Ed Baird is not only an American sailor and coach but also an amazing person. His career started with Optimist while he was growing up, later he won World Laser Championships and the World J/24 Championships. His coaching career started in 1995 when he led the team of New Zealand to its first victory in America's Cup. In the same year, he won the World Match Racing Championships and was named US Sailing’s Yachtsman of the Year. In 2007, he took the helm and won the America’s Cup for Switzerland, and was named Rolex World Sailor of the Year. In 2011, Baird skippered the US-flagged, Quantum Racing TP 52 to win both the Audi MedCup Series and the TP 52 World Championship. Currently, Ed races on international regattas for the TP 52, Melges 32 and RC 44 (2012 Match Racing Champion).
Firstly, we congratulate you with entering the Hall of Fame.
Well, thank you, it was really nice being there.
Your kids are also into sailing, how are they doing?
Oh, they are good. My youngest is top level Laser sailor in the USA, and his slightly older brother (they are 19 and 21), he also is doing very well at school; he just won a national Championship with his college team. My oldest is 24. He is actually not sailing anymore; he is working in the film industry, television and such. I suppose he doesn’t have time for boats right now. Certainly, it is fun to have the kids involved.
Well, we wish them success and hope to welcome your oldest back to sailing soon!
You’ve been working with Quantum Racing. What’s the key to the success of that team?
Well… The key to this team is the combination of great equipment and people. Quantum Sails has provided us with excellent sails and a great boat to work with, and we managed to put a fantastic team together, who are all highly talented and bond very well. We sail with a team of 12 people and everyone has an important role during the race. And that’s so important, you know, to have personalities that are fitting well. You truly have to trust your partners and be able to rely on them to do what you expect, at the moment you need it most. So I believe they key to our success is our great team, great equipment, and a great boat.
In general, what are the fundamental steps to success in racing?
To be honest, I think there is nothing different about to a successful sailing team than any other successful sports or business team. You start with a foundation of people that are talented and hungry to become better; who are also willing to be good teammates and help each other to become better. And once you have built that foundation, you need to continuously ask yourself ‘how can we be better tomorrow?’ Then you will have great success. There is no magic, there is only hard work. There is no ‘oh if we would have that guy we would win’, that’s not how it works. The team has to work well together and they have to recognize that they always have to take another step tomorrow.
So the base is people. What comes after this base?
You have to have a foundation of good quality people. And then you challenge each person to find ways to improve: not only the people but the equipment. When we don’t have a particular skill ourselves we have to ask questions within the industry ‘how can we make this piece better? How can we make the mast better? How can we improve the spreaders, the shrouds, the winches?’ It’s going to cost a certain amount and it’s going to give us something hopefully as good. But there will always be a risk of equipment failure. Whenever you make a change, there is always a risk that it fails. So we have to manage all those risks. Because in the TP 52 class one of the things that are unique is that every race counts, all year. There are no drop races. If you have a bad day it counts. We have to work hard to maintain our high level of success all the time. We don’t have to win all the time, but we always have to be in the front, in order to win at the end of the season. It takes a special group of people to be able to consistently deliver like that, all year, together and not argue.
Good to know. About the America’s Cup: you’ve been winning, you’ve been training but are tips for success are the same there as in any other class?
Yes. I mean AC is not different; you have to research the problems and find best solutions. I mean, it’s very simple. You have to look at the opportunities ahead of you and fight to gain the most in each area. The challenge is though that there is never enough time and you can always run out of money. So now you have to look at the opportunities and say for example: there are 6 opportunities to make improvements, they are equal in how much extra speed they can provide but we don’t have time to accomplish 2 of them, and we cannot afford of 1 of the 4 remaining ones, so another one is gone. Now there are 3. Which of the 3 do we choose? You have to manage your recourses correctly, and there is always a limit to how you can do that. The leading teams are the ones who have the best recourses. Sometimes you don’t have the right amount of money at the right time, it comes later, but if you just had some money earlier you could have made something much better. Sometimes time makes the decision for you, which is normally bad. So it takes people who can really see ahead of their current position; what am I going to be doing in 2 years? Do we have the time and recourses to develop all the things we want? The most successful teams are very good at risk management.
You’ve been working with Russians for a long time. Is it different from working with others, culturally? Do you have some funny stories?
Haha of course, but I can’t tell you any of that, not while you are recording.
No, but you are right, the cultural differences are definitely there. I find that the Russian way of thinking is more similar to the Japanese way of thinking. Very single-minded, very structured in how you go forward and yet there are parts of how Russian guys I know are thinking, and it’s more like a European or even American way of thinking. It’s interesting to see that. It depends on where they are from, people from Vladivostok and Moscow will be different, and it’s interesting for sure. I try very hard to work with their culture, not to insist on my culture. And I hope it’s been good, for me it’s a lot of fun to get to know these people from different backgrounds and to work together. The Synergy guys form a good group. They are a lot of fun and there are a lot of good stories to tell, but you have to be there for them, not to read about them. One thing I can tell you about this group is how hard they work, and how loyal they are to each other and how trusting they are. That’s very important for the team.
Is sailing more about fun or winning?
Everything is about fun. If it’s not fun, really, then why do it? Each day you have to have some reason that you wake up and say “today is going to be fun, we will work hard and whatever,” right? It needs to be fun. Fun inspires people to try harder and do more. It’s not just about the winning. We all like to win, it’s important, we love to be successful, but really first we have to enjoy what we are doing. And if we enjoy it we want to improve every day, the winning seems to come from that.
You are from Saint Petersburg, US and I am from Saint Petersburg in Russia. Which one is the true and only?
Haha well, I can’t answer that. Saint Petersburg in Russia changed its name so many times, that you can’t recognize it like the one and only. The one in Florida never did and it’s always great weather there, all beach and sunshine!