Yachtsman Dean Barker On What It’s Like Racing In America’s Cup

Benjamin L. Setiawan

Dean BarkerAnchors aweigh! On the heels of their Louis Vuitton Cup win, the Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ) is gearing up to make a mark in this year’s America’s Cup, taking place in San Francisco through September 21. Having defeated Italy’s Luna Rossa Challenge, which is sponsored by Prada, in a series of races, ETNZ’s race to the win at the 34th America’s Cup certainly won’t be as easy. They are up against the defenders, the deep pocketed Oracle Team USA (the pet project of billionaire Larry Ellison) after all. With innovation changing the contours of this historic sport, that partnership certainly has its benefits. Hello R&D! Even though Oracle is representing the home team, we all love a good underdog story. And with recent news of illegal modifications to their boats, the Oracle team’s popularity is waning.
We got a chance to meet with ETNZ during the launch of Omega’s limited edition Seamaster Diver watch that was created in their honor. Since 1995, the last time the America’s Cup was raced on US waters, Omega has been a supporter of the New Zealand team. Only 2,013 of these timepieces were made and numbered to commemorate this year’s regatta (in other words, this is going to be a collectors item for both watch and sailing enthusiasts around the world).
While hanging out with the team, we chatted with ETNZ’s skipper (that’s nautical slang for captain), Dean Barker, an Olympian and veteran of the America’s Cup, and learned about what it takes to make sailing a career, along with his tips for novice sailors. If we had one takeaway, it is that a life on the water sure beats a boring old desk job.
The Vivant: How did you get into sailing?
Dean Barker: Ah, it was a long time ago. I was 10 years old and looking for an activity to get involved with. My parents had me down to the local yacht club. I played around and just loved it. It grew from a hobby to a sport to a career, so it’s been quite an interesting journey.
At what point did you know that you wanted to make this more of a career versus a hobby?
There was never really a point that I knew it would ever happen. For a long time I was just chasing the whole competitive dream, trying to race as much international competitions as I could. Before long, I had some opportunities to do some professional sailing and from there it just snowballed.
How many days of the year are you on the water?
Oh, I’ve never really sat down and worked it all out. I spend at least half of the year on the water. But one of the big things is analyzing the time you have spent on the water, so that you’re making better use of the next day you go in.
You’ve been in the industry for a while—what is one of your most memorable experiences on the water?
I’ve had many, but I guess one that I’ll never forget is when we won the 2000 America’s Cup in Auckland. I got to skipper the boat in the final race. Going sailing on one of these things (AC45 and AC72 boats) doing an excess of 40 50 miles per hour at times is quite an amazing experience. The exhilaration. The adrenaline. There are so many cool things that you do in sailing. There are obviously some bad experiences as well, but you tend to remember the good ones.
How have you seen the sailing world change?
It’s been a real noticeable change. My life’s been very much focused on the America’s Cup since 1995. In 1995, 2000, 2003, and 2007, we raced on the same style of boats. Small generational changes within those boats, but between 2007 and now it’s been a monumental shift. We’ve gone from a slow, heavy monohull to an ultra high performance, incredibly powerful and fast catamaran. You couldn’t get anything more opposed. It’s good in a lot of ways. Now you’re faced with a completely new challenge and it’s very exciting.
Do you want your children to follow in your footsteps?
I’ve been very fortunate with sailing and all of the opportunities it’s given me: travel and seeing different parts of the world. It’s been fantastic for my family. I’ve got four kids and just don’t know what they want to do. My wife was a hockey player for New Zealand. Maybe they’ll end up playing hockey. Who knows, we’ll see.
What are some tips you have for novice sailors?
In a racing environment, there’s no substitute for time on the water. You see that with any successful yachtsman. There is no substitution for sweat and straight hard work. Take as many hours as you can sailing on whatever boat you choose to be on. Through repetition and experience, like any sport, eventually you’ll make some gains.
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