2011-06-30 / News

Teamwork is the key to having success on the sea

By Geoff Campbell


Jamestowner Paul Zabetakis has been sailing in the annual Block Island Race Week since 1987. He says that the most important aspect of being successful on the sea is having a solid team working together. By Geoff Campell Jamestowner Paul Zabetakis has been sailing in the annual Block Island Race Week since 1987. He says that the most important aspect of being successful on the sea is having a solid team working together. By Geoff Campell For Jamestowner Paul Zabetakis, racing his Swan 42 Impetuous in the 24th annual Block Island Race Week regatta is about teambuilding. He described the multiple layers of team sailing includes basic sailing techniques, tactics, strategy and teambuilding. He emphasized that a critical aspect of a boat’s success is dependent upon the skipper’s ability to form and nurture a strong team.

He should know. Zabetakis has been team racing at the club level since his mid-20s. He has raced annually in both the biennial Block Island regatta and the smaller off-year race at Block Island since 1987.

In that 24-year period, he has raced four different boats, including a Mumm 36, a Farr 40 and the Swan 42. He has enjoyed substantial success. In 1999 his boat won the division.

“The objective is not just to win the race but to build a team to enjoy what is an interesting [and] pleasurable sport,” he said.

To maximize both enjoyment and teambuilding, he rents a house on Block Island for the weeklong race to house the 10 crewmembers who he said are “good sailors.”

“You enjoy being around good friends,” he said.

Zabetakis described the schedule that includes the arrival of the crew on Friday, two days of practice on Saturday and Sunday, followed by a week of racing. The evenings are given to honest debriefings where problems are exposed and resolved. He added that there can be “no egos on the boat.”

The format of the majority of the races is “windward-leeward” courses laid out with markers three miles off shore. One day of racing is given to circling the island.

Hosted by Storm Trysail Club of Block Island, and chiefly sponsored by Rolex, the race consisted of 133 boats in a variety of sizes and classes according to a pre-race announcement.

Focused on the uncontested natural beauty of Block Island, which is celebrating its 350th anniversary, the planners could not control the weather. “I can’t remember the weather being that bad,” Zabetakis said. He added that although it never rained on the course, there were several days with “really light air,” resulting in just six races for the week compared to the 10 races that the race planner envisioned.

In describing the structure of the race, Zabetakis said that a class of boats of various makers and sizes can be created using an internationally accepted ratings system. A ratings score, which handicaps boats, classifies boats into a group.

Storm Trysail sponsored four IRC classes and six classes that used the New England Performance Handicap Racing Fleet ratings. Of the 133 boats, 87 fell into ratings classes. The remaining boats were all in “one design” classes.

“In a one design class, every boat is the same weight, every boat is exactly designed the same,” Zebatakis said. “There are specifications about sail shape and sail size; the boats are even.”

To better ensure equality each year, the Swann 42 class has restricted its members to three new sails per year and two paid employees: the boat captain and a sail maker, who is not paid to race, resulting in what can best be described as an amateur fleet, typically referred to as Corinthian Class, Zabetakis said.

Part of the initial group from New York Yacht Club that hired Swann in 2003 to build a new boat based on strict specifications, Zabetakis said that 25 club members, an unusually large number, made deposits on the new boats. As a member of the design committee, he was proud to see the first boat came over in the fall of 2005. There are 50 of the boats now in existence worldwide and 22 of them are in the Northeast. He is class president for the Swann 42 at the New York club.

The boats are meant to serve a dual purpose both as cruisers and as racers, which is typical of Corinthian

Class boats.

Zabetakis explained that the number of boats located in proximity to each other is different from other classes that have only “pockets” of one-design boats. So at any given race venue, multiple Swann 42s are likely to be present. He is expecting 20 boats at the NYYC Nationals in July, which will sail from the club to Newport. Harbour Court in Newport is the home away from home for the club that maintains its headquarters on 44th Street in midtown Manhattan.

One of the gems in the Swann 42 racing crown will be shining from Sept. 10 to Sept. 17 when the NYYC holds the Invitational Cup inviting “premier clubs from around the world” to charter and sail NYCC boats off the coast of Newport. Zabetakis said that the boat that will represent NYYC will be determined by a series of local races in advance of the invitational.

Racing is a family affair that has included his daughter over the years and soon will include his granddaughter, who has just started sailing.

A doctor of nephrology by training and 25 years of active practice, Zabetakis currently heads a division at Fresenius Medical Care, specializing in dialysis services, whose corporate headquarters is located in Boston.

In describing his corporate experience, Zabetakis made it full circle back to teambuilding, explaining that the insights that he garnered from his recent work in the corporate world, reflected his hospital experience, and in turn informs his work as a team leader on the Impetuous.

He added that it is about learning: first the layers of knowledge and then building the team.

Paul and his wife Martha made Jamestown their full-time home for seven years and now they split time between Jamestown and Stewart, Fla. Martha is an accomplished watercolorist with sea and landscapes currently on display at Arnold Art Gallery in Newport among several galleries on the East Coast. Zabetakis said that she paints in her inhome studio.

Zabetakis gives back to the sailing community as a board member and race committee crewmember for the U.S. Sailing Center in Martin County, Fla. The nonprofit promotes sailing with programs that are atypical of most sailing venues. It is one of three community sailing centers in the country that provides kids from difficult circumstances to practice teambuilding, learn discipline and to develop self-confidence.

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