguar the following season. The Tifosi found out and the Italian media killed him, despite him making good on the promise. And when the Magic crew left Team New Zealand to join Ernesto Bertatrelli’s Alinghi, it was a move that made headlines and has stayed with those involved forever more.

The transfer season is political, clicky, dangerous to navigate and very often, as career ending as enhancing. Show too much ambition or confidence and you can be cast aside. There are plenty in the wings waiting, desperate for that slot. There’s only a few positions on the boat and everyone knows who they want today. Shoreside is about as glamorous as a wet weekend in Grimsby so be careful what you wish for. You can be very quickly forgotten.

The mood music right now is as slow as a Tibetan incantation. The chairs are lined up. The players are slowly circling each other. Some are already seated watching and waiting for the mayhem to unfold. As every day passes, the beat gets faster. Deals are being done. Conversations are moving to contracts. It’s stressful, hectic, uncertain times.

But the America’s Cup is won and lost in the next month.

4 thoughts on “Musical Chairs

  1. Ooooh, that’s a bit cynical! What will Rita look like when she races Te Rehutai in the Solent? I am guessing, much like te Rehutai does now. In fact, what will Te Rehutai look like by then! Will they both agree, for example, to remove the bowsprits?

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  2. Very evocative and detailed, it underscores just how little stability there is in this event and how transitory the teams are. I’m re-reading Spithill’s memoir and while he does try to present a sunny view of his career, one can certainly see how this sort of uncertainty would be stressful for a sailor and their family.

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  3. Magnus, it sort of “who’s line is it anyway?” rather, and depending on which episodes you want to follow and hope for in the future. Just imagine I’m Grant Dalton, I would push the boundaries a bit, I would demand $GBP100m from Sir Ben and Sir Jim for a special challenge in the Isle of Wight, this would be sufficient to pay half of the bill for the next cup if the Kiwis were to lose the cup to Team UK. That is a good price to pay, but lower than the market price, Jim and Ben can afford, it’s lunch money really for them. When the Kiwis lose the cup, it would be the biggest story of this century, worth a gamble I reckon…

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