Sailing

He’s back: skipper Ashby confirms return for Cup defence

Team New Zealand have locked in a key figure for their 2021 America's Cup defence. Suzanne McFaddden reports.

Glenn Ashby – the man with his hands on the X-box controller which helped drive Emirates Team New Zealand to victory - has confirmed he will return as skipper for the defence of the Auld Mug in 2021.

And he’s already back on the job – sailing on the latest in foiling technology, and keeping an eye out for a new generation of young sailing talent, men and women, to join the team.

The multihull legend and Australian Sailor of the Year was back at the Team NZ base in Auckland yesterday for his first of many work visits this year. He plans on commuting from his home in Melbourne every few weeks to get the sailing side of the team back in business.

“I’ve certainly verbally signed on,” Ashby confirmed. “We still haven’t gone through the paperwork, but that’s more of a formality. It’s not been so high on the priority list.”

The team’s focus, he explains, has been on drawing up the plans for the new foiling monohull, the AC75, and trying to settle on a home for the America’s Cup village.

“We’ve got a lot of meetings coming up soon, in campaign strategising. We wanted to let the dust settle after Christmas, and now I’m really looking forward to the next couple of months, getting everyone back together again and reforming the direction. That’s a very exciting and important part of the programme,” he says.

“It’s great be able to get back to talking sails and masts, boats and foils. Even though I’m always in touch with the guys by phone, it’s good to be back catching up with the team. Everyone is in a good space.”

Although he’s been across the ditch, Ashby has been quietly doing his bit to help the team on the water, by sailing in the new SuperFoiler Grand Prix series around Australia. It’s going extremely well for him - so far, he and his crew of fellow America’s Cup sailors, skipper Nathan Outteridge and bowman Iain Jensen, haven’t lost a single race across two regattas.

“If we had exactly the same team as last time, we wouldn’t be successful. You’ve got to keep going forward and raising the bar. While experience is absolutely key, we still need to keep growing."

- Team NZ skipper Glenn Ashby

The SuperFoiler is just as it sounds – a sleek, winged 8m boat that hurtles across the water, and is promoted as “the fastest foil-borne course-racing machine of its size on the planet.”

It’s also, Ashby says, probably the closest boat sailing-wise to the new class of America’s Cup yacht.

“It’s probably one of the most relevant types of boat for us to be sailing – and it’s kind of fallen into my lap really,” he says.

“Talking to our [Team NZ] designers about it, I realise there are a lot of similarities - as to the way the boat works, in what you have to do to get it around the track. I think it has some of the things we need to think about on the big boat when we start getting in to that. So I’ve been almost lucky in a way that we decided to do it.

“But it’s been quite challenging for me. The skills you need to foil these boats tap into every skill I’ve learned over the last 30 years. It takes the different idiosyncrasies of every boat I’ve ever sailed in – skiffs, dinghies, multihulls – and rolls them all into one. They’re pretty loose and exciting at times, so it’s been a massive learning experience.”

Ashby’s two SuperFoiler crewmates played integral parts in Artemis Racing team in Bermuda, but their Cup futures are up in the air. The strong and competitive syndicate, backed by Swedish billionaire Torbjorn Tornqvist, have yet to confirm whether they will race in the 2021 Cup, or sit it out until the following cycle.

“I think a lot of people at the moment are still in limbo as to what the America’s Cup picture might hold,” Ashby says. “For a number of potential teams, things are still up in the air. Over the next few months the landscape will become a little clearer for a lot of people, as things start falling into place.”

An unconfirmed number of challenger entries have been received by the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron since January 1, but first they must go through a rigorous assessment before they’re accepted – and made public. Potential teams are no doubt waiting to see what the class rule holds before putting their challenge forward. The deadline for entries is June 30, with late entries accepted (with a penalty fee) up until the last day of 2018.

Ashby has also gleaned much from chewing the fat with fellow Cup sailors about their campaigns and what they learned. “Those guys have been extremely complimentary of what our team was able to create and achieve with fairly minimal resources. It reinforces the fact that we made some fantastic decisions and had the right people doing the right jobs,” he said.

But Ashby knows that there must be changes – or at least additions – to Team NZ if they are to keep their grip on the America’s Cup.

“If we had exactly the same team as last time, we wouldn’t be successful. You’ve got to keep going forward and raising the bar. While experience is absolutely key, we still need to keep growing.

“We’d be silly not to be looking for new people coming through. One of the strengths of Team NZ has always been looking to the future.

“There are a lot of talented young sailors now nipping at the heels of the more experienced guys. All of us need to be very openminded and look far and wide for new talent coming through. As you get older, you need to keep pushing the right people forward, and that’s certainly what I’ll be doing now.”

Ashby acknowledges that today’s high-performance sailors are required to have a different skill set to their predecessors only a decade ago, especially as the speed of boats they sail continues to accelerate.

“You need a broad base of knowledge and skill, but your ability to make really good decisions quickly is more important than ever before,” he says. “It’s an exciting time seeing all these young guys and girls coming through who are really pushing the limits.”

Yes, Ashby has his eyes peeled for talent yachtswomen to join Team NZ as well. “Yes 100 percent, we’ll be looking out for them. There are extremely talented young women out there who have a huge amount to offer – not just in sailing, but in engineering and design too.”

Case in point is Team NZ designer Elise Beavis, who won the national title in the women’s foiling Waszp last weekend.

Ashby and his family have yet to discuss when they will move back to Auckland again. “I’ll be commuting back and forth over the next few months, like I did at the beginning of the last campaign. It’s nice to spend time at home, but we love it here in Auckland – my girls would move back in a heartbeat.”

He’s off to Monaco at the end of the month to represent Team NZ at the esteemed Laureus World Sports Awards, where they are up for the honour of World Team of the Year. They are in auspicious company – Real Madrid, the New England Patriots, the Golden State Warriors, Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One, and the French Davis Cup team.

“The team should be very, very proud to be nominated. I’m looking forward to rubbing shoulders with the cream of world sport,” he says.

There are already two new trophies sitting in the main office of Team NZ - for the 2017 Halberg Team of the Year and Supreme Award victories. “It was great recognition for what we achieved as a team,” Ashby says. “There seems to be a lot of goodwill still for Team New Zealand, with a lot of people are quite excited about watching the developments over the next couple of years unfold. It’s really cool.”

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