Wednesday, May 8, 2013


This past weekend the American Youth Sailing Force team (aka The Force) became the first Red Bull Youth America’s Cup team to capsize an AC45. They’d gone out hoping for a windy training day and got just that, with winds in the high teens and low twenties. Setting up for a gybe set in a mark 1 situation, they began to round the mark and bear-off when they were hit by a gust as the crew came off the rail to gybe. Helmsman Michael Menninger thought heading up would be the safest way out of the situation...but it wasn’t. The boat went over nice and gently, and fortunately there were no injuries or significant damage to the AC45 on loan from Oracle Team USA.

The other part of this story, of course, is that there ARE youth teams out on the water sailing AC45s, in large part thanks to a clever concept by Oracle boss Russell Coutts - the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup - to provide a path for sailors 18-24 to a career in the America’s Cup. Here Coutts shares his thoughts on this new youth event.

Where do you think the RBYAC go from here?

RC: It does have strong support from a lot of different aspects. The more Red Bull have got into this the more enthusiastic they’ve become about it which I think is fantastic. Once they get involved they generally do things really well. It’s proving to be cost effective for them in that they’re getting a good return on it already. More than that, one of their objectives from day 1 was to do something that was widely supported by the sport and it appears that’s the case. As far as what we do with it in the future, that’s what some of us are thinking about now - how to keep this going and how to make it a more organized process it so that it happens regularly. That’s the next stage.

Any thought to buying back the AC45s from teams and consolidating them here in the US for an ongoing youth series, stadium style, kind of like the Extreme 40 series, for the US? Seems like that would help consolidate your investment in this particular event and nurture the fan base?

RC: I think it needs to be international and I think we replace the AC45s beyond this AC anyway. It’s more a matter of whether the youth boats should be something smaller than an AC45, that’s the question we’re asking. Whatever it is, it needs to be transportable on a container but maybe you could have a slightly smaller boat which would give a less number of crew - perhaps 4 rather than 6, that reduces costs and makes the entry even easier - maybe if you had a slightly smaller boat you could drop the age a bit too because I think while these guys now are sailing in the Youth America’s Cup, they’re going to straight away be good enough to race the bigger boats. You’re probably going to find that future America’s Cup sailors are between 25 and 35 years old. Maybe you need something that fits underneath that.

Have you seen any of the American teams out training & what do you think?

RC: I’ve seen some of them out on the water and they’re starting to push pretty hard and getting used to sailing them. Right now there’re several of the international teams that are ahead of the US teams but they’re closing the gap rapidly. The main thing is going to be is that the series is the beginning of September and that’s what our focus is on.

How do you think it’s changed for young guys wanting to get into the game versus when you were a similar age?

RC: This definitely offers a platform and a process whereby the guys can really come in and prove themselves. I gave the US guys a few words before this last session that they did and said that really, this is their chance to show the sailing world and the America’s Cup community in particular that they want to chase to make it and therefore they should be putting 100% effort into making this the best possible time that they could have. Their preparation needs to be as good as they can possibly do because I think this is the best shot that they’re going to get over then next five years. If they make enough progress they could end up as AC crew.

It’s a more tailored pathway than the way I did it. If for example one of the US teams won this, for sure they will prove to everyone that they are capable of going into an AC team.

Do you see that there’s any room for female sailors in the AC45 game, or do you think the physicality and strength required is too much?

RC: There are certain positions on board where physicality is not such a factor like the helm, if there’s a female sailor who is talented enough, there’s absolutely no reason why it couldn’t be happen. If there was a female sailor out there even right now, I’d guarantee to you one of the AC teams would have her on a team. This youth platform will probably give more opportunity to more countries that show their talents.

What’s the best advice you can give these young guys going into this event?

RC: Maximum effort. This could be a turning point in one of these young sailor’s careers where they all of a sudden get the break that they need because they’ve been able to prove their ability. As I said to them the other weekend, one of the things that’s difficult and hard to adjust to when you come into professional sports is that you are judged on your performance - it’s very black and white, cut throat - there is no gray area between succeeding and not succeeding. If you really want to do this you have to show the various people that you really want to succeed. You’re not going to get hired just because you’ve got a nice personality, you’ve got to show your talent and will to work, your ability to dedicate yourself and train hard. That’s what going to get you into the America’s Cup.

* Read more about The Force's capsize at:

Photo Credit: Erik Simonson/H20 Shots

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