Please select your home edition
Edition
Cyclops 2020 - SmartlinkNano - LEADERBOARD

Kiwi grinding veteran on eighth America's Cup - this time for USA

by Suzanne McFadden/Newsroom 12 Jan 20:55 PST 21 October 2020
Sean Clarkson (No.9) looks up at the mainsail as American Magic's first AC75, Defiant, goes through its paces on the Hauraki Gulf. © Will Ricketson

As the challengers for the 36th America's Cup prepare to square off this week, Suzanne McFadden finds Kiwi sailor Sean Clarkson making an eighth bid for the silverware - but this time for the Americans

Sean Clarkson is a rarity in the America’s Cup sailing fraternity.

At 52, the Kiwi professional sailor is lining up in his eighth America’s Cup regatta. No other sailor in this edition of the Cup has been on the grinding handles for as long as he has.

It’s been 29 years since Clarkson made his Cup debut in San Diego on board NZL20 – the Red Sled – in New Zealand’s failed challenge for the Auld Mug in 1992.

Back then he was a marine biology student at the University of Auckland, and sailing in the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron’s youth scheme. The New Zealand Challenge was looking for strong, young men to bolster their sailing squad, and the 22-year-old Clarkson ditched his degree, bulked up and joined the Kiwi crew.

Now seven campaigns – under five different national flags - later, Clarkson throws his considerable heft of experience into the New York Yacht Club’s American Magic sailing team, who launch their assault on the Prada Cup challengers series in Auckland later this week.

When I meet with him in American Magic's hospitality lounge - which, because of Covid-19, is empty apart from us - Clarkson asks: “Are you surprised I’m still alive?”

Not so much that’s he’s still breathing, but I'm definitely intrigued as to why he’s still sailing for the holy grail of yacht racing.

He explains that he’s just lucky he hasn’t fallen to bits yet. “I’ve never had an injury, never had an operation or broken a bone,” he says.

Sailing has always been the livelihood of this Kerikeri-raised New Zealand Olympic sailor, round-the-world race winner and multiple world champion, who’s also a husband and dad.

And the passion to finally win the America's Cup still burns bright.

Clarkson, his wife Shawn and their two teenage sons, Finn and Felix, arrived in Auckland in May, leaving their home in Mill Valley, just north of San Francisco, after a long pandemic lockdown.

Finn is driving a forklift around the American Magic base below us. He’s working as a labourer for the team while on holiday from Auckland Grammar School.

“He’s 16 and he’s already bigger than me,” Clarkson laughs. Finn is also an athlete - in water polo, mountain biking and rugby. Not sailing. “I told the guys, if I had just one of his lungs, I’d be a better athlete than I am now.”

Clarkson is also in awe of the burly, powerful grinders he sails alongside on American Magic’s AC75, Patriot. Even though some are just learning the art of sailing.

Swede Anders Gustafsson is a four-time Olympian and world champion canoe sprinter (as well as a former Royal Guard of Carl XVI Gustaf, the King of Sweden); and American Tim Hornsby also hails from an Olympic kayaking career.

“Having been a frontline athlete in previous America’s Cups, it’s somewhere between humbling and downright embarrassing how good some of these guys are,” Clarkson marvels. “They’re 25 years younger, but they’re also athletes who are the best in the world. They’re freaks of nature.”

As he works out twice a day in the team gym, spending six hours a week on the grinding machine alone, Clarkson is spellbound by his crewmates.

“You’re in the gym blowing yourself out, and you look across and they’re doing 30 percent more than you, and they’re just talking away,” he says.

“But these guys come from threshold sports where they just love the pain. And I can still hang in there.”

Knowing he needed to “find some magic from somewhere” to physically stay in the game for an eighth Cup campaign, Clarkson has done a lot of reading into the science of exercise. “It’s pretty impressive that I can look at the training programme now and understand why we’re doing it,” he says.

Fitness is one of the obvious evolutions Clarkson has witnessed in three decades of sailing at the apex of the sport.

“It’s a different world now. For a few of our guys, the Christmas Cup regatta [sailed in Auckland last month] was the first sailboat race they’d ever done,” he says.

For the rest of this story click here

Related Articles

Prada Cup: Day 4: Course C - Sudden death
For Day 4 of the Prada Cup, racing will revert to the expanded Course C area. For Day 4 of the Prada Cup, racing will revert to the expanded Course C area. Today one race in Round Robin 3 will be sailed. Posted on 22 Jan
Prada Cup: Capsize triggers changes to Cup
Regatta Director Iain Murray has made several changes to the conduct of the Prada and America's Cups Regatta Director Iain Murray has made several changes to the conduct of the Prada and America's Cups, following a review with all involved parties including the competitors. Posted on 21 Jan
America's Cup Rialto: Jan 17 - Saving of Patriot
Here's our perspective from on the water with exclusive images of the near sinking No two days are ever the same in the America's Cup. The final race of Round Robin 2 was no exception. Here's on the water impression, with exclusive images of a day that brought out the best in the America's Cup teams to save a fellow competitor's boat. Posted on 20 Jan
Prada Cup: Hutchinson confirms raceboat rebuild
American Magic confirmed that the team will remain in the Prada Cup American Magic Executive Director Terry Hutchinson has confirmed that the team will remain in the Prada Cup, after nearly sinking their raceboat Patriot yesterday evening in Auckland. Posted on 18 Jan
Prada Cup: Day 3: Course A - off Barker's place
For Day 3 of the Prada Cup, racing will shift to a new course area off Milford Beach For Day 3 of the Prada Cup, racing will shift to a new course area, in an unusual response to the predicted wind. For the first time in the Prada Cup, Course A off Auckland's East Coast Bays, and North Shore suburbs, will be used. Posted on 16 Jan
America's Cup Rialto: Jan 16 - A day of surprises
Day 2 of the Qualifiers for the Challenger Selection Series, in the 36th America's Cup had as many s Day 2 of the Qualifiers for the Challenger Selection Series, in the 36th America's Cup had as many surprises as the first day of the event. Posted on 16 Jan
Prada Cup: INEOS Team UK scores a hat-trick
Day 2 of the Prada Cup continued to turn the challenger form book inside out. Day 2 of the Prada Cup continued to turn the challenger form book inside out. American Magic from the New York Yacht Club, was widely expected to emerge as top challenger from the Round Robin phase of the Challenger Selection Series. Posted on 16 Jan
Prada Cup: Day 2: Course C - D options
Regatta Director Iain Murray has advised that racing will be held on either Course C of D race areas Regatta Director Iain Murray has advised that racing will be held on either Course C of D race areas today. The breeze is expected to come in later than the 3.12pm start schedule and will be from an average of 230 degrees - or SSW. Posted on 15 Jan
America's Cup Rialto: Jan 15 - Arise, Sir Ben
INEOS Team UK today surprised everyone, perhaps including themselves, with two wins from two races INEOS Team UK today surprised everyone, perhaps including themselves, with two wins from two races on the opening day of the Prada Cup in Auckland. Even more telling the British extended their margin on 11 of the 12 legs sailed. Posted on 15 Jan
Prada Cup Day 1 belongs to British
Team INEOS UK put their stamp on the Prada Cup with two wins on Day 1. Team INEOS UK put their stamp on the Prada Cup with two wins on Day 1. Here's the action as it happened: Shining sun and southerly sea breeze is the theme for Day 1 of the 2021 Prada Cup as the three challengers line up for the first official racing. Posted on 15 Jan
Vaikobi 2020 - FOOTER 3Rooster 2020 - Impact BA - FOOTERJ Composites 2020 - FOOTER