Michelle Slade of SailBlast.blogspot.co.uk talks with Nathan Outteridge of Team Korea about chasing the prestigious America’s Cup, his favorite place to sail, and of course his chances in the London 2012 Olympics.
Was the America’s Cup something that you were looking to do?
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 three or four 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.
Nathan Outteridge - Team Korea
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.
Your bio says you live in Wangi Wangi - where the heck is Wangi Wangi?
Outteridge: (laughs…) It’s pronounced ‘Wonggee Wonggee’- it’s a little bay on Lake McQuarrie which is about a 1:45 minute drive north of Sydney. It’s near Newcastle - a big inland lake that’s actually a lot bigger than Sydney Harbor but with hardly any traffic on it and lots of dinghy and skiff sailing. Chris Nicholson - the driver on Camper in the current Volvo and also an Olympic 49er sailor lives in the same area. It’s a bit of a skiff breeding ground. I grew up there and once I got older I’d make the drive to Sydney every weekend where the competition and coaches are.
Who do you consider your competition out there?
Outteridge: Good question - there’s so many out there in sailing and it’s such a diverse sport. I used to really look up to Chris Nicholson when I was a younger kid because he was so close to what I was wanting to do - he was unreal on the 18-footers and three times World champion in the 49er - he was the guy I was always trying to chase - I was almost a generation ahead of myself. I thought if I could get to be as good as him I’d do pretty well in the world of sailing.
In terms of people who I race against - there’s obviously the Spanish guys Iker Martinez and Xabier Fernandez. They’ve been the benchmark for me over the past few years in 49er racing - when they came back at the recent test event it was very impressive to see how well they did with very little training on the boat. Tom Slingsby is one of my best mates and an unreal sailor and he’s really only sailed Lasers for the past 15 years but he’s been ratcheting up recently - whenever I get to race with him whether it’s in the Moth or the A, it’s always a good race - it’s fun competition between the two of us and I think you’ll see him go a long way in the Cup now with Oracle.
You’re working hard on your Olympic campaign?
Outteridge: Yes, I’m back home in Australia at the moment. We’ve been training the last couple of months in the 49er and are in the process of getting our equipment selected and sent over to England because the first major event will be Weymouth in mid-June. In between the AC45 events, I’ll be doing the lead up events in the 49er as well.
Have you been spending a lot of time in the 49er?
Outteridge: Yeah, I’ve been doing a fair amount but we train in blocks, we don’t train consistently months on end. We had a rest after the Olympic test event back in August and in November we did some training to the lead up to the Worlds in Perth in December. I took January off from 49ers and did the A-Class Nationals and a little bit of other yacht sailing.
We did a small amount of 49er training in Feb and only just getting back into it now but once the boats get sent away next week I’ll be shifting gears again into the A-Class to remember how to sail a cat before I fly to Naples. Going sailing in a lot of boats which I’ve been doing over the past three-four years, and even with the Games coming up this year, I don’t really want to change that too much because I think that is what gives me an edge when it comes to racing the 49er. You get so much experience managing different types of boats that the 49er becomes more simple and easy when you get back to it.
What do you think your chances are for London?
Outteridge: We’re looking pretty good - we’ve been pretty solid in Weymouth over the last four events we’ve done and we’ve won all four events. We’re hoping we can carry that form through this year. We finished last year well winning the Worlds and we’ve only ever placed once outside the top three.
The results speak for themselves and they build a lot of confidence for us but at the same time sailing is such a sport where nothing is certain and there’re so many variables. We’re just trying to make sure that every other little avenue that could go wrong won’t go wrong. We’ve got a really good coach in Emmett Lazich who is overseeing our whole program and making sure I don’t compromise my 49er campaign with the Cup work.
* Weymouth is Outteridge’s second Olympics in the 49er - the first was Beijing where he led the event for about four days but missed out when they capsized in the medal race just before the line, dropping to fifth overall.
How have you developed as a sailor since then - you must really want that medal?
Outteridge: Yes, definitely. I think with your first Olympics you can get caught up in the moment - now I’ve been through that and I know how different the racing is. With the 49er we typically race in fleets - like 80 boats in all the events we do. At the Olympics with only about 20 boats the racing changes - you lose half of the good boats as you only get one per country. You have some boats who have never been in Gold Fleet suddenly there racing around you, so you need to be prepared for a different style of racing.
The test event this year in Weymouth was quite interesting. We only had 20 boats racing but the risk levels and everything all change a bit. We’ve accounted for what the changes are going to be and hopefully when we begin racing we’ll be ready for whatever the Olympics has to throw at us this time whereas last time we started our Olympics with a DQ in the first race and it was a very up and down event. We’re more experienced and prepared for what may come now.
The conditions will be very different from Beijing…?
Outteridge: Oh yeah - in China we sailed in hardly any wind - I was weighing 63 kilos to help the boat’s performance. I’m now a good 15 kilos heavier so that’s a big change in itself. I think the Games in Weymouth will be more like a normal sailing event than China. We’ll get a range of conditions and everyone has to prepare for that.
Who do you consider your mentor?
Outteridge: My parents (Tony and Jasmine) - they paid for everything I was doing as a kid - my dad was quite involved - he did what he could to get me where I am today. Since I’ve been in the 49er class I’ve had Emmett Lazich coaching me - he’s a great guy to work with and I’ve learned so much from him.
What’s been your biggest achievement in sailing?
Outteridge: What I’m most proud of is winning three youth Worlds back to back. It was a very difficult thing to do and you’re at such a young age being on an international stage. Winning three 49er Worlds is a big highlight as well. It’s also a very exciting thing to be offered the position to drive an America’s Cup boat at the age of 26. Even if it goes nowhere I feel like that’s an achievement in itself.
What’s your favorite boat to sail?
Outteridge: The Moth - it’s an amazing boat, it doesn’t matter what boat you’re sailing the Moth will probably always win.
Your favorite place to sail?
Outteridge: I’d have to say - I’ve sailed all around the world but every time I come home, wake up and look out the window it always seems to be the nicest place, even in winter, so much warmer than most places. I’m always surprised that there’re not more people sailing here.
*Outteridge’s hometown is Wangi Wangi, New South Wales, Australia. He started sailing at age three and began racing at age five 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.