Nathan Outteridge has his dance card packed for 2012, with an Olympic campaign to see through (and hopefully pick up a gold in the 49er), as well as jumping on board an AC45 for the first time as the new helmsman for Team Korea. The 26-year old Aussie skiff sailor is realistically confident about his new “job”, although scaling up from the 49er to the AC72 may take some work…
The following is the first of a two-part interview about joining Team Korea and Outteridge's current Olympic campaign.
Was the America’s Cup something that you were looking to do?
OUTTERIDGE: I wanted to move into the Cup and the fact that it’s moved into fast, exciting boats interested me a lot more than it probably did when it was in the older boats. The timing with the way that the circuit is with the Olympic stuff isn’t ideal but the opportunity presented itself at the right moment.
What do you think of the opportunity?
OUTTERIDGE: I’m really excited - we had our really first big Skype meeting last night with the whole crew. It was insightful to find out where they’re out, how their progression has been and what their plans are for Naples and the events past that. It’s very different to what I’ve been doing. I’ve done a bit of A-class sailing now but I’ll be sailing with more people, furling gennakers, using different types of sailing procedures etc.
Have you sailed the AC45 yet?
OUTTERIDGE: Never been on the boat. I get to Naples on April 1 and might get 4-5 days in the boat if all goes well. I’m very excited about it as it’s finally about to happen - the boats look amazing. I’ve been spending every spare minute I have at home watching the footage to work out what to do as I think it’s going to be a very steep learning curve for me.
What’s your training schedule with Team Korea look like?
OUTTERIDGE: The plan is to finish out this season in the AC45. It depends on how things pan out and how things are going with the build of the 72 but once the Games are over, the intention is to fly straight into full-time on TK. The team will be a bit behind the main 3 or 4 teams but they sounded very confident last night that the 72’s going to happen. They’re trying to shift focus a bit to get that prepared so when it comes to the Louis Vuitton they’ll be ready to go.
Do you think Team Korea is going to have enough time on the water to be competitive?
OUTTERIDGE: I wouldn’t be joining the team if I didn’t think that the team had a good foundation already and we didn’t have the potential to get results. I think the results that came in Plymouth and San Diego, were good results. Hopefully I can slot into the role that Chris has been doing quite nicely. I think the key for myself is to try to learn the key points to racing the boat very quickly. The guys should be able to cover the full boat handling maneuvers - just got to make sure I’m up to speed with time on distance when it comes to pulling the trigger at the start because that looks pretty key. General positioning, laylines, things like that - are going to be critical in the tight boundary races. The other thing is getting my head around the new rules - calling for water on the boundaries, the gate at the top mark etc. I think the concept of the racing and the way it works is right up my alley - it’s what I like, I like things that happen fast and making critical decisions. But I’m sure making those decisions on the boat is going to be different from the helicopter view!
I’m sure you’ll see some errors on my part in the first few races (LOL) but the error rate will come down and results will get better. It was interesting watching Darren Bundock and Tom Slingsby as tactician in San Diego - they were very up and down but when they got it right they were all over it, and every now and then there would be those key errors I was talking about which are going to cost you badly. Hopefully I can learn as much from the other teams as possible and hopefully they’ll feel a little sympathetic toward me and give me a few tips before we start racing - I highly doubt that though!
Do you have any problem stepping into Chris Draper’s shoes?
OUTTERIDGE: I haven’t really thought about it really. I know him from 49er sailing and know he’s done quite a bit of Extreme 40 sailing as well. He has that leg up on me in that sense but we’ve pretty much got the same crew as TK had for the past few events so hopefully they can do all the hard stuff and I’ll just hang at the back keeping it upright and going fast and avoid any issues! With the race format, it seems like you really need to think ahead to avoid a bad situation. Hopefully from my 49er and Moth experience I can use those skills to help predict what will happen on the AC45 - trying to plan that in a 45 cat is going to be a little different to what I’m used to though.
Being involved in all aspects of an A-Cup team including design is new for you - thoughts?
OUTTERIDGE: We’ve been trying to get quite technical about our approach to the 49er and one of the things I like most about the Moth is how design oriented it is. You’re always tweaking, trying to get the foils set up right, trying to get the most out of the boat. That’s one of the things I like most about sailing. You can find all these avenues to make the boat go faster without having to actually do anything physically. I don’t have a whole lot of design experience but that’s one of the things that interests me most about the Cup but I have a pretty good feel for a boat and can tell what works and what doesn’t so can give good feedback to the design team on how things may need to change. It’s going to depend a lot on how much time, money and resources we’ll have to throw at things.
Re the athletic nature of the 45 - will you’ll have to scale up to helm the 45?
OUTTERIDGE: From watching the footage it seems like the helmsman is in the best seat - looks like the four guys up the front have so much on that they couldn’t be fit enough to do their job. I’m pretty excited to be sitting at the back to be honest and let all them to do the hard work!
From all reports, helming the 72 will be a massive step up…?
Yeah - it seems a little scary to me. The 45s looked a little scary last year - I was trying to picture a 72 capsizing - if you get it wrong it looks like you’ll be in all sorts of trouble so hopefully the design team does a good job of making the boat nice and easy to sail otherwise you could have a bit on at times.
What about working with a crew? How’s that going to go for you?
OUTTERIDGE: I’ve done quite a bit of sailing on Farr 40s over the last four or five years in either a strategy role or tactician so I’ve been trying to develop those skills of managing a team - understanding what people’s jobs are and making sure I give them enough time to do it. As much as it’s a race of tactics and strategy, it’s a lot about managing crew capabilities and not putting them under too much pressure and having good clear communication. From what I’ve seen of the AC45s, it seems that’s where the problems occur, when communications break down and I know I need to be aware of that.
The Cup is fast becoming a Made-for-TV event - does that bother you?
OUTTERIDGE: I don’t think it changes the way we race the event. Sailing should become more media friendly - we’ve tried to adopt that more in the Moth and 49er but this is taking it to a whole new level. Every little thing you do will be picked up by TV both on and off the boat. I think it’s great and what sailing should be about. It’s an exciting time to be involved in the sport. I think Oracle is doing a great job of pushing it in that direction. Half the attraction for me is getting involved in something so exciting. Hopefully the constraints of trying to make it media friendly don’t destroy the best parts of our sport.
*Outteridge’s hometown is Wangi Wangi, New South Wales, Australia. He started sailing at age 3 and began racing at age 5 on a Sabot. He had his first win at the Sabot Nationals, Yeppon, in 2000. He holds three World 49er titles, three ISAF World Youth titles, and a World Moth title.
Stay tuned for Part Two - Outteridge on the Olympics