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Of National Importance - talking with John Bertrand AO

by John Curnow, Editor, Sail World AUS 19 Jun 2023 08:00 BST
Emirates Team New Zealand - LEQ12 and AC40 - Day 32, June 8, 2023 © Adam Mustill / America's Cup

And this is exactly how The Great Man (John Bertrand AO) put it to me. "130 athletes, from 40 clubs across the land, and approximately a 50:50 male/female split after the close of applications." That's just awesome. Yes it is definitely fair to say that we've been engrossed in the 2024 Youth and Women's America's Cup, even more so after Going Really Deep, and then a bit later on with Talent Time, so we were keen to see how it is all unfolding.

Now with Australia as the twelfth and final nation entering, people could say that we're a bit late to the party, but that would be naïve given the heritage that this country has, with all our world class sailors plying their trade around the globe. But seeing as when it gets down to the pointy end, we're now talking about just four berths available for each boat, youth team and female team, this really is a BIG deal.

Bertrand commented, "We have an extremely talented nine-person selection panel. This week we'll start to work through the various applications. I chair the Women's selection panel, and John Winning Jnr chairs the Youth selection panel. Ultimately it will be about the world of compatibility, a thirst for learning, experience, and raw talent.

"Our target is to announce the squads for both teams by the end of July. There will be either six or eight athletes per team, we are just working that scenario up at present. There will be online and in-person interviews as part of the process, along with AI data profiling, and then ultimately utilising the flight simulator."

Having undertaken the AI data platform Deep Sphere himself, JB said, "I guess it reinforced the areas that I enjoy, and generally if that is the case, you can become good at it. I really love leading teams and endeavouring to empower people within those teams. This did come out from my profile once we had completed the questions. We will be utilising Deep Sphere within our selection process.

"The simulator has arrived and is in the process of being commissioned as we speak. It will be located at the Winning Group HQ, in their special 'laboratory'. John 'Herman' Winning Jnr runs his highly successful businesses very much utilising absolute cutting-edge technologies. AI and Deep Sphere are part of his day-to-day operations."

It's a busy July for sure, and August will be very much into flight simulator mode. "We'll endeavour to bring the simulator timing forward for when we get down to the smaller number of applicants, so as to get a sense of their empathy for this environment, before final selections are made," said JB. The 69F gets used in September and October this year, with AC40 training camps in November 2023 and March 2024 already slated in.

The Youth America's Cup run-off will be held in September 2024, and the Women's America Cup in October 2024, so it is certainly a short runway.

The six current America's Cup teams will furnish their own Youth and Women's crews, while the non-America's Cup aligned teams have their own pre-regatta to get things sorted. "This will blood a quorum of competitors, which is great. Additionally, we have this knowledge base from the foiling and AC worlds that we can draw on in our objective to put together an absolute world class project."

Outright speed is not the real issue in the AC40, but time on foils is. The Kiwis are currently able to do something like 95% of the time in the AC40 which, apart from impressive, sets a huge height for the pole vault. So, the simulator, and then time on the water, will be critical for the Team Australia Challenge.

The ask

Well, it is certainly an ask of the athletes, but hey, what does one expect? As for the corporate side of the Team Australia Challenge (that's both Youth and Women's), it is actually quite achievable, and mere shrapnel in comparison to the full ticket.

JB commented, "It's an incredible opportunity to sail under the umbrella of the America's Cup, which is considered possibly the most prestigious sporting brand in the world, and at 172 years of age it is both commanding and revering. We are a not-for-profit organisation, and the budget is fixed. No arms race involved. You get all the tech, and the gear is supplied. No more to pay. It is quite amazing, and I applaud the Kiwis for creating this programme."

"This is for our best female athletes, and our best youth sailing athletes. I love that. It's beautiful, and it's also a really great way to showcase the breadth and level of the sailing talent, especially in light of all the Australians currently employed in everybody else's teams around the place."

The reason

Apart from our national pride, the whole green energy push that ETNZ have created is impressive. From hydrogen-powered foiling chase boats, to shore power, and then the whole spectrum of racing is both compelling and of our time. 14 months may seem short, but given it is just about team, not tech, then you'd have to say it is the realm of doable.

Add in just who is guiding the team, and the successes they have had creating magnificent and winning environments, then a short runway just means apply the JATO rockets. We, Australia, need to be there, and whilst playing in the main game again may be a way off, this seems like a brilliant way to open the sliding doors once more.

Perhaps it is not so much about national importance, as it is about national requirement. Australia sports jackets for all, I say. Who cares how bad they look? What's wrong with a bit of Sir Les Patterson, anyway? Stand up and be counted.

Also of great national importance

Vale Sir James Hardy OBE. If you too were a young tacker during his magnificent years, then his infectious smile on the flybridge of Black Swan is as indelibly etched in your memory as Mrs Marsh and her chalk. Say no more...

Reserve Olympian at Tokyo, then competed in the 5.5M at Mexico City, 1966 505 World Champion where he and Max Whitnall beat The Great Dane, Paul Elvstrøm, along with multiple Admiral's Cups, three ACs as Skipper, which of course included that deep involvement in the 70s and early 80s with the Bond Syndicate that was eventually so successful.

Bertrand sailed with Gentleman Jim on Gretel II as the Port Trimmer (the great David Forbes was also on board as mainsail trimmer), and remembers the Skipper oh so well: "He had a great sense of wisdom, and this developed tremendous comradeship. He was a very, very powerful, and very successful team builder. There are a lot of stories, some of which I can talk about, and obviously others I can't, for he was a wonderful raconteur. There was a great sense of loyalty in those teams he built and was involved in. The values that he extolled were simply quite beautiful from my perspective.

"As my mentor during the 1983 America's Cup, he was a solidifying force. He had been through it all, you know, so he'd literally seen everything, been there, and done that. He kept things light, which was extremely important. We have so many wonderful memories of the man."

Iconic may not even do the man justice, for he was a 'global personality' as Bertrand puts it, and a member of the America's Cup Hall of Fame, as well as an unofficial Ambassador for Australia.

"I think Jim really got all of us to understand that you needed to play the game when it came to the New York Yacht Club. The Americans were simply so well organised, and not in the business of losing. It was ingrained, and very clear. This was the era that Sir Frank Packer coined the phrase 'complaining to the New York Yacht Club is like complaining to your mother-in-law about your wife'. Not only did you have to make your own sail cloth, at one point they even tried to get us to stop using Microsoft products because they were developed in the USA," Bertrand finished by saying.

OK. There it is. There is so much more on the group's websites for you. Simply use the search field, or 'edition' pull-down menu up the top on the right of the masthead to find it all. Please enjoy your yachting, stay safe, and thanks for tuning into Sail-World.com

John Curnow
Editor, Sail World AUS

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