Krister Bergström and Thomas Moss have been a team since 1995. Together, they have competed in 6 World Championships, never finishing worse than 5th. In 2000, they absolutely dominated the heavy air races in Durban to win the title. In 2002, they were easily the most consistent team, scoring the lowest combined total for all nine races, which was a bit unlucky since the two drops moved them down to 3rd overall. I first met the duo in Durban, and resolved to get an interview at the next opportunity. Email, which is my usual interview medium, was out of the question because I thought being face-to-face would be the only way to adequately bridge the language barrier. I was right, and the interview was fun, pleasant, and tremendously insightful.
If ever there was a legend in the 505 class, Bergström is it. He’s the only five-time world champion ever in the 505, and perhaps only early retirement can keep him from eventually notching another victory. When people talk of Bergström, there’s always a bit of awe in their voice, even from the likes of Howie Hamlin. “Bergström” might just as well be Swedish for ludicrous speed. The fact is that no other sailor has competed at his level in the 505 class for the last two decades (Hamlin is as close as they come). Nevertheless, I found Krister to be forthright, humorous, and not nearly as cocky as I would be if I had even one world title.
Thomas Moss remained relatively quiet during the interview, seemingly preferring to allow Krister to expound on many of the questions I posed to the both of them. His English was not quite as good, so that may have been the reason.
Despite taking a back seat during the interview, Thomas was eager to entertain my questions for about 90 minutes one afternoon.
It was then that I realized that the dynamic between these two has been carefully crafted, and that even the great Bergström has his frailties. Thomas, in his own way, is insightful and funny, but he obviously prefers to keep a low profile and leave the talking for race time.
Tank Talk: Krister, you’re a five-time world champion in the 505, but I’ve heard stories that you might have been an eight-time world champion if it weren’t for a few mishaps and close-calls. Would you care to comment on the history of your runs at the 505 world title if it isn’t too painful?
Krister Bergström: It’s not painful. You can turn it the other way and say we had eight goes at the world title and we have won five of them, so maybe that’s not too bad. The first time I had a really good go of it was against Peter Colclough who was probably the best 505 sailor. I think it was back in 1986 – the La Rochelle Worlds (France). We had three wins and one DSQ or something like that. We went into the last race with a good chance to win, but Peter Colclough managed to sail us down. We ended up second closely followed by my younger brother in third. Then we managed to win in 1987 in Helsinki (Finland) with Olle (Wenrup). Then we had a very tight race with Dean Blatchford (1984 World Champion) in 1988 which was a 4 series event and it was in the last race that we had a very bad start and in that case Dean would have won, but that start was recalled and we got a new chance. We managed to win that race, so that was even closer (Bergstrom won that worlds by 0.3 point over Blatchford). Then in 1989 sailing with Per-Anders Hallberg in Felixstowe (England) we had a good last race with Peter Colclough. We won that in the last race. He had a chance to win. We had exactly the same score I think going into the last race but we had a better drop. We managed to affect him in that last race and he was fourth or something like that.
TT: So you won again in 1989?
Bergström: Yes, we won in 1987, 1988, and 1989.
TT: OK, three times in a row.
Bergstrom: Yeah so we were lucky.
TT: No, you were more than lucky. There’s nothing lucky about this don’t you think?
Bergström: (Laughs) No, you have to have luck as well. But, of course you make your own luck. But coming back to the point, though we had 4 championship titles back in 1995 in Mounts Bay. That was also a championship with a 4 or 5 race series. Bill Masterman beat us with 0.3 points in the old calculation system. In the last race we came from behind and were very close to beating Hamlin and Martin, and we didn’t know who crossed ahead at the finish. The committee had the Americans this much (holds finger apart a few inches) ahead of us. (laughs again) If we had just this much more going forward we might have had another championship, but we didn’t.
TT: Is that bad luck?
Bergström: No, we sailed badly on the run in that race I remember and we lost a few boats, and I think we sailed badly on a beat and lost a few boats. Good luck and bad luck runs out even in the long term I think. Then I sailed with Martin Westerdahl in 1996 in Townsville. That was a real headbanger (laughs again). The gate boat jumped sideways and stopped in the last race and we smashed against it.
TT: It jumped sideways?
Bergström: No, it did not. (laughs)
TT: Oh, I see.
Bergström: So we had a disqualification in one of the earlier races, but we had an eight point lead going into the last race-
TT: Which is a good lead, but not insurmountable.
Bergström: Yes, a good lead. The sad thing there is that in the first start we had a good start but we had a general recall, then we had a bad start, a very bad start in the next. And everybody was very confident (a chuckle). My wife went out and bought a bottle of champagne because she was so confident that we were going to win. When we got back to the club she asked ”What are you doing here?”. My reply was, ”Oh, we are not allowed to race”. Oh, she was more mad then everyone else! But never mind. And then we had an easy ride in Durban. We sailed well-
TT: I thought you guys sailed magnificently in Durban!
Bergström: Yeah (very abashed).
TT: That was short on races too. I thought it was too bad the last race was cancelled and that Mike Martin and Steve Bourdow didn’t at least have a shot at you in the last race or two. With only one race left, I suppose they didn’t have much of a chance, but still –
Bergström: Yeah, we were very fast and we sailed well, and we were a little bit lucky.
TT: Going back to something you just said. You talked about Mounts Bay and Bill Masterman. Now I find this is very interesting. If you go through the people that won the worlds it’s always skippers until you get to 1995, and people say Bill Masterman won the worlds in ’95.
Bergström: And it’s the same with Cam Lewis! Lewis won twice.
TT: Why is that? Are they personalities or is it the shear size of Bill Masterman. What is it that makes people remember Bill Masterman as the champion and not the skipper?
Bergström: I can’t remember who won with Bill. (Confers with Thomas in Swedish – it was Jeremy Robinson).
TT: How does that make you feel Thomas? Would you like be known as the world champion with Krister having second billing?
Thomas Moss: It doesn’t matter.
TT: It doesn’t matter to you? It’s a team thing?
TT: So you had a couple of close calls, you won five of the eight and you figure you’re beating the odds there.
Bergström: It’s not that bad. I don’t really think that much about it.
TT: You’re the only five-time winner, so that says something.
Bergström: I haven’t gone and taken the next step in sailing. I kept sailing dinghies and the 505.
TT: What would be the next step for you?
Bergström: Today? Retire (laughs). No. But a lot of other good guys have been sailing 505’s have done a lot of other things as well.
TT: I think I asked Thomas this at one point, but I’d like to hear it from you. After 20-something years in the 5-Oh, what keeps you coming back? Are there elements of competition, personalities, boat development? Why are you still here?
Bergström: First of all, the sailing is fun, it’s really fun. Secondly, it pays off to use your head – your brain to think of more development for the boat to make it quicker. It’s not a 470 where you have all these things fixed – the centerboard, the bridle system, the rig. It’s good fun.
TT: So for you the fun is the development process.
Bergström: That’s part of it. And also the first day, going out to the first race – the nerves, the tension – is something which I like.
TT: So, you thrive under pressure?
Bergström: Oh yeah, I think so.
TT: How about you Thomas? Is that something you feel benefits you – the pressure situation?
Moss: I’m more cooler than Krister. (I start laughing). Sometimes we sailing in light stuff and the boat starts shaking like this (motions with a shaking hand). That’s a good sign.
TT: So, do you feel you have a calming effect on him on the racecourse since you’re the cooler head in the boat? Do you have to consciously work to get him settled down and in the groove, or does he settle himself down? Are you just quiet and he just settles down eventually? If he’s slow off the line and he’s jittery, what do you do?
Moss: I just tell him he’s slow.
TT: Is that enough for you to dial back in and get the boat moving faster, Krister?
Bergström: Yeah, I think so.
TT: There’s no panic or anything?
Bergström: I think we have been around in the class for so long, so if that happens, and it happens, the feedback from the crew with what we’re doing, especially in a gate start where you have to be really quick, so that information is definitely right. There is a switch. You can always be a little bit more accurate, and try a little bit harder, hike a little bit harder, work the mainsheet a little bit harder in those conditions. That’s the ticket.
TT: I believe so too. Thomas, you’ve been sailing with Krister since 1995 and you won your first world championship in 2000. Was that the highlight of your sailing career?
Moss: I think so. We were forced to sail in different conditions in that regatta and we sailed really well. Also, we haven’t been less than 5th in any world championship together, and I’m proud of that.
TT: Let me shift gears here myself. We’ve talked about the things you enjoy, like working on the boat. What about the competition – the people you see at the worlds year in, and year out? Do you enjoy racing against these particular people? Is there an inter-personal element competing against these guys?
Bergström: Definitely! I wouldn’t say you’re best friends or something like that, but you’re good sailing friends which means that it’s like a big family coming together for two weeks and we go sailing. I think we enjoy that, and we love to beat each other up. Bill Masterman did a very nice thing as he passed us when we went swimming during the last jibe to the finish, and he said ”Jolly good day, lads!” as he went by (laughs). I think that’s part of the game, yes.
TT: I noticed as I was hanging out on the sidelines that there’s some gamesmanship with Mike Martin and Howie Hamlin. You guys like to inspect each other’s gear, and see what the other person is doing. Is that a conscious act to look over the other guy” shoulder?
Bergström: Yes, because we know they are very good sailors and they do a lot of work. We don’t have contact for 50 weeks then suddenly we have contact and you have the boat in the boat park, and it’s interesting.
TT: Do you get the feeling they hold stuff back from you, and perhaps you hold stuff back from them?
Bergström: We haven’t told them we changed tires on the trolley this year! No, Howie is a little bit secretive. He puts the cover on when you ask him ”have you tried that…”.
TT: I detect from Howie and Mike that he thinks that you hold back a little too. Thomas, you said you weigh 89 kilos? Well, I was talking to Mike and told him that Thomas said he only weighed 89 kilos, which made me feel better because I only weigh 91. Mike said, ”C’mon, he doesn’t weigh only 89 kilos. He’s gotta weigh more than that.” It’s funny to me as a spectator in this game to watch this gamesmanship.
Bergström: I think that’s part of the game. Eventually we see through what the others are doing. In France, they came with their long boards and were trying to hide it, but that’s part of sailing, of course.
TT: So they do it, you do it, and there’s nothing personal about it.
Bergström: Definitely not! Absolutely not. But they’re good sailors and we’ve got to beat them. But at the end of the day, the equipment is developed by the person, and one day you have an advantage, and the next they have the advantage.
TT: Thomas, how much do you get involved in the development? Spinnaker shapes perhaps?
Moss: Not only shape by how it flies. I like a certain type of spinnaker.
Bergström: This year we bought a good cut, we went to Denmark, then we had a chance with Holger (Jess) to check out what the Germans had learned, and from there on we made some spinnakers with our sailmaker and we have been sailing with them. So, we really haven’t been too involved with the development. We tried to check out what others are doing, and we have an excellent sailmaker. It’s possible to make a quicker spinnaker than we have today.
TT: Following with the development scene. Would development of carbon spars keep you in the game longer?
Bergström: I don’t know. I did not vote for or against the carbon fiber today at the AGM. I have a very divided view. I can see both sides of the argument. Sooner or later we will have carbon fiber spars. That’s for sure. But when that happens, it will hurt, it will cost more, it will be a pain in the ass. Probably some person will have the possibility to do something really good. Today we know the sail shape and all these things, and to swap to carbon we will have to start all over again, and I know the job it will take to get the main right and other stuff.
TT: It’s a lot of work. The class will be relying on guys like you to lead that development effort I would suppose. The benefit you get is that you will have the fastest gear first. How about you Thomas, would you like to see the carbon spars?
Moss: I would go for the carbon. It will hurt in the short term – for a couple of years.
TT: I want to talk more about the dynamics in the boat. You’ve been at it together for 7 years, and five years before you won a world championship. I want to talk about how you get on in the boat. Is there a lot of talking back and forth? Maybe small chatter about the tactical situation or Thomas talking about what other boats are doing, then you come up with a decision on what you are going to do? How are decisions reached?
Bergström: Your description is quite right. Some races we talk a lot, and in others it’s really straightforward and you really don’t need to talk that much.
TT: Not a lot of wind shifts – just straight boat speed.
Bergström: Yesterday was a quite straightforward race I think – the second one. The first was a bit tricky and there was more discussion in the boat. The first day we had here I lost my contact lens so I could see the telltales but I couldn’t see the mark, so he was in charge.
TT: Tomas, would you like Krister to sail without his contact lenses more often?
Moss: (Laughs) No!
TT: What would you say your strengths are in the relationship.
Bergström: We have good control over the boat – our technique and how to drive the boat quick. We both have long experience racing and we know what it’s like. I don’t think we have a divided view on things often. Sometimes we have a little bit, like when boats on both sides are looking better and that’s when I get a little bit worried – ”what should we do, when is the next puff coming, can you see anything?” That’s when Thomas says let’s keep on keeping on it. I think the thing that has hurt us is that we don’t have any training partners. When we go out training, we go out on our own, and we practice our tacks and gibes and sets and all that. It takes us a few races to get our racing skills back.
TT: So, you are very smooth in the boat because of how you train, but you are out of practice on the competition end. It’s amazing that you can come here and be so fast with no training partner. How can you guys be so fast without a training partner when the guys in California are busy beating up on each other all year?
Bergström: That’s a good question.
Moss: We don’t know.
Bergström: Really we shouldn’t, or maybe with a good training partner we should win every race! (Laughs) I don’t think so. But with a good training partner we would have it down better, at least in the beginning of the regatta. This time with the container coming late and missing the pre-worlds, but we are in 3rd place in the worlds so far so we could use a little more practice.
TT: Thomas, what would you say are Krister’s main strengths?
Moss: In sailing, keeping the boat fast and straight. You more or less know you will be faster than all the other boats – almost (Krister laughs). The older he gets, the more he doesn’t like to change the rig.
TT: I hear Howie’s the same way.
Moss: But, he knows what to do and he’s confident. He’s good at speaking about tactics and sailing, and how to tune the rig. I think we get along really well.
TT: Krister, where does Thomas excel?
Bergström: He’s well organized. He’s a very good sailor, and he always tries his best even if I screw up the start and make bad decisions. He’s very eager to try different things. Thomas also never gives up – if you’re last or you’re first, his accuracy in his tacks and jibes is always there. I think those are the main things why we have been sailing together so long.
TT: If you’re behind, as long as you’re trying and still sailing smooth, you know you are gaining.
Bergström: Yeah, and then you’re sailing against more guys out there, and that’s always fun. If you’re in front you sail against the guys in places behind you. It’s always nice to pass boats!
TT: So what’s more satisfying, a come from behind win or a horizon job?
Bergström: The horizon thing is nicer – it’s better for your ego (laughs). When you win a heavy weather race in the European Championship by two and a half minutes, that’s something. When you can’t read the numbers of the other boats, that’s quite nice.
Moss: I agree.
TT: I think I read somewhere that there are other ways you prepare for a world championship other than sailing. Can you describe some of the ways you prepare outside of sail training?
Bergström: The problem with getting older is that gravity works harder on you! Everything is harder to do and everything is heavier. In my case I can’t practice as much as I want, so I have to lift weights and run and that sort of stuff.
TT: How about mentally? I’ve read that you run through tactical and strategic scenarios in your mind so that events are scripted on the water.
Bergström: When I was younger I did this because I was so nervous. I listened to sports psychologists but I don’t do that anymore.
TT: Is this because you’re attitude has changed, or do you have so much experience now that you no longer need to do these things?
Bergström: I’m older now. This (505 sailing) is not that important any longer. When you are 18 or 22 life was just sailing. That was the main thing. You were brilliant if you were quick out in the ocean and you were nobody the day you did bad. Life is so much more than just sailing today – being married, having kids. You have to do other things so the sailing is just a small piece which is very enjoyable – a little bit expensive, but you know…
TT: Let’s talk about family for a little while. I know the both of you have family, and I have a family too. Do you feel you have to make a big sacrifice and that your family has to sacrifice for you to come to these world championships? Is it a big strain on your family life?
Bergström: It definitely would be hard without a sponsor, then we wouldn’t come here. You can’t tell your wife that we can’t go on vacation because I have to go to this world championship. You have to work out the finances so the sailing is comfortable. When I met my wife I was in the middle of an Olympic campaign with the FD, so she doesn’t think I’m sailing that much anymore (laughs).
TT: Thomas, didn’t you also mention that your wife thinks normal sailing is on the scale of an Olympic campaign and that 505 sailing is nothing?
Bergström: In my case, my wife was the former Swedish champion in gymnastics, so she thinks this is a soft sport, that we never go practice. In the end, you have to go to work, you have to take care of your kids, you have to take care of your house, you have to take care of your wife, you have to take care of other stuff, and to get away on a championship like this you have to work hard the time before, then work like hell when you come back because you’ve missed a few weeks.
TT: How old are your kids now?
Bergström: My kids. Oscar is 12 and Hanna is soon eight.
TT: So, they are old enough to be sailing. Are they sailing?
Bergström: Mine, no. Oscar is a very good skier, and he plays soccer. He thinks sailing is boring because it’s so slow (laughs).
Moss: My kids are young, so they just do a little bit of sailing. I will introduce them in racing if they want.
TT: Next year’s worlds in Sweden, it sounds like the conditions can be just about anything. This sounds like home to me on the Chesapeake Bay. Is this the case.
TT: I’ve heard you guys are not members at the host club. Will this be a problem with organizing the event?
Bergström: No, we aren’t members of MSS (Malmö Segel Sällskap). When we talked about having a worlds in Sweden, we talked about the criteria for the regatta, then we started talking to different clubs which would meet those criteria. MSS is one of the most successful youth clubs in Sweden. Dinghy sailing is a big thing there. They just had some Europe Dinghy and Laser regattas there I think. They have hosted a lot of good world championships there. They will have the H-Boat World Championship there. They are very experienced and they know what sailors want. They have a policy of hosting a big world event every third year or so, and the 505 worlds fit nicely into their schedule. We have showed up to their club for events and they are very pleased with what we have done.
TT: It seems like most clubs that like to host big events really like to have the 505 class. Why do you think that is – is there something about the people or the prestige of the class?
Bergström: Why do you like the 505? It must be the same reasons, I guess. First of all it’s a nice boat, isn’t it? It’s very well-developed and you can go sailing in any sea condition more or less.
TT: Can you guys comment on fair sailing in the 505. I’ve heard that some race committees and protest committees like the 505 class because we seem not to have a lot of protests. We seem to work it out on the water, and most people sail fair on the water, or people are less likely to protest these days.
Bergström: Maybe it’s because the boat is quite quick and not that strong. So, it’s not like Lasers are fairly strong and boats bounce into each other. I think most sailors have a strong conscious, and they won’t feel nice if they are out there fouling people. I also don’t think people care as much about their result – if they are 8th or 9th, or 26th or 27th, it doesn’t matter as much, so people don’t do stupid things out there. That’s my guess anyway.
TT: Do you have a philosophy on the water that helps you with your focus?
Moss: Have fun. Have a nice race. I think that we are very conservative and we don’t take big risks.
TT: Maybe you don’t have to take risks when you are fast! One last question. How do you guys know when it’s all over – when your teaming has run it’s course, and now it’s time to do other things?
Moss: I think it’s the money. When the sponsorship stops, we may have to. It costs a lot.
Bergström: Maybe you don’t need to stop. Maybe you can say ”we have sailed at the top level now we can just come here and race without having any expectations and just enjoy it.
TT: Can you do that? Can you be a five or maybe six-time world champion and come here to a world championship and not feel you have to win.
Bergström: No, we don’t have to win – definitely not. I don’t feel we have to win now, at least that’s how I feel. The only thing you have to do is you have to try as hard as you can I think, but that’s with all things in life – you have to try to do a good job at work, you have to try and raise your kids right, you have to be nice to your wife. And you have to try the best job you can here, but if you don’t put the time in or the money, or if you don’t have the equipment, of course you will not win. Go out there and reach and enjoy it. I won’t have any problem doing that. Of course, it’s nicer to be first or second…