A 49er Fan’s Guide to Cheering for the America’s Cup

With the America’s Cup about to start it’s time to get serious about who to cheer for. Sure, there is nationality to think about, but with only 6 national boats many fans must dig deeper. Sailing fans have a lot of options to grab onto. We figured it was time to look at who’s sailing these beasts, and how much skiff content these cats have. Admittedly, beyond the skippers it’s not always each to figure out who’s inside the helmets, so we took a look at each team and tried to figure out the starting line-ups.

Groupama Team France

… let’s just say we’ll know when these guys finally get serious when they start hiring some 49er sailors;)

Softbank Team Japan

This is Dean Barkers team, but the experienced helmsman has Chris Draper (GBR) as his number 2 on trimming and tactics. Draper was in the second generation of top 49er sailors, going head to head with Iker Martinez over a number of years while helming the 49er. He won the 2003 and 2006 World Championships alongside Simon Hiscocks, and took home the Bronze medal in Athens 2004. He broke into America’s Cup Sailing via Prada in the 2013 Cup and was brought in at Softbank Team Japan once Prada backed off from this cup. All indications are that this team will be right in the mix in 2017. The Barker-Draper combo should be disciplined and stable with regard to how they race, taking the conservative choice more often than not.

Emirates Team New Zealand

The most surprising thing about the Team New Zealand line- up is just how few sailors they have… while the website ‘conveniently’ just lists all their personnel together… it goes further by calling many of what we might call sailor – cyclists… no serious, check out the link above… according to the website, there are almost no sailors on this team…

Fortunately, the backbone of this sailing team is core 49er and easy to spot. Peter Burling and Blair Tuke are the duo that won every 49er regatta between London and Rio, bar one, and have been the core sailing team of ETNZ since the Cup first broke into fast boats. Burling on the helm is aggressive, instinctual, and intense. He won’t be intimidated by the scene or situation, and will back his skills to take on all comers every day of the week. We might see some errors through over aggressiveness at times, but we should also see some deadly accurate steering and an opportunist who gets the calls right more often than any sailor should.

Blair’s sailing role is a bit more secretive, like so much of Cup sailing. He’s listed as ‘Cyclist/Foil Trimmer’ and seems to be head of the peleton aboard ETNZ. ¬†Unlike most people being used for horespower in this cup, however, he has a joystick that he’s controlling while pressing out the pedals. Exactly what he’s trimming moment to moment we can’t know just yet, but he’s doing something.

He is pound for pound a hugely fit athlete, and with a joystick in his hands seems to be doing more than simply cutting the wind for the power generation group behind him. At this stage we don’t know how active a role foil trimming really is, but with stability and the ability to keep foiling at all times deemed one of the make or break skills to win a race we can assume he’s a critical piece of the race team.

Artemis Racing

Artemis is another team with a 49er pair running the show. With so many gold medalists on the team it was always going to be interesting to see who will actually be racing come gameday. While we don’t yet know the daily squad for sure, we do know that Nathan Outteridge will be on the helm, and we suspect his long time crew, Ian Jensen will be his wing trimmer. The pair dominated the 49er from 2009 to 2012, winning three of the four World Championships and the Gold medal. They continued through to Rio 2016, taking the Silver medal, which is a pretty serious achievement since for much of the time 49er sailing was only complimentary to their America’s Cup responsibilities.

Nathan has held the role of sailing team director since late 2014, and Iain ‘Goobs’ Jensen is in charge of the wing sail and it’s development from the sailing perspective. There is also another 49er sailors on the sailing team in Kalle Torlen. Kalle is some Swedish content for the team, but seems to be in the starting line-up sharing a grinding pedestal with Ian Percy in the middle of the boat. Kalle was a Swedish Olympian in the 49er in 2008 as a youngster, and then got beat out for the Swedish spot in 2012. After a break from sailing to study he’s back and super fit as always, ready to pump out some serious horsepower.

It seems likely that grinders will trade out on teams between races, so we may not see Kalle every race, but likewise, we may see Kalle most days. On those days, Artemis racing will be 50% 49er, so hard not to cheer for, especially if you like a team that will be on pace at all times and a serious threat to win it all!

Landrover BAR

The Ben Ainslie Racing machine is littered with 49er stock… less clear is who will be sailing day to day as the line-ups aren’t quite clear. The team has been under massive pressure since practice racing began and seems not to have the straight line pace to compete if early indications are to be trusted. This has made an impact on personnel decisions, with the enigmatic skipper making frequent changes to the on board team as performance ebbs and flows. All we know at this point is that Big Ben will have plety of 49er sailors to choose from.

Listed as the starting wing trimmer is Paul Cambell James, who spent years helming the 49er mostly with Mark Asquith. While never grabbing an Olympic berth, Paul was perpetually in the top 10 and probably suffered a bit as being one of the bigger helms with a big crew before the rigs changed and 49er sailing powered up. He rededicated himself to professional sailing after leaving the 49er, and became a strong man in the gym and a jack of all trades at sea through the Extreme Sailing Series and now into the America’s Cup.

One of Paul’s back up wing trimmers is a more recent addition to the BAR team and one of the few non-Brits, Xabi Fernandez (ESP). Xabi is everyone’s favorite guy to sail with, and a 49er legend. Crewing for Iker Martinez in the 49er, he grabbed Gold in 2004, Silver in 2008, and three World Championship wins in 2002, 2004, and 2010. Xabi was always considered the massive engine that allowed Iker’s massive ambition to come to fruition. After two Volvo Ocean Races, Xabi is now skipper for Mapfre in the next race. Not sure if we’ll see him during the cup, but if we do he’ll be a contributor, even as an engine… he was so fit in his youth that before he opted for sailing he was an U18 top Spanish cyclist…

Then there are two more 49er crews being used as powerplant, and one more 49er crew driving the powerplants. Ed Pows crewed 49er for years mostly with Dave Evans, and has been on BAR almost from the start of this cycle. He’s joined on the grinding pedestal by Neil Hunter, who is just a youngster in his 49er days, but is so full of power to burn they couldn’t hold him back. Finally, Alex Hopson, who sailed with Jon Pink through their early days in the 49er is the strength and conditioning coach. Hoppo was always into fitness, and after quitting 49er tried to use that fitness by switching to RSX and triathlon, ultimately studying to become a strength and conditioning coach.

Plenty of 49er talent being used with the brits, let’s hope they have the boatspeed to put it to use.

Oracle Team USA

Lets just say the defending champs, who so endear themselves to sailing fans through running roughshod to the rules and broadcast methods, are not a bunch of 49er sailors… not a lot to cheer for here, and perhaps it’s the pedigree that should be the first clue;) Jimmy’s can’t miss at the press conference though, so that’s something.
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