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America's Cup- Team New Zealand downplays Barker rumours

by Richard Gladwell, NZL on 18 Feb 2015
Dean Barker, Emirates Team New Zealand in San Francisco September 2013 ACEA / Photo Abner Kingman
Emirates Team New Zealand have downplayed rumours in the New Zealand media and social media that long time skipper, Dean Barker, was about to leave the team.

The lines appear to be coming from US sources and are linked to a second rumour surrounding the Italian Luna Rossa team that one of their helmsman will be exited to make way for the New Zealander.

Rumours of Barker joining Luna Rossa have surfaced previously and have amounted to nothing.

So-called news stories running in New Zealand sprouted dramatic headlines, claiming a Barker dumping but failed to back the claims with any sources, other than social media, and generally contradicted themselves in the body of the story when they published the known facts.

Sources traced by Sail-World petered out in USA, without getting to a specific fact or person that would publicly put their name to some of the claims being made.

That did not stop the NZ media which banged away on the topic like a dunny door in a gale.

Commentators, claiming that the Qualifier series was just a no-consequence hit-out completely missed the fact that under the Protocol, the winner of the Qualifier carries a one point advantage into the America's Cup Match in June 2017 in Bermuda.

In a statement issued Wednesday evening Emirates Team New Zealand, described media reports this afternoon as inaccurate, saying that no decision had been made in relation to helmsman for the America’s Cup 2017.

The statement continued saying that the team had been conducting a review across all operations, the sailing team included, with a view to decreasing costs and increasing competitiveness. The review is continuing, the statement concluded.

The statement was carried by news outlets without contradiction.

Some changes to the team are expected, given the abundance of sailing talent, and the need to introduce 49er World Champions Peter Burling and Blair Tuke to the the sailing program. However their primary focus is the 2016 Olympics, and accommodating that requirement would need another top-line skipper and tactician combination - a role that Barker and existing tactician Ray Davies would likely fill.

After the 2013 America's Cup, and team restructuring which saw the appointment of a new independent Board for the team, together with a split in leadership responsibility with Grant Dalton stepping back into a CEO role, while his long time sailing partner, Kevin Shoebridge took on a COO role within the team. Decision making is now handled on shared basis, rather than by Dalton alone as was previously the case.

Barker assumed the role of Sailing Director and Skipper. Some further refinement of those responsibilities is expected if the team continues into the 2017 America's Cup.

That program will likely involve the sailing of two AC45's in the America's Cup World Series, with Barker/Davies on one boat and Burling/Tuke in the other - introducing a level of competitive selection that has been long been lacking in the team.

Even if Burling and Tuke were to prevail in that selection process, Barker would still retain a role as Sailing Director and possible crew member aboard the eight crew AC62. Emirates Team NZ will also require a backup helmsman for the campaign and Burling/Barker would cover this role.

Previously the team's strategy was to move wingsail trimmer Glenn Ashby back into the helmsman's role - which created further issues with replacing the expert wingsail trimmer, and a more elegant and less disruptive plan is required.

Additionally Burling lacks the match racing experience of Barker - which is vital in establishing an initial superiority at start-time. Acquiring that expertise will not be simple given the demands of a top shelf Olympic campaign for 2016.

Although much maligned in his home country, Barker's racing record shows that he has won nine America's Cup races compared to Oracle Team USA's Jimmy Spithill's 11 races (two of which were earned in the 2010 Deed of Gift Challenge in Valencia. In the recent foiling Moth Worlds in Sorrento, in which most of the top talent for the 35th America's cup competed, Barker was the worst Performed of the Team New Zealand competitors finishing in 26th place overall in the 84 boat fleet. However he was flanked by 2012 Olympic Gold medalist, Tom Slingsby a key member of the Oracle Team USA in 2013 and 2017 in 25th overall. One place behind Barker was Paul Goodison, 2008 Gold medalist in the Laser class and recent signing for America's Cup Challenger Artemis Racing.

Still vacant is a team coaching role vacated by long time America's Cup sailor, Rod Davis, who is now with the Artemis racing team, and that is a role that could be embraced with the Sailing Director role, if Barker was not selected on the race boat crew. Russell Coutts performed a similar role for Oracle Team USA in the last America's Cup, making key decisions when Oracle Team USA was looking to a near certain exit from the regatta. Additionally Coutts helmed the team's second AC45 in the America's Cup World Series regattas.

No further announcement has been made on the venue of the America's Cup Qualifier Series and other key dates and details of the regatta build up.
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