Published at Sailing World (Greek Edition), Issue 147, October 2020. www.istioploikoskosmos.gr – Translated in English by Team Optimum. Original greek version here. Interview with: Panagiotis Dimitrakopoulos, Head of the Communication & Marketing Team of the Aegean Rally.
We, the editorial team of ‘Istioploikos Kosmos’ (Sailing World) magazine issued by Hellenic Offshore Racing Club(H.O.R.C), thought that the most appropriate time to interview the members of Team OPTIMUM – Samos Steamship, winners of the 57th Aegean Rally, is right after they got their trophy. We try to reveal how this record in the history of the Aegean Rally has been achieved. A ‘record’, that goes back as early as 1994, with a total of 26 participations in the race, 21 times on the podium out of which 10 times winning the top spot.
SW: Nikos Lazos, 27 years of Team OPTIMUM existence, 26 participations in the Aegean Rally, how and why?
NL: The Aegean Rally is the leading offshore sailing race in Greece so far. Before starting the OPTIMUM Team with Pericles in 1994, we had already raced six Aegean Rally editions as crew. This year it was my 31st participation in the 40 years I have been racing with Pericles, since 1981. These participations in the Aegean Rally filled us with confidence and experiences, rewarded us victories, but also taught us to never give up upon crashes and misfortunes and be ready and prepared for marginal conditions. Armed with the lessons learned from the Aegean Rally, we competed in the Rolex Middle Sea Race 7 times, with great results. Nevertheless, the budget of the OPTIMUM Team is based on the sponsorships and the distinctions in the Aegean Rally and on the media exposure of this race that is making our sport known to the public. If it wasn’t for the Aegean Rally, we would not have had sponsors for so many years, perhaps wouldn’t even have this boat, not to mention the great results in the Rolex Middle Sea Race. The Aegean Rally is our national race and every year we arrange the team racing schedule so that the boat and crew are at their best for this race.
SW: Pericles Livas, there are other teams/boats/groups racing in the Aegean Rally but not as repeatedly as Team OPTIMUM does and moreover not on the podium as often. What is the secret?
PL: There is no Secret. As Nikos said, for us the participation in the Aegean Rally is the annual goal of the team in Greece. When you base your existence, but also the continuation of your team in sponsorships, the main element of the selling point is the participation in the Aegean Rally due to the wide promotion, that has as an event. It is so simple. But do not forget too that every Aegean Rally is a unique race, since every year the route, the islands, the events are different and so we never get enough of it. Participating in the Aegean Rally for 10 days, the team is getting closer, bonds together. The islands are not leisure stopovers but pit stops for the next leg. The team needs to relax and rest but at the same time stay focused till the end. This balance that we seek to maintain in a group of 15 people is not easy, but is absolutely necessary. Especially for those years that we aim for international events, such as Worlds, Europeans or other big events, the discipline we have acquired through our Aegean Rally participations allow us to always finish in the top ten in these events which is a very important benchmark for where the team stands at an international level.
S.W.: We often read moving articles on the OPTIMUM team site or posts on its Facebook page. But a recent one caught my eye that referred to the OPTIMUM Team spirit. How would you describe this?
PL: In fact, our team is based on the spirit of participation, “being a member”, contributing, sharing, succeeding, supporting the team, and that “works” over the years. Now all this is a conquest and we all water it to flourish and to guide us. It was originally based on the annual schedule of events that all members of the team put on the fridge door at home every January so that their roommates could see it and know their availability during the year: “If my sister wants to get married, she should know how to choose the date when I am available, otherwise she will know that I will not attend. I will not let down my team except for force majeure”. 27 years later we are married, divorced, have children, have changed jobs, have lost parents, siblings, loved ones, but the OPTIMUM team is firmly there for those who follow its spirit. This year, for example, the return of Kostis Afentakis and Giannis Kapos to action after years of absence due to other obligations or life choices, prove the Optimum team spirit is alive. The friendships and bonds we built at sea, the victories, the defeats, the losses, the surprises, the records, the experiences that we lived through all these years have created a strong unwritten value code. A code working in the present but looking at the future, for each member putting the team above themselves.
SW: This year you made your debut at the Aegean Rally with a fresh and beautiful appearance of your boat, with the colors of your new sponsor, the shipping company Samos Steamship. Do you want to share some information about your new collaboration?
NL: In 1992 the International Sailing Federation allowed the presence of sponsors in the boats with specific requirements and specifications through the regulations governing the sport. That year we sailed the red 1/2 Ton Don Quixote IV of Pericles and was one of the first to appear with a sponsor of the software company UNISOFT. The experience was positive for both parties and since then we have supported the collaboration with sponsors and supporters with specific programs and goals. All these collaborations started for one year and most of them were extended to 3-4 years, with the top being the 7-year cooperation with WASH & GO, which allowed us to invest in the 52ft OPTIMUM 3 in 2003. For the 2019 Andros Race, we cooperated with Samos Steamship, one of the oldest shipping companies in the interest of the Inglessis family. The experience was more than positive for both sides, the team even won first place, and thus opened the discussion for a yearly commitment. Samos’ main focus is on enabling its partners to be on a pure racing boat and be part of the team, collaborate and achieve goals. Due to the coronavirus and the limited racing available, the cooperation was extended until the end of 2021. The OPTIMUM-Samos Steamship team will compete including in the lineup trained and prepared associates of Samos, who seek to live the experience and get to know each other better, to an activity outside the workplace. This move is part of a program to establish a climate of good and productive cooperation between Samos associates that promotes staff training on a permanent basis. On the other hand, we are very happy as we are given the opportunity to show to a new audience the beauty of our sport and to prove beyond any doubt the positives of teamwork and good cooperation.
SW: Nikos, we were surprised to see new names as skippers of the OPTIMUM Team for the 57th Aegean Rally. How and why this sudden change?
NL: Not at all sudden. The team exists over time because it is partially renewed every year. My father, who believed a lot in young people with a passion for creativity, who work tirelessly until achieving their goals, gave us his knowledge, support and the opportunity to write my own course with Pericles. We built Team OPTIMUM from scratch when we were under 30 and now decided that two great young guys who have been in the team for some years and have inspired by the OPTIMUM spirit, it is time to lead the team in the future. The rest of us will support them in the way that will explode the dynamics of their youth that is hidden within them, that they don’t even know.
SW: Charis Mavrogeorgis, at 25 years of age you are at the helm of Team OPTIMUM. How did it happen and what are the challenges in your new position?
CΜ: I appreciate my new position as skipper of Team OPTIMUM. I have been recognized and rewarded for my skills in steering, trimming, tactical calls, sail analysis, weather forecasting and boat navigation. From a young age I fell in love with sailing and quickly started in the Laser class in which I won top places in World, European and national championships. When I joined the team in 2016, I had no experience of offshore racing, only stories from my father (Panos Mavrogeorgis) for an Aegean Rally that he himself had competed in and won in IOR boats. From the very first months in the team I learned a lot, thanks to the guys, the OPTIMUM team mentality and a pure 52-foot racing boat. I believe that a constant “thirst” for knowledge, new experiences, new challenges and best performance in the races, already 3 wins in the Aegean Rally, 9th place in the Europeans and the victory in our category in 2018 in the Rolex Middle Sea race, is perhaps the reasons that led the team, and Pericles Livas & Nikos Lazos to trust me as the skipper of the OPTIMUM Team. It is an opportunity for myself and Vangelis Nikolopoulos to learn even more from their experience, to get in their shoes, to aim at the continuation of their successes and why not to raise the bar higher. The challenges in this position are constant and demanding. Every second before and during the race you must not lose sight of the goal, see the big picture such as the smooth and efficient communication of the crew, the strength limits of the equipment and sails, the tactical decisions and constantly take advantage at 100% of situations whether it is called changes in the wind, sails or mistakes of opponents. However, this position becomes much easier when the whole crew is united, organized, with a common goal and with the cooperation of the sponsor Samos Steamship, a fact that was proved in this year’s victory in the 57th Aegean Rally, being the skipper for the first time.
SW: Vangelis Nikolopoulos, just before you turn 30, you are also at the helm of the OPTIMUM Team. How did it happen and what do you dream about?
VΝ: Having grown up in the Nautical Club of Kalamaki, Team OPTIMUM always stood out in the eyes where all the little Optimist athletes observed and admired the pure competitive attitude of the team with sponsor’s livery and distinctions. Especially when the 52ft arrived, it was something completely new for us all, imposing, with its high carbon mast standing out from all the other boats of the Marina. My involvement in offshore racing started in 2004 with my father’s boat, although at that time my first priority was dinghies. In the following years it seems that the offshore branch of sailing did win. Being in smaller teams, with less experience but with a thirst for improvement, I observed the other boats and with new ideas I always tried to improve our systems, our automation and our movements. So, I had the pleasure to compete in boats that with work and passion evolved and finally made the cut, such as the CHIARA-IASON team of Nikos Fotiou also from N.C. Kalamaki, in which we won the Aegean Rally in 2018 after a hard effort for 6 years. After this victory, I received an invitation from Pericles Livas and Nikos Lazos to join the team for the Rolex Middle Sea Race. That was it, that’s where I started joining the team. The difference in the Optimum team is that after 27 years and many members that have passed through the team, with everyone putting a little stone in its evolution, most of the issues that had previously occupied me, I already found solved. Sailing, however, never stops, the spirit of the team is that there is always room for improvement, everyone in the areas of their responsibilities and as a team discusses and tests new techniques and ideas while technology evolves and we watch. The move of Pericles and Nikos to place myself and Charis at the helm was something that left us rather speechless! At the same time of course, we hope that we will live up to the expectations of the whole team. We certainly have a lot to learn and challenges to face. Things that maybe 27 years ago seemed incredible, such as the timelessness of the team and the successes in Greece and abroad, have become a reality. Respectively, we can hope for more and more for the future.
SW: What will be the role of Pericles and Nikos from now on in the OPTIMUM team?
PL: Nikos and I have been following for decades and often refer as example, the most recognizable, long-lived and most successful sailing team in the world, Team New Zealand. This group has gone through great many crises, but thanks to the iron discipline and preservation of its unique team spirit and principles safeguarded by Grant Dalton and other ‘old guns’, it writes not only history but leads with its initiatives the whole sport of sailing. So we see ourselves following in the footsteps of Dalton and slowly decreasing our presence on the racing crew and increasing our managerial role as we believe that this will only serve the team better and enjoy more success for many, many years to come. The recent inclusion of Offshore sailing as an Olympic sport and indeed as a 3-4 day non-stop race, is a new challenge for the OPTIMUM team, which has the largest experience in Greece in competing in long offshore events. Respectively, the new international Greek offshore race “AEGEAN 600” organized by H.O.R.C. is a new challenge for the OPTIMUM Team, as now we have to evolve further in order to be able to win the best foreign teams that will come to compete in the Aegean so that the trophy stays home. Developments and challenges are in front of us and we are determined not to let them overtake. We have a vision and a plan to be implemented with passion for OPTIMUM forever!
SW: Mr. Inglessis, your company is the new supporter of the OPTIMUM Team and in fact, in its two participations so far in the colors of your company you have achieved equal victories, do you want to share your thoughts with us?
Samos Steamship Co. has a presence of over 150 years in the field of Shipping; it is in its 4th administrative generation. Emphasis is always placed on the quality of the work and the very strong scientific staff. Today, the average age of the employees of the administration center in P. Faliro is 35 years, while all have high naval and scientific training. We evaluated the potential of the Optimum Team and recognized as key common points its long existence and very successful presence in the field of racing sailing. This cooperation gives the opportunity to our Samos associates to have direct contact with the sea, not only professionally but also sporting. In our joint effort with the Optimum Team, we followed our corporate position, which is based on providing very good tools, perfect equipment and top training. Thus, emphasis was placed on the equipment of the boat, based on the know-how and experience of our people, always in collaboration with the renowned Pericles Livas and Nikos Lazos, and thus creating conditions for significant distinctions and victories.