April 2007

Morning Light Crew: ‘They’ll Be Ready’

HONOLULU---No worries, mate. Mike Sanderson, winning skipper of the 2005-06 Volvo Ocean Race, says the young Morning Light team is "certainly going to be ready for Transpac."

The New Zealander rejoined his Volvo navigator, Morning Light instructor Stan Honey, to spend four days tutoring the team on land and sea during its third monthly training session on the Transpac 52, less than a year after Roy E. Disney started from scratch to build his team of young sailors to sail the 44th Transpacific Yacht Race from Los Angeles to Honolulu.

With the race four months away, it was time for a progress report, measured from two overnight sails — first with Sanderson aboard, then completely on their own.  

Piet van Os, 23, of La Jolla, Calif. was the designated skipper and primary helmsman for the first run to Molokai and back, with the Volvo winner breathing over his shoulder. 

"He's one of the best coaches I ever had," van Os said. "He wants you to drive so hard and do so well. He just likes to sail fast, day and night."

Sailing manager Robbie Haines said "the timing was right" for Sanderson's involvement. The sailors had learned how to sail the boat but not really race it. 

"He brought them up to a new level when they were ready to step up," Haines said. "He impressed upon them that if they're going to win they have to work harder than the next guy."

Sanderson said, "It's about intensity. If you want to go on vacation you should go somewhere else. If you want to win sailboat races, you have to get on with it."

But not by yelling. Van Os said, "We talked tactics and team management . . . as a skipper what you do. You don’t get respect; you have to earn it, and that you're in charge of all the groups that take care of different areas of the boat. For this I had two really good watch captains in Jeremy [Wilmot of Australia] and Charlie Enright [Bristol, R.I.]." 

After Sanderson checked out, the team sailed away again, this time leaving all of their instructors at the Waikiki Yacht Club dock. Haines and Honey tabbed Wilmot as skipper for the second overnighter — about 200 nautical miles upwind and downwind  through the Molokai Channel between Oahu and Molokai.

Wilmot, 21, said, "It was great. I loved having that role, trying to earn the spot, working with trimmers, trying to keep the boat fast. It was up to me to get the team motivated and push them, since there were no coaches there to do it. I liked the challenge."

Soon, the team got into it. "The difference between the start of the trip and the end of the trip was amazing," Wilmot said.

Enright, who was a watch captain again, said, "There was a lot of changing gears. It was a beautiful night with a pretty easy breeze averaging 18 knots. We have it more figured out than in the other sessions, but [no positions are] solidified yet."

Van Os said when he was skipper he had only a half-hour of sleep the whole trip because he didn't want to miss anything Sanderson had to offer.

Chris Clark, 21, of Old Greenwich, Conn., said Sanderson "observed how we handled situations, and when he thought his input was necessary, he gave it. Every word out of his mouth was a valuable piece of input." 

Steve Manson, 22, of Baltimore, said, "That was definitely a step forward for the team. Last time we didn’t get the ultimate feel of night sailing. This time [with Sanderson] we had some overcast and it felt like real night sailing where you don't
want to fall off [the boat].

“The waves were splashing you and everything was so pitch black you could barely see anything in front of your hands. We had a few problems, but everything got handled quickly and professionally."

The problems, Manson said, included a couple of "scary" accidental crash jibes and spinouts in 25 to 30 knots of breeze down the Molokai Channel — at night.

Van Os, who wasn't driving either time, said Sanderson "wasn't happy with it, but he was very constructive about it, [telling the sailors] 'do better next time' and 'realize why it happened.' "

Could there be Volvo races in the Morning Light team's future? Sanderson, 36, was only 21 when he sailed his first Whitbread Round the World Race, then largely an amateur competition that has evolved into the totally professional Volvo Ocean Race.
"There's a good chance a lot of these people would have gotten Volvo rides in my day," Sanderson said. "The antes been upped a whole lot, [but] there certainly are some people here that will end up on Volvo boats or America's Cup boats. There's some real talent with really good attitudes."

The entire Morning Light project — crew selection, training and the race — will be the subject of a documentary film produced by Roy E. Disney and Leslie DeMeuse of Pacific High Productions in association with Disney Studios. It's scheduled for theater release early next year.

More information: www.pacifichighproductions.com/ and www.transpacificyc.org