Anyone who knows me knows I obsessed about the America’s Cup since as early as I can remember. So I beg the reader to indulge me as I write about how the Cup came to be such a major part of my life for the best part of two decades…
I recall being shown a newspaper spread in 1989 (at age 8) describing the Deed of Gift (or hostile) match between the Kiwi Big Boat KZ-1 and Dennis Conner’s Stars and Stripes winged catamaran. Perhaps because of how it was presented, with suitably Italian romanticism and drama, the whole idea just grabbed me. Those big machines powered by the wind, guided by squads of proud powerful men, fighting it out for an ancient prestigious trophy commissioned by royalty… I was captivated and fascinated immediately.
From this first encounter, I avidly consumed every bit of media available, showing up at the local newsstand first thing in the morning whenever a new edition of a sailing magazine was due.
My next abiding memory is seeing a trailer for the movie Wind, circa 1991 (age 10), playing in the local VHS cassette hire store. I recall the narrator saying how a yacht racing team became one body, united in a common purpose, seeking perfection, part of a great tradition. And, most strikingly, that the big racing yachts represent a pinnacle of human creativity – the absolute peak of a variety of specialised skills combining together. It went on to say “the yachts are our Gothic cathedrals, our Parthenons, a barometer of national destiny”.
Staying up late to watch Il Moro Di Venezia win the Louis Vuitton Challenger Selection Series in 1992 only added to my idolisation of the oldest trophy continually active in international sport. Il Moro gained national prominence in Italy, generating a hype that, though short-lived, rivalled the fervour Italians express for soccer and Ferrari’s F1 exploits (the latter being very familiar to me growing up in Monza).
I also recall seeing dockside events promoting the Whitbread Around the World race. At a time when contestants were lavishly funded by cigarette brands Merit and Rothmans. I recall being equally fascinated by those IOR (International Offshore Rule) maxis. But seeing them as stepping stones to the ultimate level represented by America’s Cup.
Since that early age, every decision within my power was aimed at getting into that world. From the subjects I chose at school to spending every moment of free time either sailing or learning about sailing through reading, asking questions, making RC boats…
Moving to Australia in the mid 1990s made this country’s egalitarian, merit-based waterfront scene suddenly accessible. I recall spending every waking hour maintaining boats, working as an instructor to pay my way into the Youth Academy, asking very specific technical questions much to the annoyance of anyone on the receiving end of my obsessive curiosity. All the while building up my knowledge, experience, and a ‘mental LinkedIn’ of key players.
Eventually I got involved in campaigns at club, state, and national level, discovering my aptitude for technical problem-solving. My dedication soon leading to cherished experiences of international events in the Med and Atlantic.
This committed involvement eventually led me to putting together the IMOCA 60 project featured on this site, and leveraging that experience to offer my time with the Young Australia campaign in 2000.
The next step was being part of Victory Challenge 2002 and UITG 2007 – for the full cycle of each campaign.
The Auckland events of 2000 and 2003 and the Valencia match of 2007 were the culmination of the IACC (International America’s Cup Class) monohulls that were used for five consecutive editions. The long, slender, elegant IACC yachts were arguably the final expression of the traditional symmetrical ballasted displacement monohull. A spirit previously embodied in the J Class and 12 Metre.
These three matches saw upward of 10 teams camped out for multi-year cycles in an amazing village atmosphere. It was truly an honour (not to mention the fulfilment of a deeply held dream) to be part of those events.
After Victory Challenge was eliminated in 2002 (and before signing up with UITG for the next cycle), I also had the privilege of doing live commentary on the Challenger Finals and Cup Match for the RAI Eurovision broadcast.
After the 2007 match came another hostile challenge (this time from the USA). The ensuing dispute dragging on through the courts, combined with the Global Financial Crisis, caused many teams to dissolve or pursue other events. I took that time to bring the idea to the Middle East, working on behalf of local backers to scope out and begin laying the foundations for a UAE challenge. Participation in high-profile sailing events such as the Cup and the Volvo Race would be leveraged to promote the destinations and property developments picking up pace there at the time.
I then helped put together an Australian team that was soon purchased by Italian upstart Venezia Challenge, in turn subsumed into another Italian consortium… These experiences orchestrating what amounts to ‘M&A’ deals taught me about the business side of the sport I loved, and how team dynamics and organisational structures are just as vital as aerodynamics and lightweight materials.
As preparations for the 2013 match got going, I remember representing my team in meetings to draft the technical regulations for the first multihull class to be used in the America’s Cup. We were in a brave new world!
By 2011, intuiting the commercial potential of specific technology developed in the Cup, I started exploring offering such capability to various markets. This was the genesis of Carbonix. Aerospace was the logical commercial growth area, being a larger market than the marine one and not as crowded as automotive. Unmanned seemed the right niche, so that’s where I sought to gain experience.
While the aerospace side was gaining traction, I turned to the sailboat racing world to both prove the capabilities of Carbonix and to fund its initial growth. Since the Cup had just turned to multihulls, the logical first in-house product to develop and market was an A Class catamaran. This would make accessible to the club racer the kind of technology and performance seen in the Cup. And the A Class was rife for disruption – something we did only too well by introducing foiling (which wouldn’t have been possible to do competitively without leveraging the tech that constitutes the ‘secret sauce’ of Carbonix).
Perhaps ironically, initial promising showings in the A Class drew the attention of then-new skipper of Tam New Zealand Glenn Ashby. Soon Carbonix became a supplier to the core sailing squad of Team New Zealand as they all used A Class cats to learn multihulls, practice, and develop techniques. This in turn raised the profile of Carbonix as some of the top sailors in the world won races using our equipment.
Soon we had leading sailors in the Moth Class, Olympics, and offshore disciplines knocking on our door and giving us the opportunity to create the various solutions listed above. All while the long-term goal of revolutionising unmanned aerospace was progressing in parallel!