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Lone Wolf: An excerpt from Richard Gladwell's book on ETNZ – 'The real surprise would have b

Dean Barker (NZL)

SAN FRANCISCO – Below is an excerpt from Richard Gladwell's best-selling book (at least in NZL) "Lone Wolf: How Emirates Team New Zealand Stunned the World." Your Ed. has had a chance to read it, and for Cup fans no doubt it is a MUST READ. Not that there are many great revelations for those of you have been keen observers of the recent AC scene; more by way of a re-telling, in words and excellent photos, of ETNZ's extraordinary AC 2017 achievement. Your Ed. also commends it to any prospective AC team, including and especially New York Yacht Club's fledging 2021 effort, as a reminder if not primer on the importance of staying focused on one thing and one thing only – winning. "Lone Wolf" is available on Amazon. And, no, your Ed. has no idea why the paperback version is listed at $181.60. I mean, it's a good book, but nearly $200? The Kindle version is available for $12.80, but I understand from Mr Gladwell that that is text-only – none of his excellent photos. I've contacted Richard and asked if it can be ordered from a supplier in NZL or elsewhere at a reasonable price.


Dean Barker copped plenty of flak for not winning the America's Cup in San Francisco.

The non-sailing media were the most vociferous, but the sailing-savvy media took a more measured view.

With the points score at 8-1, in New Zealand's favour in the best of 19 race series, Barker and his team took a ragging from his opposite number, Jimmy Spithill.

In this regard, Spithill was ably assisted by many elements of the New Zealand media who, as in the 2003 defence debacle, always looked for a scapegoat - a single point of responsibility who could be summarily executed, before moving on to solving the next sporting crisis.

One instance was the media conference called for 5 May 2003, to reveal the contents of a review into Team New Zealand's sorry defence performance. The session at the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron was heavily attended by some sailing media, but mostly general and sports media. It was a lynch mob.

Team New Zealand Director Peter Menzies fronted the media. The Auckland businessman was one of three directors appointed by Russell Coutts and Brad Butterworth before they left the team after the successful 2000 defence.

After giving an overview of the report, Menzies took questions. One of the first was: 'Who is going to be held accountable?'

Menzies gave the reply that it was a complex situation and there was no single person or issue that could be blamed.

Not satisfied with that response, the reporter put her head down and had another charge. 'Can you tell us who was responsible?'

Again, Menzies answered that it involved the whole team, multiple factors and not just a single individual.

Used to dealing with politicians who wouldn't answer a question directly, the frustrated senior news reporter put her point directly: 'When are heads going to roll?'

Menzies deftly gave a different version of the same answer to her previous two questions and moved on.

Some did leave the team after the 2003 America's Cup. But they did it quietly, with their heads still attached to their bodies, and either joined another sailing team or got a 'real job', without becoming click-bait.

That same scenario was often played out in the 14 years that led to the win in Bermuda.

It got to the point, after the Black Friday media conference on 13 June 2014, that the team stopped holding media conferences where senior team members would face a media battery - often just looking to spill blood over a misjudged sentence.

Dean Barker had been with Team New Zealand since the 1995 campaign when he had a five-month involvement, turning down an invitation to go to San Diego.

Instead he chose to return to his own campaign to represent New Zealand in the 1996 Olympics in the Finn class. He finished second in the selection trials, off Gulf Harbour, losing the Olympic nomination on the final day to 1992 Olympic Bronze medallist Craig Monk who had sailed as a grinder in the 1995 America's Cup.

Monk stepped back into the Finn for a late run at the Olympics in the heavyweight men's singlehander in which Barker had put in the hard yards to achieve a very creditable world ranking of fifth, and was the favourite for selection. Monk went on to finish in 13th at Savannah.

For the 2000 defence, Barker helmed NZL-57, the 'mushroom boat' or trial-horse, against Russell Coutts. He scored his first America's Cup race win in the final race of the 2000 America's Cup, sharing the America's Cup presentation with Coutts. Barker was aged just 26 years old - the same age as Peter Burling in the Bermuda win.

With Coutts and the tight five shifting to Alinghi for the 2003 America's Cup, Barker, just turned 27, stepped into the skipper's role.

Most will remember Barker for having finished second in three successive America's Cups - in an event where there is no second.

On the credit side of Barker's ledger, after the 2013 America's Cup, he had won 11 races in America's Cup racing, the same as his rival Jimmy Spithill (excluding the 2010 Deed of Gift Match which was a closed event and not open to other challengers).

Barker's wins were scored across three America's Cups, Spithill's across one, or two - again excluding the closed Deed of Gift Match.

But in the eyes of the general sporting media, Barker was portrayed as a has-been and a choker. In reality, his America's Cup record was up there with the other top three helmsmen of the modern era - Coutts, [Dennis] Conner and Spithill.

When Emirates Team New Zealand arrived home from San Francisco, there were obviously going to have to be some hard calls made on a number of areas and people.

The shift from an open design boat to the one-design hulls, some components and a one-design profile wingsail meant that the composition of the design team would have to change - with specialists being needed to focus on the areas of design that still had a freedom of choice.

These moves were made in the interests of cost reduction - to shrink the size of design teams - and to stop teams spending enormous amounts of money and effort in pursuing design angles that would yield only a small speed gain.

For instance, in the AC72, with unrestricted wingsail shape, many hours had been spent by the teams on finding the ultimate shape. Yet when notes were compared after the 2013 America's Cup, the difference was only about 3 per cent between the shapes - so going to a one-design profile shape made a lot of sense.

Also, if the top teams grabbed most of the design talent, there were slim pickings left for the start-up teams. That in turn lowered entry numbers in an event which had to grow substantially to regain its credibility. It was a sound move to reduce the design scope in the new class.

One of the criticisms of Team New Zealand was that it was a closed shop, that it wasn't really a New Zealand team, just a bunch of Kiwi sailors whose faces fitted with the current hierarchy. That it was salary first and performance second.

The reality is that it is extremely hard to run any meaningful trial in America's Cup boats. There are too many nuances.

There was no template for the perfect skipper or helmsman. Sure, you could put the grinders through some form of fitness and strength tests. But how do you measure the crew chemistry on the boat - so they all worked in the same direction without any schisms when they were losing a race and needed to turn things around quickly on the water?

The shift to one-design America's Cup boats and to a slightly lesser extent with the surrogate boats or test boats opened up the options for some real crew selection in a similar way to how seat racing is run in rowing.

With a crew of just five or six, two sailing teams, and a couple of one-design boats, it is possible to switch crew between boats, one at a time, until the fastest combination is found.

A month after Grant Dalton had returned from a two-and-a-half-month stint in Europe going around sponsors and backers and recruiting, Team New Zealand called a media conference on 14 January 2014, to announce that they had signed up 2012 Olympic Silver medallists Blair Tuke and Peter Burling, who were also the current world champions in the 49er skiff.

That move gave the team the option of pitching one experienced crew of Barker and tactician Ray Davies against a second young crew led by Burling and Tuke who had won the Red Bull Youth America's Cup sailed in AC45s ahead of the 2013 America's Cup in San Francisco.

Emirates Team New Zealand had an embarrassment of riches - particularly compared to some of the other top teams who lacked the sufficient local talent to be able to put together a national team and instead opted to recruit the best team of professional sailors that money could buy.

Finance permitting, the programme was to sail two AC45s in the America's Cup World Series, with Barker/Davies on one boat and Burling/Tuke in the other - introducing a level of competitive selection that has long been lacking in the team.

Even if Burling and Tuke had prevailed in that selection process, Barker could have still retained a role as Sailing Director. However, it subsequently emerged that the role had been allocated to Glenn Ashby, who was also skipper and wingsail trimmer in the eventual America's Cup crew.

Three months later, with none of the basic questions about the 35th America's Cup answered by organisers, the financial siege of Team New Zealand continued and began to take its toll.

The prospect of Team New Zealand having the luxury of running multiple test boats with two crews competing faded fast as the team had to start conserving financial resources just to survive.

The new Board had come on stream in early April 2014 and was charged to determine whether another challenge was viable. That triggered a formal review of team performance and what was required to win - at the yet to be announced venue, in the yet to be announced class, on the yet to be announced dates.

Team decision-making was also in the hands of a six-person Executive Committee, of which Dean Barker, as skipper and Sailing Director, was a member.

Many confuse the position of skipper as being another name for the helmsman. On some teams, the two are one and the same. On Emirates Team New Zealand in 2017 Glenn Ashby, for various reasons including having the most multihull sailing experience, was both sail trimmer as well as leading the crew as skipper. Peter Burling had the single task of helmsman. In the 2013 America's Cup Dean Barker had the dual role of helmsman and skipper. It is a significant difference.

In that review, it was decided to replace Barker as skipper. However, the news did not break until nine months later in February 2015.

It is hard to believe that, as an Executive Committee member, Barker was unaware that the decision had been taken to replace him in that role; however, that is Barker's view of the situation.

In the meantime, internationally sourced rumours swirled with the New Zealand skipper being linked to Luna Rossa and that one of the Italians' helmsmen was to be exited to make way for the New Zealander.

Rumours of Barker joining Luna Rossa, though, had surfaced previously and had amounted to nothing.

There were also international whisperings that if Team New Zealand collapsed, their key people would be snapped up by an Asian entry which was waiting in the wings.

Later, on 8 May 2015, SoftBank Team Japan had their challenge accepted by Golden Gate Yacht Club with the team being partnered with Oracle Team USA, whose CEO was Russell Coutts, Barker's former skipper in the 2000 America's Cup Defence. Dean Barker was announced as the Japanese skipper two weeks later.

Barker's ousting was first broken on social media, which Team New Zealand claimed and still maintain was as much a surprise to them as it was to Barker.

To the experienced sailing media, the news was no surprise.

The scene had been set over a year ago in January 2014 when Burling and Tuke were announced to a media conference at the old Alinghi, now Team New Zealand, base in Halsey Street.

In February 2014, the sailing programme got under way with four sailors from Team New Zealand competing at the International A-class catamaran Worlds at Takapuna.

They ran a programme of sorts out of the Halsey Street base. Glenn Ashby was at that stage a seven-time world champion in the 18-ft singlehander, on which the helmsman sails from a trapeze.

To further complicate matters, foiling had just been introduced to the class. Ashby won his eighth world title at Takapuna. Tuke, no slouch as a helmsman, beat Burling to finish second. Tactician Ray Davies finished fifth. Dean Barker watched from a team RIB.

A similar mini-campaign was enacted for the foiling Moth Worlds held in early January 2015 in Sorrento, Melbourne in which most of the top talent for the 35th America's Cup competed. Burling won the world title.

Barker was the worst-performed of the Team New Zealand competitors, finishing in 26th place overall in the 84-boat fleet.

However, he was in good America's Cup company - flanked in 25th overall by 2012 Olympic Gold medallist Tom Slingsby, a key member of Oracle Team USA in 2013 and 2017.

One place behind Barker was Englishman Paul Goodison, 2008 Gold medallist in the Laser class and a then-recent signing for America's Cup Challenger Artemis Racing.

While Barker was keen to continue in the skipper and helmsman's role with Team New Zealand, no serious America's Cup team would have continued with a helmsman who'd already had three shots at winning the Cup – even taking into account the fact that he had twice won the Louis Vuitton Cup, and could not be blamed at all for the 2003 America's Cup loss.

Probably the biggest issue with Barker was that he had come up through monohull match-racing ranks, having placed second in the New Zealand Nationals when he was just 20 years old.

His nemesis Jimmy Spithill had progressed up a similar path. They knew all the same moves. The problem was that Spithill and his coach Philippe Presti had worked out the New Zealanders' match-racing playbook in San Francisco and scored telling blows at critical times in the starting box of the 2013 America's Cup.

Burling had minimal match-racing experience. His practice in Auckland in the AC50 had been against the Emirates Team New Zealand chase boat.

In Bermuda, Burling proved to be an extremely quick thinker, who could position a boat very accurately. His starting tactics were unorthodox, and while he lost a few early on and created anguish among the non-sailing media, there was a method to his apparent madness. In the Match, he made the starting superstar Jimmy Spithill look very ordinary - it was a staggering performance by Burling.

It transpired that at their first meeting in December 2013, at Dalton's house, Burling had asked for the helmsman's role. 'My reaction was we've got a bit to go under the bridge yet, mate, but let's see where we get to,' Dalton recalled at the post-America's Cup media conference on 26 June 2017.

At the same media conference, it was revealed there had been a 'brutal review' in May 2014 and 20 action points were agreed. The overriding approach was 'to throw the ball out as far as we could and then see if we could get to it', Dalton said at the media conference.

Against that backdrop, it would have been very surprising, given the risks that were being taken elsewhere, that Team New Zealand would not have opted to try the new talent they had on board. The real surprise would have been if Barker had been reappointed for a fourth shot at winning the America's Cup.

420 world champions, Kiwis Karl Evans and Peter Burling, with then Emirates Team New Zealand helmsman Dean Barker in 2007. Photo / It reminds your Ed. of the famous photo of a young Bill Clinton shaking hands with JFK and smirking as if to say, "Someday I'm gonna be you"....

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