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America's Cup: Keeping the Cup honest

by Suzanne McFadden 12 Mar 2021 06:40 PST 13 March 2021
Olympic sailing champion and America's Cup broadcaster Shirley Robertson (left, with mask) interviews Team NZ skipper Peter Burling after day one of the Cup match © ACE | Studio Borlenghi

Suzanne McFadden talks to four women working to make this America's Cup an unforgettable sports event in New Zealand, and a beacon of hope to the world.

Shirley Robertson, America’s Cup broadcaster

If she’d had the chance, would double Olympic gold medallist Shirley Robertson have sailed in the America’s Cup?

“Yes, yes, YES!” the engaging Scottish sailor and TV broadcaster says, though today’s foiling monohulls may not be her boat of choice.

“I was the kind of sailor who would have loved the slow boats and tactical match racing,” she says. “To be part of starting something and working towards perfection is compelling. It’s what makes the America’s Cup so hard, elusive and engaging.

“We get a glimpse of that working in television, where 100 people come together and hope to make something absolutely amazing.”

This is the first time Robertson, a seasoned sailing commentator and podcaster, has worked for the world feed of the America’s Cup broadcast.

You can hear her calm, considered and clued-up voice usually coming from the thick of the action on the racecourse. She'll be back on the Hauraki Gulf on Friday for day two of the America's Cup match as the on-the-water commentator on Chase Boat One, which keeps up with the 40 (and now 50) knot speeds of the AC75s. No one gets closer.

“As a sailor, it’s good to feel the breeze, the tension and the sense of occasion out there,” she says.

But as a broadcaster she finds it more rewarding calling what she sees from the studio on land. "You see more with a room full of screens, and there’s the interaction between three of us in the room,” she says. Former America's Cup skippers Ken Read and Nathan Outteridge are also on the commentary team - you'll hear them talking to the helmsmen after the races on TVNZ's coverage.

Shirley Robertson broadcasting from on board Chase Boat One. Photo: supplied. A celebrated sailor who won gold at the 2000 and 2004 Olympics, Robertson is very aware her audience - from 195 territories around the globe – may be new to sailing, and the often perplexing America’s Cup.

“With these new boats, even if you are a sailor you’re looking at something that’s just very foreign. So we need to explain it in a way that’s not too nerdy,” she says. “I think of the viewer as ‘educated sports fan’.”

Her highlight so far? The round-robin race between Luna Rossa and INEOS Team UK where there were nine lead changes on the stadium course on the Waitemata Harbour.

But the moment that will always stay with her: the capsize of American Magic’s Patriot. “I was on the water and we stayed and filmed the whole thing till the boat came in. I got a lovely letter from the wife of their coach saying what a solace it had been for all the wives and shore team to watch what was going on.”

While Robertson feels privileged to be part of what’s become a unique global sports event, she also finds it difficult being away from her family in these Covid-19 times – her 14-year-old twins are back at home in Cowes, on the Isle of Wight (where the first America’s Cup was raced).

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