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On the crest of a wave

Sport Sailing

Great Britain won the Commodore's Cup last month, and two boats in the winning team were from the construction industry.

Antony Oliver talks to the skippers.

Twelve months ago Jonathan Goring decided to put together a crew to challenge for a place on the British team in the 2004 Rolex Commodore's Cup.

Last month his boat Jeronimo and its nine strong crew was rewarded in Cowes.

As well as being in the victorious three-boat GBR Red team, he also scooped the prize for the best individual boat in the week long regatta.

'For the average punter this is as far as you can go in sailing - it is the highest level for an amateur sailor, ' explains Goring.

By day Goring is a director of Capita Symonds. But sailing is very definitely what he does when not at work, a hobby which he reckons provides an excellent foil to his busy weekday commitments.

Even by his standards though, the commitment required to hit this latest goal was substantial. Since deciding to go for a place on the team he has spent every weekend either racing, preparing to race or training with the team.

And when you consider that during this time he was deeply involved in the complex negotiations leading to Capita's purchase of Symonds, it is clear he has a capacity for work.

'Everyone on the team had jobs, ' says Goring, pointing out it was a big commitment for the whole team. 'But when you are chosen to represent your country you turn up - every weekend.'

Goring explains that the priorities are finding the right boat, the right team and then having a ready supply of spare parts to keep the whole thing going.

'When it became clear my boat was competitive, good sailors wanted to be in the boat, ' he says, adding that one of these good sailors was also MD of a sailmaker, another ran a boat repair business and a third, alongside his day job at project manager Mace, was a international standard helmsman. Additional project management and logistic skills came from Helen Latham, who during the week works alongside Goring as a consultant at Capita Symonds.

To help the preparation process Goring hired a trainer - Olympic sailing coach Jim Saltenstall - to critique the crew from outside.

'His input was invaluable, ' says Goring. 'For four weeks he worked with us on everything from sailing skills, tactics and organisation, through to our nutrition and exercise regime. As a result we were certainly the fittest and best prepared team on the water.'

'The main thing about the team was that we are all friends, ' says Goring. 'The team is more important than the collection of individual skills. Getting this team to work together is the key to our success.'

The absolute need for a properly functioning team is a belief shared by Jerry Otter, owner of material specialist Gunite and skipper of Exabyte II, another member of the victorious GBR Red team.

'On a boat like Exabyte, if you haven't got all 12 crew members on the team working together it just doesn't work, ' explains Otter. 'It is exactly the same as in the office at work. There is a no blame culture on the team. You have to do your job but if you respect people then you will get respect back.'

Otter also put in a serious amount of time and effort to achieve success in the Commodore's Cup. He started his campaign after Goring but went through a similar process of preparation, starting with finding the right boat and then attracting the right crew.

'I enjoy building teams and the challenge of bringing together talented young people and strengthening them, ' he explains. 'I like to show them that to get things in life you have to work as a team.'

Like Goring, Otter is now looking forward to a less frantic season next year, taking part in serious but perhaps not so intense regattas in and around the Solent.

The first of these will of course be next week's Little Britain Challenge Cup, the construction industry's annual regatta in Cowes, and although both will have replaced their competition crews with corporate guests they will be no less intent on winning.

Sails pitch

Geologist Mark Setrem is putting his desk job on hold for 40 days pitching about on the high seas.

It has taken six years for geologist Mark Setrem to graduate from dinghy sailing to crewing on a state of the art racing yacht in what many consider the toughest nautical race in the world. The Global Challenge is a 48,000km circumnavigation 'the wrong way', with 12 identical boats fighting against prevailing winds and currents.

Setrem, 32, is in charge of data management at energy giant BG Group but has had a far from sheltered life, with stints prospecting for gas in Pakistan, India and Bolivia behind him.

Setting sail on 3 October from Portsmouth for a 40 day thrash to Buenos Aires, Argentina, will certainly bring new challenges.

'Physically this race is going to be extremely tough, ' Setrem says. 'I'm one of the mast and foredeck crew, hoisting and changing sails. It's wet, rough work - and great fun.'

Among the 18-strong crew Setrem's role will make him one of those most exposed to the elements - 'on a training sail in the Solent last month a wave broke over the bow. I was engulfed in green'. His transAtlantic voyage will no doubt allow close inspection of many similar waves.

With a mixed ability crew on board, Setrem is looking forward to joining the team. 'There's one guy who has completed singlehanded Atlantic crossings and other people who have never sailed before at all, ' he explains.

'Some crew members are in their early 30s and our oldest crew member will celebrate his 60th birthday while aboard.'

With such a diverse bunch of people he predicts that the trip will pose some interesting cooperation and communication challenges.

Setrem is one of 13 BG employees to have persuaded the firm to stump up the £27,000 crew entrance fee. Each will race a single leg of the six stage event on board the BG Group sponsored yacht.

With a fair bit of race training under his belt, including a recent regatta crewing for contractor Dean & Dyball, Setrem says the experience is already paying off.

'I find I tend to stay calmer under pressure. If you're changing a sail at night you can expect things to go wrong. You can't panic - you have to be methodical and sort things out.'

You can follow the progress of Setrem's boat, BG Spirit, and see how he copes when the going gets tough at: www. bg-spirit. com

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