Juanpa Cadario: VOR, reportaje de Andi Robertson a Juan Kouyoumdjian

VOR, reportaje de Andi Robertson a Juan Kouyoumdjian

Foto copyright Dave Kneale / Volvo Ocean Race

NR: la nota hubiese sido bueno leerla en castellano pero la web de Volvo dejó de actualizar este idioma ultimamente, una pena.

Fuente info VOR


Wednesday, December 29th 2010, 13:30 GMT

Argentinian designer Juan Kouyoumdjian has designed two Volvo Ocean Race winners, and is looking for another. Andi Robertson talks to the head of Juan Yacht Design.

With three contenders in the 2011-12 edition of the race, Valencia-based Juan K is bidding for a third back-to-back win for his flourishing design company. His fiercely analytical approach, investigating every aspect of a rule, sometimes pushing boundaries or ideas no one else has considered, has - on occasion - attracted controversy.

From a sailing family, Juan is a lifelong fanatic of the sport and his Latin passion burns brightly on most topics, whether he loves them or loathes them. His design interests and successes span everything from the Olympic Star class - in which he worked successfully on a boat for gold medallists Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson - to the present, in the rarefied air of the 34th America's Cup and its new multihull class, on which his team will work with Sweden's Artemis Racing.

Sailing was popular in Argentina when Juan was growing up. "I started quite early at five or six years old, when my father pushed me off the dock in an Optimist," he recalled.

"Sailing is very big, with a strong culture in Argentina, the biggest in South America," he said, "and I was very influenced by German Frers and the Frers family, who sailed for generations. I used to sail with Mani Frers, we were friends in Argentina and that really impacted on me when I was young."

Juan started racing Optimists at the age of eight and then at 13, moved into different classes - the 470, the Lightning and then onto the Star class.

He is typically analytical about his abilities as a sailor. "I was always trying hard, but I remember I rationalised everything too much! I suffered a lot trying to look at all the variables encompassed and trying to rationalise, but when I learned to be more instinctive and use my experience, I got better."

Like his friends Santiago Lange and Mani Frers, Juan studied Yacht Design at Southampton Institute. "I always wanted to design boats as long as I can remember," he said. "I was always working with radio-controlled boats in swimming pools and things like that, and I suppose I translated that to my parents, who knew, from a young age, that was what I wanted to do."

In 1993, immediately after graduating, he started working with Philippe Briand on the America's Cup programme. "I have always been interested in scientific solutions," he said, "and I was lucky working with Briand, who was regarded as a designer with a very scientific approach."

Nowadays Juan's own design office is made up of competitive sailors in a variety of classes, including his old friend Santi, allowing them to bring a sailor-driven experience to the design process.

"That is always the biggest challenge in the America's Cup or the Volvo," he averred, "setting the intrinsic link between design and sailing characteristics, how to make these decisions.

"When everything and everyone agrees, the decision is made by itself. But otherwise, where do you ‘split the pie' in that design versus practical equation?"

In the past, some of Juan's solutions to that equation have attracted controversy.

"I think it comes with being innovative and taking a different approach," he mused, "but the situations we have had which have been considered controversies, were not ones we wished to happen, never wishing to force things.

"We have always sought to take the best out of a rule and that has led to clashes. There have been differences in the way of viewing rules, and their interpretation. This [controversy] has never been wished for, not part of a strategy, but an outcome."

"Our philosophy has not wavered," he declared. "We have learned from them but there will certainly still be controversies to come. How we now manage them means looking for the least conflictive passage, but we will always hold our stance, defending our clients when they are getting badly done."

If repeat business is any sign of success, Juan must be doing something right. "I am proud that all of our clients have asked us to work with them again and our relationships have been close and amicable," he stated.

When asked for a snapshot of grand prix sailing at this moment, Juan's answer is characteristically blunt. "There is a very evident discord at the top and people are very clearly at extremes, and people caught in the middle are, very clearly, not happy," he said. "The Cup has become very marketing-driven as one of the absolute pinnacle events, and the other pinnacle event, the Olympics, is also under pressure - the decisions being taken are extraordinary."

His view of the future is also less than sanguine. "I cannot foresee anything healthy at the top of the game. There is a very real danger of routes open for the very top professional sailors like Torben Grael, Ben Ainslie, Iain Percy, Robert Scheidt, a whole generation of top sailors, closing down as the professional world of sailing becomes more and more detached."

But back at the Volvo Ocean Race drawing board, it's not about just keeping the winning formula, as Juan Yacht Design continues to look for ground-breaking solutions to their equation.

"We have absolutely started from scratch again for this edition, with no a priori, turning over every single stone we could think of.

"The last campaign with the Ericsson boats turned into a battle with the rule, which we feel handicapped both Ericsson 3 and Ericsson 4 - meaning they were bastardised quite a lot. In effect, there were two levels of handicap imposed and we were lucky to win," he maintained. "The boats showed a lot of pace in some conditions but we won the race with a very good crew."

"The job we have done this time is substantially bigger and better than with Ericsson, all the way across the board. Working with three teams has been great, with a constant and useful exchange of ideas between us and each of the teams, putting a lot of effort and investment into CFD," he revealed, "and if we are allowed to race the three boats as they are designed then they will be very, very difficult to beat."

So what is at the core of Juan's passion for design?

"I enjoy pushing the boundaries of design, developing the tools to find the answers to questions, the constant research and development required by the Volvo Ocean Race. You are constantly asking questions, waiting and working to get the answers. "

"That is where the real constant excitement is for me," he said, "going into work each day with a bunch of questions burning. "

"I am fanatical about detail, about finding the answers. That is the same with the house I have in Valencia - there are a bunch of things there that some people would say, ‘well, why bother?' but it is about efficiency. I love finding paths of least energy."

Words: Andi Robertsont