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America's Cup- Waka Racing's Phil Robertson takes China Team helm

by America's Cup Media on 15 May 2012
America’s Cup World Series Venice 2012 - skippers press conference. Phil Robertson (NZ) in the jandals ACEA - Photo Gilles Martin-Raget © http://photo.americascup.com/

Waka Racing's skipper, Phil Robertson is the latest 'young gun' to gain a foothold in the America's Cup.

Robertson will lead China Team into battle in Venice in the fifth event of the 2011-12 AC World Series.

At 25, he becomes the youngest skipper at the AC World Series, grabbing the mantle from the 26-year old Nathan Outteridge, skipper of Team Korea.

'It's definitely exciting to get this chance, but we're trying to take it in our stride. I'm really looking forward to it and excited about the opportunity,' Robertson said from the China Team base in Venice.

'We've been the youngest team (Waka Racing) on the World Match Racing Tour for the last couple of years and we quite like it to be honest. You're the underdog but you can surprise some of the more established guys sometimes.'

That will be a big task here in Venice. With the fleet loaded with past America's Cup winners, multiple world champions, and round the world record holders, knocking off any of the established teams is a very tall order indeed. But China Team and Robertson will measure success in stages.

'We're a very young team so trying to get up to the level (of the top teams) is a huge step. Every day we're focusing on taking the small steps to get there,' he said.

The process is all the more exciting for Robertson and many of his crew because it's taking place on the AC45 catamaran. Having devoted his time to learning the match racing game on monohulls, he's now learning about wings, catamarans and high speed sailing.

'It's cool. I love every minute of it. It's new and exciting and fresh,' he said. 'For sure the switch to multihulls has opened up a different field of guys to the Cup (Outteridge, Luna Rossa's Chris Draper and Paul Campbell-James).

'On our side, we've wanted to get into the AC since we started sailing. We planned to end up here, but more through the match racing route, we put our eggs in that basket. Now it's changed to the multihulls, but we've ended up here anyway.'

Robertson started sailing at 10 and progressed through the traditional classes Kiwi youth sail - Optimist, P-Class, 420 and then into the Royal New Zealand Youth Training programme which has produced some of the top match racers in the world.

Sailing as the Waka Racing team, Robertson, along with Garth Ellingham, James Williamson, and Sam Bell finished eighth in their first full season on the World Match Racing Tour, with a third place their best result in a regatta. Ellingham will join Robertson on the China Team race crew in Venice, before the Waka team reconvenes on the Match Racing Tour again this season.

China Team had some inspired moments in the last AC World Series regatta in Naples, often earning good starts and being among the top group on the first lap of the course. But by the time the race finished, they we're at the back of the pack. What can Robertson do differently to gain a better result against some of the best sailors in the world?

'Fight harder,' he says, laughing. 'Look, at this level, it's obviously very difficult. In Naples the guys were rounding the top mark sometimes in second or third place but they struggled to hold on. So that will be a focus for us here, to fight harder to hold on to a good position if we're able to get one early... I think if we can keep a few boats behind us, we'll be very happy.'
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