Big Time Now

Just imagine the feeling. The iPhone lights up and right there flashing is the name: ‘Grant Dalton.’ You answer and the matter-of-fact tone states clearly: “Okay let’s do this. We want you. Come and join Team New Zealand. Welcome aboard mate.”

©Beau Outteridge for SailGP

At that moment, life is thrown into sharp relief. Despite the multiple world championships, the Olympic medals, the regional titles, the club wins, this is the defining moment. The trials and tribulations that you traversed. The unexplainable benching for the last Cup and the step-down from athlete to media work (that you did pretty well btw and with good grace), all matter not a jot. You’ve joined the All Blacks of yachting. You are in the gang. Who cares about the money – this is a huge moment in your life.

Well, this is what Nathan Outteridge must have felt as he got the nod a couple of months ago to join the greatest winning machine ever assembled in sailing. Everything changes. No longer the outcast lying in the gutter looking at the stars, he’s in the penthouse now. Respect is demanded.

On the SailGP circuit, everyone will be watching. Going forward, the day-rate on the TP52 and Maxi circuit just increased by a factor of two – maybe three. The golden ticket is secured and in 30 years’ time, Nathan will still be remembered and revered as ‘that guy that steered Team New Zealand.’

© Bob Martin for SailGP

What an honour. But what an appointment for the Kiwis. It has been known for a while that Team New Zealand had signed their afterguard and they were pretty happy with their decisions off the record and behind the scenes. Grass was not going to be growing under the team’s feet and they certainly weren’t going to be held hostage to the whims of sailors who believed they operated outside of the ‘team’ culture and wouldn’t accept standard contracts. The message has been very clear: ‘you want to play that game, good luck and goodbye.’

With the appointment of Outteridge joining the baked in squad of Glenn Ashby, Josh Junior and Andy Maloney, it’s an awesome team of individual talent assembling. Outteridge, the ‘wind whisperer’ brings class, determination and one of the most no-nonsense approaches to sailboat racing ever seen. He also offers a persona off-the-water that is gold-dust, appealing to the young with ease and saying the right things to the grown-ups. He’s also white hot dealing with the media. Fabulous appointment.

©Ricardo Pinto for SailGP

On the other hand, you could cry for Pete Burling and Blair Tuke who loftily issued a joint statement further raising their concerns about Jeddah as a possible AC venue:

“We’ve committed to telling the critical ocean and climate story through our sailing careers, and we need to make choices that will allow us to step up to this ambition. Obviously we have concerns about the suitability of Jeddah, which we have expressed to the team over the past few months. We are continuing to talk with the team as they work through the detail before we make any decisions.”

As an unconnected observer from afar, I just want to shake them. Come on guys, this is Team New Zealand. This is like Barcelona, Real Madrid or Manchester United courting you. It’s like Mercedes asking you to join the works team in F1. It’s Goldman Sachs asking you to be a partner. It’s Jeff Bezos asking you to join the Amazon board. It’s almost a presidential or United Nations appointment. The pride should be enormous.

But crucially, and this is the point, your sporting prowess affords you the platform for critical climate action. Stand alone, without the sporting verification, and you become a blogger – irrelevant to many – a soap box occupier hollering into the gale. I should know.

©Studio Borlenghi

Before the world moves on, Pete & Blair need to make the call with humility and beg for their positions. But the interesting thing is that in Team New Zealand where there are no sacred cows and honesty infiltrates every organ, it’s their performance in the Match against Luna Rossa, in particular the pre-starts, that has come under the microscope. I wonder what was really said behind those closed shed doors when they went 3-3 before everything changed.

In Team New Zealand’s management’s eyes, Pete isn’t a superstar. I’m not sure he’s a superstar in Glenn Ashby’s eyes either, and his opinion matters. Good yes, but he’s not Russell Coutts. Blair isn’t Brad Butterworth. And they’d be wise not to believe their own hype and see the opportunity before them, if it even still exists, in the cold harsh light of reality.

Meanwhile for Nathan Outteridge, it’s going to be a whirlwind of change and a step-change in his sailing trajectory. Good for him. It’s a killer appointment all round and shows that it doesn’t matter how far you fall, persistence and endeavour pay off in the end.

©Beau Outteridge for SailGP

It must have been utterly galling and deflating to have to sit out the first generation AC75 racing but Nathan took it on the chin and his media performances were, like his sailing, top drawer. He didn’t miss a step – even when he was drafted in to ask multiple press conference questions to his mates on the podium due to the lack of international media in Auckland.

Imagine having to ask what any pro-sailor knows is a dumbed down question to your peers and mates on the podium just for the sake of keeping the press conference on the rails? Soul destroying…but he did it with aplomb.

©Ian Roman for SailGP

Now, that’s all a distant memory and Nathan is the man. I wonder whether competitors will now be so quick to shout down the airwaves at the next SailGP event with aggressive lines like: “Shut up Nathan.” I highly doubt it. But that little interaction with Ben Ainslie proves out what Team New Zealand have seen – he gets under the skin of the very best. And that’s another new weapon to the Kiwi armoury.

Top appointment. Great for both team and the sailor. The jigsaw pieces are starting to come together.

Now who’s going to get Tom Slingsby?

21 thoughts on “Big Time Now

  1. The ‘secret sauce’ benefit of this move is the dancing around the Nationality rule. Essentially – Nathan can join the dance floor but Pete & Blair cannot leave. Even when the music stops. Gangster move.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yeah, but if Magnus should be shaking ANYBODY by the shoulders, I think he should have done it to Russell yesterday— or at least sat down with him before he posted that rant and said “This is tone-deaf and has grammar mistakes, it makes you look like an out-of-touch rich guy who thinks coronavirus isn’t a problem for anyone else because it isn’t a problem for you personally. And that reflects badly on SailGP and our sport and is counterproductive to you trying to make sailing seem less elitist.”

      I respect Coutts a lot, and ordinarily I think he gets a lot of undue hate for stupid reasons, but that was a really bad take and contrary to the safety-consciousness statements he himself made during SailGP’s postponement last year.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Having watched a ton of old AC34 footage Slingsby & Ainslie were a MASTERCLASS of their own in the back of that Oracle Boat which supports my claim that Ben is more valuable as a Tactician then he is as a Helmsman.

      Why not let Slingsby drive the AC75 for AC37 and the two super Finn Dingy Geniusses Ainslies & Scott calling the shots assuming INEOS can sign Slingsby. That would be some kind of Afterguard, wouldn’t it be?

      What’s your Opinion on that?

      Liked by 1 person

    1. That was a very poor interview, basically a min of nothing answers and very vague words. At this stage, he should be putting everything on the table and not keep playing games. Damn annoying tbh.


  2. I mean, Pete and Blair wouldn’t exactly be without sports bonafides even if they skipped the AC, the “other projects” language in both of their statements suggests they would just refocus on SailGP, The Ocean Race, and perhaps the Olympics again.

    Didn’t you say a few months ago that you approved of them spreading an environmental message in the same way you approved of other athletes rejecting soda sponsorship and saying “Drink water”? Like those athletes, commitment to an ideal may sometimes mean contradicting their superiors.


  3. I know that blog posts need drama – but this one is a stretch. Nathan, Pete, Glenn and Blair are all really close. Nathan and the boys were full-time 49er training partners leading up to Londo. They cooperated to make each other faster and the boys didn’t get the upper hand until Nathan scored a AC job for SF. The whole gang tuned A Cats together leading up to the Australia worlds where they clogged the leaderboard albeit with Glenn as king. These guys are the momentum generation of foiling. (OK, they’re missing Slingsy and Langford.)

    Of course they compete on the water – like gentlemen and professionals. Of course they compete for the AC jobs which are truly scarce with only 2 boats and 4 wheels so far. But not much drama in Nathan grabbing one of these very scarce jobs to avoid being a commentator. These guys know how to be great teammates and its easy to imagine them all being on the same team. Scary competitive advantage.

    Can the challenger build that type of culture?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. How fascinating.

    It looks like Peter and Blair actually never got offered their old jobs. Ruthless is, as ruthless does.

    I imagine like many things going on in The Americas Cup it has all been planned well ahead.

    With Glen and Nathan, we have two Aussies in the top spots. Fantastic.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Nathan is a wonderful the team. I couldn’t be happier. He’s not just a great sailor, but a super nice guy. He was a great commentator in the last AC and I’m sure that he will be missed in that capacity. Slingsby would be great, too. He should be a crew member on somebody’s boat. Burling and Tuke are not necessarily out, I’ve been saying all along, they didn’t sign early for 2021. They must be left to make their own decisions when they are ready. I don’t see them as defecting, but I also don’t think Jeddah is a possible venue. It is just not viable for women. There are just too many negatives. We will need to be patient on all fronts.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. They started allowing female members in the mid-2010s, IIRC. There may be less difference between Cowes and Jeddah than we’re comfortable admitting…


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