In the sport of sailing, winning the America’s Cup can be compared to winning the World Cup trophy in soccer.
It’s the ultimate test of teamwork where only the strong survive. But if a sailor can somehow survive it more than once and come out on top, he will have achieved sailing immortality.
Hood River sailor Josh Belsky is one such individual. Belsky, 36, recently returned from New Zealand, where he and his teammates aboard the Swiss-based “Alinghi” defeated the defending champs from New Zealand to claim the 2003 America’s Cup — the second Cup win of Belsky’s career.
“After coming up short a couple times, it felt good to be successful this time around,” said Belsky, a native of Rye, N.Y who moved to Hood River in 1995.
“I’ve raced in five America’s Cups now, but it’s been more than 10 years since I’ve been on the winning boat.”
Belsky, a world-class “pitman,” was a member of the “America 3” boat that won the Cup in 1992. He also competed with Dennis Connor aboard “Stars & Stripes” when the United States lost the Cup to New Zealand in 1995.
Alinghi’s win in early March marked the end of an era for New Zealand, and also for Belsky.
The Kiwis had held the Cup since 1995, when they became the first non-U.S. syndicate to win the trophy. Meanwhile, Belsky was sailing for a non-U.S. syndicate for the first time in his career.
“I was sailing in San Francisco in 2000 and was approached by a wealthy business man (Ernesto Bertarelli) looking to build a team for the next America’s Cup,” Belsky said.
“The experience showed me how similar running a team is to owning a small business. It’s extremely hard work.”
Belsky has signed on for the next four years, and will begin sailing again in June after he recovers from knee surgery.
He sustained the injury in the first series of the Louis Vuitton Cup — the international qualifying event for the America’s Cup final.
Nine teams compete in a round-robin, elimination-style event in which only one team survives.
Alinghi defeated teams from Italy, France, Sweden, England and the U.S. along the way, earning the right to face New Zealand in the final.
Besides manning the pits aboard the boat — pulling the sails up and down through a series of ropes — Belsky also works with the boat design and deck layouts.
“I help decide what equipment goes where,” he said. “We start with a blank sheet of paper and see what will work best for all 16 sailors aboard the boat.”
Belsky serves as a liaison between the sailing, design and construction processes, and he likens his duties to those of a project manager.
“Living in Hood River has helped me pick up on a lot of design ideas that windsurfing companies are using,” said Belsky, who has worked with Doug Hopkins of North Sports and Tony Logosz of Slingshot.
“We have adopted many of the same principles that windsurfing and kiteboarding are based on, and a lot of them can be applied to America’s Cup sailing,” he said.
“Tony is a clever guy who has a lot of interesting ideas about the future of kiting,” he said. “And a lot of those ideas can be transferred to big boat sailing.”
But Belsky doesn’t stop at the longer rally races such as the America’s Cup. He also competes on a worldwide stage in events like the Whitbread Round-the-World Race — an event he won for a Swedish team in 1998 along with fellow local Steve Erickson.
“Winning the Whitbread can be compared to climbing Mt. Everest,” Belsky said of the nine-month race that starts and finishes in England. “It’s much more of an endurance race, compared to America’s Cup racing, where you can sleep in your own bed every night.”
Belsky will be recovering from surgery for the next three months in Hood River, and will travel to the Mediterranean in June to