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No pressure

by John Curnow, Editor, Sail World AUS 10 Sep 2023 15:00 PDT
The one. The only. THE Boxing Kangaroo © Australian Olympic Committee

Funny thing is, no matter which way I looked at it, linking Going really, really, really deep, the Team Australia Challenge (TAC) that includes the inaugural Women's AC, and the 40th anniversary of Australia II's historic win is bound to add to the pressure.

I consoled myself by saying that a bit more is always good for the focus. Brilliant for making the eye of the Boxing Kangaroo that special red...

At any rate, why not dream big? A bit of innovation has always gone a long, long way for us. We certainly have a surfeit of talent here down under. Finally, getting the job done is part of the country's psyche.

So why not come away with the inaugural Women's America's Cup? Whilst we're at it, why not scoop up the Youth title as well? Makes sense to me...

Everyone has a bag of 'nos', so why don't we start selling 'yes'?

Deep Sphere had been used to construct the team that drives andoo Comanche so well, but what were the key differences between that and the TAC? Equally, is there a role for Deep Sphere moving forward? Katharina Kuehn, Chief Neuroscience & Strategy Officer at the Winning Group is the best placed to answer that. "The main difference for TAC is that we were able to use the Deep Sphere profiling right from the beginning of the athlete selection process.

"For each applicant we were able to consider which strengths, unique dispositions, and contributions they would bring to the team. Now, working with an already reduced set of potential candidates, we're looking at which individuals within the teams of four will be optimally suited to bring out the best in each other, complement each other, as well as avoid potential character clashes."

"All athletes who have made the cut up to this point are undoubtedly excellent athletes, with very strong skill sets. However, beyond individual excellence, it's the team unity and cohesion that sets the great apart from just plain good. Deep Sphere will help us give the teams the best head start in terms of that composition, but will then continue to support the teams in fostering that sense of trust, unity and cohesion that only comes from knowing, understanding and appreciating each other at a deep and personal level."

Team Australia Challenge is now literally off and running, with a simulator just recently installed at the Winning Group's HQ, and the first of the training camps just about to commence. The two teams will be announced in about a month's time.

There were 132 souls who responded to the call, and this has now reduced to 32 Women and Youth sailors that have been invited to the Selection Trials Camp being staged in Sydney this week. On and off the water activities await them, and this also involves utilising the very newly installed (like just over the weekend) AC40 simulator.

12 KA-6 Australia II

Skipper John Bertrand AO and the crew were all honoured with Order of Australia Medals - Colin Beashel, Peter Costello, Damien Fewster, Ken Judge, Skip Lissiman, John Longley, Brian Richardson, Phil Smidmore, Grant Simmer, and Hugh Treharne. Reserves were Will Baillieu, Rob Brown, Sir James Hardy OBE, and Scott McAllister. Of course, there is very much the shore crew, as well.

September 2023 marks the 40th anniversary of this most incredible and time altering win.

Sure, somebody else might have come along and done it at some point later, but for 132 years previously, they had not, so who knows when, or even if at all. I am just glad a teenage boy got to see it all happen on TV before he went to school that day, and coming back from 3-1 down does deserve a special mention at this juncture. Hope springs eternal. First it was 3-2, then 3-3, and alas the grand prize at the end. Nice.

It all changed with KA-6, and forever more at that.

John Bertrand said, "I am proud to say our America's Cup victory is now part of our country's history. Australians taking on the world, winning on the world stage."

"As Patron of the Australian Women's and Youth America's Cup Challenge, it is my great pleasure to oversee and guide the development of this inspiring program. This a unique opportunity to showcase our female and youth sailing athletes to the world."

Incredible journeys

Phil Smidmore joined the Bond Navy in 1980 for Australia (KA-5). Reflecting on it all Smidmore said, "It's pretty incredible to think that it is 40 years, and fortunately the team is still very close."

"We still see each other around quite regularly. It was a great thing to be part of. I was initially invited by Noel Robbins to come for a sail on Australia. Then Sir Jim Hardy became the skipper, and I made the crew for that venture."

Smidmore had been spotted early by the likes of sailing greats David Forbes and John Cuneo. Reflecting on how many names are in a sentence that includes his, Smidmore said, "I was very lucky to hit it off with some very talented people who'd already done a lot in yachting and they certainly took me a bit further up to the top of yachting."

Smidmore got his Engineering Degree, but a decade in sailing had not made him the most employable of graduates, so fixing and building boats was where it all went because, "That's all I knew."

Still, one cannot complain, because two 5.5m World Championships, and an Admiral's Cup were all part of the mix. Naturally, many a great yarn is involved in it all, but there is no doubt the 5.5m World Championship in 1981 is also very much a beacon for Smidmore.

Sailing with Colin Beashel, the two were with Helmsman Edward 'Roy' Tutty. "He was an Olympic speed skater for Australia who came into sailing late in life, and was very generous to both Colin and I. Winning in Nassau was just incredible. Roy knew a thing or two about doing it hard. He had been invited to represent Australia for his first Olympics, but could not afford his ticket back home to Australia from Europe to join the team, so missed out, which was challenging, as he was already known and stationed in Europe. He did qualify again four years later."

"The first was in 1977 in Benodet, France, when I got a late call to replace an ill for'ard hand. Within two weeks of the call, I had gone to France and won a World Championship! And because I was in Europe thanks to that call, I sailed in the Soling Worlds and Admirals Cup that year.

"1983 was not the end of yachting for me. A 5.5m Scandinavian Gold Cup win, an Etchells North American Championship win (still the only Australian crew to win that one), several podium finishes at Etchells World Championships, a number of ocean races, and many other regattas have given me some wonderful experiences. They have also allowed me to see much of the world, which is just brilliant."

Reflecting on that very different era of pro sailing and the lead up to '83: "A lot of us had at least one, two or three America's Cups under our belt by then. It was great to have people like Sir Jim around, as he knew how to go about it, and how to keep us under control with that brilliant sense of humour."

More than a legend

A very enthusiastic Grant Simmer said, "We're all going over to Perth for the 40th. Skip Lissiman and John 'Chink' Longley have organised it. The whole sailing crew from 40 years ago will be there."

Like them all, Simmer has had a wonderful journey, but just how would he describe it? "Firstly, I was very fortunate. I was very fortunate to be asked to get involved with Australia II. It started with a boat called Apollo V, which John had asked me to sail on as part of the Bond crew. Alan was very involved in those days. We won in '83 with a really great team, and an incredibly innovative boat from Benny (Lexcen)."

"It kind of changed my life really, and it was the start of professional sailing. Australia II also led to me being able to buy North Sails with Michael Coxon. After that I was able to manage design teams for the AC, and then ultimately managing the whole team, which I did for Alinghi and Oracle, then Ineos in the last one."

It IS an incredible journey, for the conversation I had with Simmer was whilst he was sailing the Maxi Worlds in Sardinia on the magnificent Velsheda. In this way it truly does highlight the sport for life aspect of sailing, and it is a point not lost on Simmer at all.

"There are three J-Class here, and Velsheda was built in 1933. All 180 tonnes of her. Several refits of course, but the original hull and deck.

"There are 30 crew on these boats, and you might think that's a ridiculous number, but you actually need that number of sailors to handle the sails. And the coordination getting sail up and down, it's just amazing...

"Luckily I am back in the afterguard, but it is definitely one big exercise to sail these boats. We do have a few good young Australian guys up on the foredeck, and they're going really well.

"Next year in Barcelona (ahead of the AC) there should be five or six of them racing around. Neville Crichton with Rainbow should be out of the shed after a major refit by then, too", said Simmer, who is going to be there for a couple of months himself in 2024.

As for standouts from such a vast and valuable career? "I mean Australia II clearly, because it changed my life and changed the world of professional sailing in the America's Cup. Such a fabulous team of guys, and in those days there were only 33 of us on the whole team. We're still close as a team, even 40 years past.

"There have been several great teams, like Alinghi when we won in Auckland. That was a fabulous team with Russell (Coutts), and Ernesto (Bertarelli). Also Oracle in San Francisco with that massive comeback with Jimmy (Spithill), Tom Slingsby, Ben Ainslie, and Russell again. It was pretty incredible to be part of a comeback like that. They're probably the three big highlights.

"However, the key thing is that I still love going sailing, and you can do it virtually all your life. I started when I was only eight, and I still love it."

Simmer and his wife Alex are back in Sydney at the moment, but you do get the notion that an adventure is never far from the mix, and that this might just be a staging platform from which to spring. "I have got a few more adventures left in me. I enjoy being at home. We did live overseas for more than 20 years, moving from house to house, renting here and there, all over the world. A great, great adventure. After a while it's nice to come back and be in your hometown.

"It'll be an interesting cup in Barcelona. I really want to be involved in that again, but not the 24/7 sort of involvement that I have had previously."

Did someone say watch this space?

OK. There it is. There is so much more on the group's websites for you. Simply use the search field, or 'edition' pull-down menu up the top on the right of the masthead to find it all. Please enjoy your yachting, stay safe, and thanks for tuning into Sail-World.com

John Curnow
Editor, Sail World AUS

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