News Home Cruising Photo Gallery Video Gallery : America's Cup: Russell Coutts' School Days

America's Cup: Russell Coutts' School Days

''In front of all the students I said that someday I’d like to go to the America’s Cup. This was met with laughter all around.''    BMW Oracle Racing © Photo Gilles Martin-Raget    Click Here to view large photo

This week the America's Cup is on a tour of the East Coast of the United States, with stops at the White House, NASDAQ, CBS Early Show and finally to the former home of the America's Cup, Newport Rhode Island.

According to the official media release: 'In the afternoon, the team entertained upwards of 400 youth sailors from the Narragansett Bay sailing community. The boys and girls, ranging in age from 8 to 16, were welcomed by Coutts, a past youth world champion.

Russell Coutts at Brentwood Primary School (Wellington) aged 8 or 9 years old. -  .. .   Click Here to view large photo
'You don’t have to be a good Optimist sailor to be a good sailor,' Coutts told the assembled sailors. 'When I was growing up in New Zealand I used to read about the races in Newport, but never thought I’d get the chance to compete. I also never dreamed of visiting the White House and meeting the President of the United States. It just shows what you can accomplish with hard work and dedication, and how broad our sport is,' concluded the release.

We're not too sure what Coutts told the assembled young sailors. But it is likely that their upbringing on Rhode Island, is a long way removed from that enjoyed by Coutts sailing on Otago Harbour, Dunedin at the far south of New Zealand, 40 years previously.

In his biography, 'Course to Victory', Coutts told author, Paul Larsen in his usual self-deprecating style of his memories from school, when he was the age and older, that the young sailors who gathered at Narragansett Bay, today.

Coutts, through Paul Larsen takes up the story:

Then NZYF Youth Program Director, Harold Bennett (left) with Russell Coutts (right) rigging a P-class at Murrays bay Sailing Club in 1977. -  Alan Sefton   Click Here to view large photo
'One day in high school a teacher asked me what I wanted to do. I said I liked yachting and maybe I’d pursue that. This guy was very surprised and said, 'Why would you want to go yachting? There aren’t any opportunities in that.'

I also remember in another class we all had to get up and say what our ambition was. In front of all the students I said someday I’d like to go to the America’s Cup. This was met with laughter all around. At that time, the early 1 970s, no one in New Zealand talked about the America’s Cup. For our country to sail in that event was roughly equivalent to us putting a man on the moon.

When the laughter died, the teacher told me that was perhaps too ambitious and she suggested I might lower my expectations. I never understood why I should and I never did.

But that shows how the sport of yachting was viewed by most people when I was growing up. The nation’s few international successes hadn’t made much of an impression on the population at large — but to those involved in the sport, they had opened up the world.

In Wellington I attended Brentwood School and Fergusson Intermediate. When we moved to Dunedin I went to Tahuna Intermediate and Otago Boys’ High School. In my early years at primary school, art was my major interest. I also was reasonably comfortable in maths, which led me to study engineering at university. One day a bunch of us were sitting around at a Team New Zealand dinner in Auckland and I asked my fellow scholars what they’d got for School Certificate mathematics. I’d thought I’d done pretty well with a 93. Tom Schnackenberg, after suggesting that I really wouldn’t want to know, replied he got a 99. David Eagan told me he got the same. Mike Drummond got 97. Several others were above 95. That quickly put me in my place!

The America’s Cup clearly makes a big impression on one young sailor at Newport, during question time, today. -  BMW Oracle Racing © Photo Gilles?nid=71462 Martin-Raget   Click Here to view large photo

It’s interesting how an affinity with maths translates into an attraction to sailing. So much of the sport deals with mathematical concepts and calculations.

BMW Oracle racing lead Designer, Mike Drummond (NZL) 'Surrounded by these maths geniuses, it’s no wonder I became the driver. All I had to do was point the boat in the direction they told me to'(Coutts on finding out had scored less than most of the key members of the then Team NZ design team.) -  MIAA   Click Here to view large photo
The process of designing a boat is steeped in algebra, geometry and physics. The more sophisticated disciplines of computational fluid dynamics, scale modelling and velocity prediction programs are maths-based as well.

Once the boat is on the water, racing it becomes a matter of angles and timing and numbers. Surrounded by these maths geniuses, it’s no wonder I became the driver. All I had to do was point the boat in the direction they told me to.

There’s a story about my academic ability that puts things into perspective. Another one of the lucky coincidences in my life placed me in a class that went through high school together and generally performed brilliantly. Teachers used to talk about the class and how we exceeded everyone’s expectations in School Certificate. They would tell classes behind us that ours was the standard to which to aspire.

John Irvine (who also went on to win a Gold Medal at the ISAF Youth Worlds) was a year or two behind me. He lived in the same area and followed along the same classes as I did in high school. One day one of his teachers was telling him about how well our class had done and he asked, 'Wasn’t that the class Russell Coutts was in?'

The teacher paused for a moment, searched his memory, and said, 'Well, I don’t know about Coutts, but I do know there were others who were smart.'

If my high school career was less than memorable, my university years set some kind of record. I had the sailing bug bad by now and was spending almost all my time either racing or preparing for races. At Otago Boys’ High I would sit in class and draw race situations in my exercise books. I’d be thinking about starting tactics while the teacher was talking about literature.

But I realised that a university education was essential if I was going to make a living, because at that point I didn’t see how I’d ever earn a crust pushing a yacht around a set of buoys. When I applied to the school of engineering at the University of Auckland, I requested an interview with the dean, Professor Meyers. It went something like this:

'You’re the sailor, aren’t you?'

'I received my degree in 1986, some seven years after I’d entered. It stood as a record until some other student took eight years to finish.' -  BMW Oracle Racing © Photo Gilles?nid=71462 Martin-Raget   Click Here to view large photo

'Well, yes sir, I like to sail.'

'Like to sail, eh. You seem to be on the water more than you’re in school.'

'Well, that’s been the case up to now.'

'So why should I let you in university? Won’t it be just a waste of our time and yours?'

'Oh, no sir, I intend to concentrate on my studies. I’ll put them first. I won’t be sailing.'

'Well, you’ve got a pretty good foundation in mathematics. I have no doubt you can be successful if you spend some time on campus rather than at sea. Are you willing to promise you won’t go off yachting?'

'Why would you go yachting? There aren’t many opportunities in that' (One of Russell Coutts’ school teachers). -  BMW Oracle Racing © Photo Gilles?nid=71462 Martin-Raget   Click Here to view large photo

'Yes, I’ll definitely put my studies first.'

'Well then,' he said with a glint in his eye and offering me his hand, 'Good luck.'

In a lucky circumstance, the dean’s daughter was married to Jock Bilger, a top sailor. In the 1970s he and Murray Ross were runners-up in more than one Flying Dutchman World Championships. I wasn’t fooling my academic mentor for a second.

I actually did buckle down in the first semester and received two As and a B. In the second semester I somehow found myself at the pre-Olympic championships and other practice regattas most of the time and I barely scraped through at university.

The dean turned a blind eye to my continuing absences, particularly in 1984 when I devoted most of the year to the Los Angeles Olympics. I’d entered the University of Auckland in 1979 and then went off to a succession of regattas: the New Zealand Youth Championships; the World Youth Championships, first in Italy and then in the US; the New Zealand Laser Nationals; the pre-Olympics and the Olympics. I’d try to make it back to university as much as I could, but it took me a while to finish my studies. I received my degree in 1986, some seven years after I’d entered.

It stood as a record until another student took eight years to finish.

33rd America’s Cup - BMW ORACLE Racing - East Coast Victory Tour - Day 4 -  BMW Oracle Racing © Photo Gilles?nid=71462 Martin-Raget   Click Here to view large photo

Many of the group of young sailors assembled in Rhode Island yesterday, would have been of the same age as a young Russell Coutts, when he started sailing at the age of eight or thereabouts.

Maybe they were as impressed with hearing from one of their heroes, as he was from his, at their age. Coutts takes up the story again:

'When I was growing up yacht racing was just coming of age in New Zealand. Rugby has always been the most popular sport, but sailing began to create its own heroes and generate more interest at the end of the 1950s and in the early ‘60s.

'When Peter Mander and Jack Cropp brought home a gold medal from is it the 1956 Olympics, Kiwis began to take notice. I wasn’t born then, but when Chris Bouzaid won the One Ton Cup in 1969, I do remember joining a lot of my fellow countrymen in thinking of him as a real hero.

33rd America’s Cup - BMW ORACLE Racing - East Coast Victory Tour - Day 4 -  BMW Oracle Racing © Photo Gilles?nid=71462 Martin-Raget   Click Here to view large photo

'As international competition grew, so did the national contests in small boats. P-Class championships became increasingly important, especially to me. I wasn’t even close to that class of sailor, but I lived, ate and breathed dinghy racing at at the time.

'In 1968 I went to a talk given to the Wellington P-Class sailors by 1964 Olympic gold medallist in the Flying Dutchman class, Helmer Pedersen. At and that time the top Kiwi sailors were based in Auckland and they had always dominated the P-Class national championships. There was no doubt the prevalent thought among the Wellington P-Classers was that they couldn’t beat the Aucklanders.

'But Pedersen’s talk was all about how the Wellington sailors could not only compete on a national level, but also on an international level. He told us hard work, desire and focus were the ingredients of a winner, not the size of the city or country we were from.

'I remember to this day his message came down to one simple thought: you can win if you really want to. It was a message that I carried with me to San Diego some 30 years later (in the 1995 America's Cup).'

Coutts went on to win not just the P class National Championship, but also a Gold medal at the ISAF Youth Worlds, and Olympic Gold Medal, and four America's Cups under three different national flags.

33rd America’s Cup - BMW ORACLE Racing - East Coast Victory Tour - Day 4 -  BMW Oracle Racing © Photo Gilles?nid=71462 Martin-Raget   Click Here to view large photo

by Compiled by Richard Gladwell,


Click on the FB Like link to post this story to your FB wall

11:07 AM Fri 2 Jul 2010 GMT

Click here for printer friendly version
Click here to send us feedback or comments about this story.

Click for further information on
2013 America's Cup

Related News Stories:

09 Aug 2014  America's Cup: Former Artemis crew member says danger is being ignored
27 May 2014  America's Cup: Oracle Team USA under stress
23 May 2014  America's Cup: Oracle and Team NZ designers reveal AC72 secrets
22 May 2014  America's Cup: Artemis death verdict 'result of an human act'
10 May 2014  A year after the Artemis incident, the sailors tell of the pain
01 May 2014  America's Cup: Oracle and Team NZ tech insights - Free lecture tonight
16 Apr 2014  America's Cup: Expected de Ridder penalty should be reduced
14 Apr 2014  America's Cup: Dean Barker's Blog - A sail with the Duke and Duchess
12 Apr 2014  America's Cup: Coutts claims ISAF Jury on a crusade, backs Kiwi report
10 Apr 2014  America's Cup: Two Kiwis escape hometown action in AC45 rules ruckus

News - USA and the World

Big Boat Series - It's not the size, it's the length by Erik Simonson, Pressure-Drop.US,

470 Men and Women Worlds - Champs take over leaderboard by 470 International Association Class,

ISAF Sailing Worlds, Santander - Day 7 images by Sailing Energy
ISAF Sailing Worlds - Laser and Radial winner images by Jesus Renedo
ISAF Sailing Worlds, Santander - Medal Race images by
ISAF Sailing Worlds - Dutch dominate Laser and Radial in Santander
Royal Cup Marina Ibiza - Quantum Racing more than doubles overall lead
J/24 World Championship - Excitement builds for Newport racing
Volvo Ocean Race - Seb Marsset joins Team Alvimedica
Fall Seamanship training opportunities at New York Yacht Club
Rolex Big Boat Series: More images from San Francisco - Final Day
AWT Hatteras Wave Jam action commences on day 3
Rolex Big Boat Series: Images from San Francisco - Final Day
ISAF Sailing World Championships - Watch medal races live here
Hobie 16 Open North American Championships and Pan Am Games qualifier
ISAF Sailing World Championship - Videos from Santander
ISAF Sailing Worlds: Buckingham into Medal Race, 470's stay consistent
470 Men and Women Worlds - Vadlau and Ogar into pole position
2014 Chicago Match Cup - Defending champion on top
ISAF Sailing Worlds, Santander - Strong competition for RS:X fleets
ISAF Sailing Worlds, Santander - Big breeze on day 6 + Video
ISAF Sailing Worlds, Santander - Buckingham into Laser Medal Race
U.S. Multihull Championship - Hobie Alter Trophy to be decided   
ISAF Sailing Worlds - The kind of form most sailors only dream about   
Royal Cup Marina Ibiza - Quantum Racing ahead of target   
ISAF Worlds Santander - 19 Rio 2016 Laser Radial spots awarded   
Santander 2014 ISAF Worlds - 21 broadcasters to take live coverage   
Rolex Swan Cup - Looking forward to the next 30 years   
America’s Cup: The Future is foiling – AC45s to be modified   
Volvo Ocean Race: Win a stopover trip by designing an ECsix T-Shirt   
Red Bull 49erFX: On the eve of the Worlds in Santander   
America's Cup: Ben Ainslie Racing launches partnership with Yamaha   
2014 Chicago Match Cup - Starts tomorrow   
Rio 2016 Daylight the issue for Olympic sailing regatta   
ISAF Sailing World Championships - USA 470's and Lasers battle at top   
ISAF Sailing World Championships - Santander - Day 5 video highlights   
ISAF Sailing World Championships - Santander images by Jesús Renedo   
PWA Cold Hawaii World Cup - No action on day 2   
470 Men and Women Worlds - Game on for Olympic Qualification   
ISAF Sailing World Championships: Finns off to slow start in Santander   
ISAF Sailing World Championships - Seesaw Day 5 in Santander + Video   
ISAF Sailing World Championships - 470 sailors shine in Santander   

For this week's complete news stories select    Last 7 Days
   Search All News
For last month's complete news stories select    Last 30 Days
   Archive News  

Switch Default Region to:

Social Media





New Zealand

United Kingdom

United States

Cruising Northern

Cruising Southern

MarineBusiness World

PowerBoat World

FishingBoating World






Contact Us

Advertisers Information

Submit news/events

Search Stories/Text


Advertisers Directory

Newsletter Archive

Photo Gallery


Banner Advertising Details

Newsletter Subscribe

Video Gallery





Privacy Policy



Cookie Policy



This site and its contents are © Copyright TetraMedia and/or the original author, photographer etc. All Rights Reserved.  Photographs are copyright by law.  If you wish to use or buy a photograph contact the photographer directly.
LocalAds   DE  ES  FR  IT