Skipper Ashby believes Emirates Team New Zealand squad could be strongest ever
The first part of our two-part interview with Emirates Team New Zealand skipper, Glenn Ashby.
Emirates Team New Zealand skipper Glenn Ashby believes the current Kiwi squad could be the most potent line-up the island nation has ever fielded to challenge for the America’s Cup.
Ashby’s team emerged from the wreckage that resulted from Emirates Team New Zealand's crushing 34th America’s Cup defeat in 2013 at the hands of James Spithill’s Oracle Team USA who came back from 8 – 2 down to retain the oldest trophy in international sport.
For Ashby, an Australian and one of only three sailors on the 12-man sailing line-up to hail from outside New Zealand, this is his second America’s Cup campaign with the New Zealand syndicate.
“I haven't been involved with Team New Zealand for as long as some of the other people here,” Ashby told Sail Racing Magazine. “There are other people who have done three or four campaigns. From talking to them and to people looking from the outside in, they all say they feel this is the strongest team that Emirates Team New Zealand has ever turned out.”
Nevertheless, Ashby understands this positive sentiment counts for very little as the team goes into 2017 - the year of the 35th America’s Cup in Bermuda.
“You can take all that with grain of salt,” he says with a wry laugh. “We are certainly not resting on any laurels. For me and the rest of the team it's very much a “head down, bum up” attitude. We won't be resting until the dishes are done, so to speak. It's game-on as far as we are concerned.”
Ashby is Emirates Team New Zealand skipper and sailing director, a demanding role in which he says on the water activity takes up a surprisingly small part of his time.
“America’s Cup campaigns revolve around the speed of the boat so I spend a vast amount of my time working with the designers,” he says. “The sailing side of things is probably only one or two percent of what we do here. This campaign is like a huge wheel that rolls along and each of us are just very small cogs in keeping that big wheel rolling forward.”
There are now around 90 human cogs in the Emirates Team New Zealand wheel, working across the sailing team, shore team, design team, as well as admin and marketing.
According to Ashby the management structure is very flat - a deliberate strategy to speed up communication and encourage collaboration.
“It’s a very, very level setup across all the departments,” Ashby confirms. “There's no real hierarchy. We all intermingle and mix and I think that sort of cross pollination of information throughout the team is one of the strengths of this Emirates Team New Zealand team.
“Whether you're on the boat building floor or up in the design office everyone intermingles and goes through the issues and the problem-solving process together. Although we're probably a lot less in numbers than most of the other syndicates I think we're very, very strong as a group.”
Much has been made of the fact that the AC Class boats for the 35th America’s Cup are made up of a significant number of standardised one-design parts. Despite this Ashby says there is still plenty of scope for the team’s design group to get their teeth into.
“A huge amount of components and componentry on the boat are open,” he explains.
“We've invested heavily in our design team to do the very best job we can with those more open components. Ultimately it’s those custom pieces that could easily make the difference between success and failure in Bermuda.”
Emirates team New Zealand have surprised many observers by opting to launch their AC Class boat in Auckland rather than in Bermuda to take advantage of the southern hemisphere summer sailing conditions.
“We're in our summer here in New Zealand while Bermuda and the northern hemisphere are in their winter,” Ashby says. “That means the sailing conditions up there are not ideal for emulating the racing conditions you would expect in Bermuda next May and June.
“Our summer is very much more like the conditions that we'll be racing in so we've opted to stay here and do some training over summer and arrive in Bermuda a little bit later than some of the other teams.
“We are hoping this will enable us to make some gains against the other teams before we ship over, while they're in their winter and we're here in our summer.”