Christian Kamp is a sailor with Artemis Racing, the Swedish challenger for the 35th America's Cup in Bermuda. He is one of the few people in the world that successfully managed to convert his passion into his career by sheer determination, dedication and hard work.
Moving in the sailing circles and having met many sailors throughout the last 15 years, I can honestly say that Christian has got to be one of the nicest, most approachable, down to earth, kindest and most thoughtful sailors in the whole world of sailing. He has this unique ability to put you at ease and make you feel comfortable around him. His sincerity, lack of ego and gentle manner instantly draw you in. He is very charismatic - no matter who you talk to - everyone loves him. He treats everyone the same, regardless of position, and always has a kind word for everyone. Christian is also a devoted family man - who loves spending quality time with his wife Dorte and his 3 children.
I feel very honored that he gave me some insight on his life and career with this interview.
How did you start out in sailing?
In Denmark, we have a strong tradition of sailing because we have a huge coastline. My dad was a sailor and so was my granddad. My parents had a cruising boat and every summer we went out cruising for a month and visited all the little islands. One summer holiday I tried an optimist dinghy at a little marina we were docked at and thought it was great fun. My dad worked in a small town called Skærbæk - not far from where we lived and they had a great junior optimist facility there – very small, very simple – just a wooden shed on the beach really. They had a huge amount of young optimist sailors there – mainly because it was one of the only things you could do in that little community. I started sailing there in 1987, when I was about 9 years old and loved it. There were a lot of talented sailors there, so there was always someone there to look up to and to be inspired by.
Did you have a role model?
Coming from Denmark, obviously Paul Elvstrøm is and was a huge influence. He won 4 gold medals in the Olympics. He passed away recently, but he is one of the biggest names in sailing ever. He was a true inventor, way ahead of his time. He had a boat that was actually built in Skærbæk and I met him there when I was quite young. He was an inspiration to me.
Another one I remember hearing a lot of was Dennis Connor – he was an icon for America’s Cup sailing. And later on, Russell Coutts became my role model and mentor.
How did you get into competitive sailing?
The optimist is a pretty good way to get into racing and I wanted to compete. I’ve always been very competitive. Even with all the other sports I was involved in, I always wanted to race and improve myself. There were lots of optimist races and I loved it – my parents were locked into taking me to all those races for a number of years. I don’t come from a wealthy family and my parents made it very clear that when I’m 15 and done with the optis, they can’t keep dragging me around the country to do all of these competitions. So, when I was 15, I was keen to learn something new and I wanted to learn how to sail with a spinnaker. Our local yacht club had 2 yinglings and together with some of my mates we put a crew together and started sailing in the 3 men keelboat. I was still in high school then and did some odd jobs to earn a bit of money. Our yacht club was very supportive and I have to thank them for lending us the boats and equipment.
After high school I attended a Sports College in Denmark and together with some of the other students and sailing instructors we put a match racing team together and competed in the Danish Nationals, where we finished 5th overall. Not long after, I got an invite to join a Danish team that was in the top 5 in the world – so I was thrilled. Still didn’t get paid for sailing at that stage – so I worked at a tool manufactory, at a warehouse and at North Sails – just doing random jobs. I lived a pretty simple life. Whenever we got some price money for any of the races, we would put it back in to finance our next race.
How did you get involved in the America’s Cup?
The great thing about those match races were that we got to race against the best in the world. All the America’s Cup teams were using the tour as a base for their training and skill improvement towards the 2003 America’s Cup. In 2002 we had a great year and finished 3rd overall in the tour. By then, a few of the teams started to take notice of us young ones, and shortly after that I got my first paid job as a trimmer on a Farr 40. This was a great opportunity and very different to what I’d done before, but we still continued with the match racing as well. We had a bad season in match racing in 2003 and weren’t sure if we should continue on. At that time, we were all still in school, so we sat down one day and decided that we would put all our money together, go all in and give it one more shot until the end of July 2004. If nothing comes up and we haven’t proven ourselves by then, we would call it quits. We put our schooling on hold, and spent all the money we had to train and prepare. And we did get some pretty good results at the beginning of that season.
Then one day the phone rang, and it was Russell Coutts. He told us in confidence that he was just about to leave Alinghi and needs a team of 4 people for some events he has been invited to.
This was like the holy grail of sailing – we obviously jumped at the chance to sail with him. We knew that this could be the chance we were hoping for. If we could prove ourselves to Russell, we’d be fine. We did pretty well at those races with him and got a lot of good publicity.
I have Russell to thank for my America’s Cup career. He was so good to us and taught us so much. The attention to detail and intensity and competitiveness was just another level to what all of us had ever seen before. He is an encyclopedia on sailing and the insights he has on the boat - especially on all the areas that related to speed, trimming, design etc. is unbelievable. He really opened my mind.
After Russell left Alinghi he offered me the job of being his trimmer on all the projects he had for the next year and a half. For me it was a no-brainer – it was fantastic. If it hadn’t been for my time with Russell, I wouldn’t have had a chance to sail with some of the best sailors in the world.
After that I had a couple of offers to join America’s Cup teams, and in 2005 I joined Luna Rossa. This was my first time on such big yachts – 17 people onboard, it was pretty full on. But they were so good to me. Francesco DeAngelis was the skipper and an absolute champion. Those were two of the best years of sailing. We made it to the Louis Vuitton final in Valencia in 2007 and it was a huge boost for me. Great group of guys.
Then Team Origin approached me, and I signed with them for the next America’s Cup. Ben Ainsley was the skipper – again, he is one of our times greatest sailors. Iain Percy and Bart were also involved, so I was excited to be part of that team. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it to the Cup in 2010 because of some legal battles, but we had 3 years together as a team. Ben, Iain, myself and a couple of other guys did some intense sailing together in the TP 52.
I didn’t get involved into the 2013 Cup, but stayed in touch with people and did other sailing and had fun.
Now I’m with Artemis Racing, alongside some of the best in the world - like Iain Percy, Nathan Outteridge, Goobs (Iain Jensen), Francesco Bruni and some other great sailors. It is fantastic to work with a group of people, who are all highly motivated and are the best at their jobs. You learn so much being in a team like this. It is such a high-pressure environment, and we have to deliver at the end of a 3-year campaign. Whether you are a boat builder, sail maker, logistics, sailor, physical trainer or whatever – we all need to deliver in our area. It is literally the best people in their fields that work here – we have some of the smartest and best boat builders and designers in the business. It is very motivating to work with people that are so skilled every day. It’s mind blowing how smart, talented and innovative those people are, and this is what makes me want to be the best I can be as well.
Are you ever scared on those fast yachts?
No, never. I feel 100 percent confident when I go out sailing with Francesco or Nathan or Goobs or Goodie. They are the best people to have around, and I have complete faith in their abilities.
The second you step on these boats you have to be focused and have your eyes and ears open. The minute you let your guard down you can get into trouble. Nathan, our skipper, has the final say in safety related decisions. If he’s not comfortable with it, we are not doing it. It’s his call and we all respect that. And it’s the same with Francesco Bruni.
What’s your role on the boat?
90 percent of the work I do is grinding. These boats are very different to the more traditional monohulls. Trimming these days is way more simplified. You are first and foremost a grinder and then you have to do the adjustments to the jib – but because you are always going very fast, there are less adjustments to do.
What’s the best part of your job?
For me it is all about the challenge – I love being outside, love the water – it’s a great way of living. I never did it for the money – it was always because I was passionate about it and I had fun. And to this day, that is still true.
What does a typical day look like for you?
We have a 7.30 am start and go to the gym for 2 hours, followed by breakfast. We then have a sailing team meeting at 10.15 am, where we discuss the daily program and debrief the previous day sailing or the planned testing that day etc. Then we prepare to go out on the water and do a stretching session before we go out sailing. We have lunch on the water. Typically, we are out on the water between 3 and 5 hours. If we are not sailing, we generally do a second gym session and we each have our areas of responsibilities. I’m involved with the sails and sail maintenance. If there are areas on the boat that the shore team needs our help, we help them out. We sometimes take the small boats sailing, if we have time to do that. More and more, our focus is on training and recovering the right way, as what we do is so physically demanding.
How important is nutrition?
Nutrition is important for us as it is about maintaining energy levels. You need to eat the right stuff. A few of us need to put on weight, as I do. On average, we need about 5,000 calories or even 6,000 if we are having a big day. For me it’s about eating frequently – I probably have 6 meals a day. I eat a lot of carbohydrates and a bit less protein. Denise, our chef always makes sure there is either chicken, fish, beef or pork and pasta and lots of greens available. I try and limit the amount of fat I eat – I always take the fat off meat or parma ham or whatever I eat.
Are you living your dream?
100 percent. Sailing is my job, it’s my passion, it’s my hobby – it’s what I want to do. I obviously do have times when I feel it’s hard and everything sucks, but then I pinch myself and think – look around – I live in Bermuda, I get to sail on the coolest boats on the planet, work with the most skilled people in the world, my family is loving life – what else can you want?
A good friend from Denmark once said to me – if you get grumpy, take 30 seconds and remind yourself what unique opportunity you have and how many other people would die to have the same opportunity.
Also, just talking to you about sailing in a different way today, reminds me again how lucky I am.
What would you do if you weren’t sailing?
I studied physical science in University and really enjoyed psychology and the theory behind learning. If I was to do something else one day, I’d love to get into that type of work – whether it is building teams, working with different groups of people or interactions between different cultures.
Christian & Dorte