The 34th America’s Cup is proving to be the place for Nathan Outteridge to showcase his talents both on and off the water. After a roller-coaster ride with Artemis Racing this past year, the 26-year-old Aussie talent has taken the best of the experience to apply to his own sailing in the 49er and the Moth, as well as to position himself in a good place for the 35th America’s Cup. Over the past week the sailing world has enjoyed the benefit of his knowledgeable commentary from the racecourse of the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup, and now the 34th America’s Cup. While it’s all wrapped and packed up at the Artemis Racing base, the team’s helmsman is taking every opportunity to train on San Francisco Bay for the upcoming 49er World Championship in Marseille, France (September 21 to 29), and the Moth Worlds in October in Hawaii. Here Outteridge talks about all things AC and what’s next on his dance card.
How did you end up commentating for the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup and the AC Final?
NO: I was asked by ACTV to do some guest commentating during the Louis Vuitton Final—being on stage and giving a few comments here and there between races. I guess they liked what I was saying so they asked me to do the Red Bull event for them. It worked out pretty nicely for me, and I was going to be watching the racing anyway.
What was your take-home from the RBYAC?
NO: Pete Burling has just turned 22 so he’s pretty young, but he’s already done two Olympics. Most of these guys are only a few years younger than me. A lot of guys in the Red Bull fleet who’ve been sailing 49ers I’ve been sailing against for six years. To me they’re basically my peers. Their skill level was really high even though they didn’t get a whole lot of time to train in the boats. They could have competed quite easily with the normal World Series teams.
What did you observe in their tactical skills?
NO: I thought they were quite aggressive in what they were doing, but you could see that there was a lack of consistency amongst the boats. Pete seemed to be the only team that had that consistency and ability to get back through the fleet. They were making mistakes thoughout the racing, like they weren’t furling up their sails properly at the bottom mark, which was costing them when they went to deploy them at the top mark, they had knots, etc. By Days 3 and 4, there were none of those mistakes, so you could see their learning curve was still progressing throughout the racing. It was good to see that they were given an opportunity like that. There were no major crashes, no one did anything wreckless—they were just there trying to make their mark in the sport.
Your next event is the 49er Worlds?
NO: Yes, we [myself and Iain Jensen AKA Goobs] haven’t sailed at all since the Olympics. I always like to plan to have something to do after a big event because if you don’t you kind of feel really flat. Goobs and I decided to do the 49er Worlds to touch base again with the 49er fleet and make our big decision on where we’re going to go from here. It’s hard to know exactly what’s going to happen in the Cup until someone wins, and we know where it goes so we have a little time up our sleeve to get back to some racing. This year’s been pretty tough—I’ve done two events and normally I do 20. You feel like you’re missing out on the actual racing. It’s been great to be involved in the team and learn all the America’s Cup team processes, but the racing’s been lacking. So, for the last two weeks Goobs and I have been putting the 49er in the water, and I’ve also been doing quite a lot of Moth sailing for the Moth Worlds.
What have you learned transitioning from the 72 back to the smaller boats?
**NO: **You just learn how much easier little boats are logistically—we can show up, be in the water in half an hour, go sailing for 2 hours, come in, pack up in half an hour, and that’s your day done. Whereas just trying to get the big boat in the water, even the 45, you need extra people to launch the boats, pack the boats up, you need coach and safety boat support, so it’s all the extra things required. It’s much more difficult. We’ve learned so much more about our little 49er sailing just this week, which would take months to do on a big boat just because of the practicalities of the boats.
Foiling and the Moth: what translates from the 72 to the Moth?
NO: I learned a lot from the Moth to put into the 72, and then sailing the 72 and feeling how that works and having a bunch of really smart designers to give you information was really interesting. The main thing I learned was that your control systems are extremely important, and your foil shapes are really important. A lot of my Moth sailing was through feel—you try something, you learn, and you feel the change. I’ve been getting good explanations from some of our design team as to why something happens on my Moth, the logic going on behind it because before I’d keep crashing and just change it until I worked it out. So while translating exactly from the big boat to the Moth is quite different, the principles are still the same. I don’t really have much time to try the ideas for the Moth that we have, but I think in the next year you’ll start to see what we’ve learned throughout the last three years with the 72 will trickle down to little boats, like the Little America’s Cup C-Class—they’re all foiling around like 72s. I’ve been in the 49er class where it’s just myself and my crew and our coach, then we get a few experts come in and help every now and then, and our budget is so small. I spend a lot of time at the base just trying to talk to people on the team, then it’s trying to harness that information and follow it in the right direction.
The Moth is a 100-percent development class; what are the restrictions on improvements?
NO: The only rules for the Moth are the length of the boat, the width of the wings, the area of the sail, and the mast height. Otherwise you can use materials as you like, have as many sets of foils as you like for an event. So I’ve got like three sets of foils, the standard set which I’ve made some tweaks to, another foil coming which we’re going to try to make some changes to for the Worlds to see if what we’ve learnt at Artemis Racing is going to help.
What’s the 49er fleet looking like at the moment?
NO: It’s pretty much the same as it was at the Olympics and before that. A few people have stopped sailing, and there are a few new teams. Pete Burling and Blair Tuke just won the Europeans in the only event they’ve done this year, and they’re our benchmark. We trained with them for four years, and the fact that they won is a good sign because it means no one has jumped up—we think we’re pretty similar to those guys. We’ll be a little bit rusty in our boathandling and we haven’t done any racing, so we’ll have to learn how to get that back pretty quickly.
Are you keen to stay in the Cup environment?
NO: Yes, I’ve really enjoyed my time with Artemis Racing and hopefully that can continue. Then, it just depends on the balance between that and Olympic class sailing, and if I can continue to do the Olympics. It’s very difficult to do two things properly. A lot of it will depend on the timeframe as to when the Cup is and what my involvement is with a team. A lot will also depend on how well we do at the Worlds coming up, to see if we have a year off and don’t fall that far behind. We keep checking in with the fleet, but if we come 25th in the Worlds, it shows we need to put more work in.
Your starts against Luna Rossa were aggressive and confident****—your comments?
**NO: **The whole goal for us with starting is that we knew that we were so underprepared, off the speed, and our boathandling wasn’t as good as Luna Rossa so the only way that we had any chance of beating them was to make sure we were leading around Mark 1. So, we could afford to be a little higher risk in the start whereas Chris Draper, even if he followed us around Mark 1, he’d have passed us as some point. So, he was taking the “don’t engage the other boat” approach, which gave us a chance to take advantage as well as we could. But, having said that, the 72 is not an easy boat to sail. We’d only done eight days of training, so you’re kind of going with gut instincts on what the boat is capable of. One thing we never did was any pre-starts. We knew we could do certain maneuvers but there were some things we just didn’t know so we didn’t put ourselves in that position. We got ourselves into positions in the starts where we knew we were confident. The two starts that we clearly won and then the final start where we won but got a penalty, I thought we did everything we could. Percy’s instructions as a tactian, his calls on time and distance were really good. We had no computer system on the boat because we didn’t have time to develop it. We had our instruments and computer systems that told us wind directions and boatspeeds but there was no number that said, “You are 5 seconds from the line.” I see Ray Davies often open up his little iPad and he’s got a display that’s telling him how much time he’s got to burn for a start. Percy’s doing this all on his own, and it was pretty good to hear him say, “You need to go in 10 seconds.”
Seems like you and Iain have really hit off****— would you agree with that?
NO: We’ve got a really good relationship working together. I think a lot of that comes from the fact that we’ve both been quite successful in the Olympic classes and running our own programs. A lot of the time there are things that you don’t need to do, and we skip straight past that and get to the important things—we’re pretty good at prioritizing what needs to happen. It was highlighted when we got the blue boat in the water. Perc and I knew we didn’t have much time to do any analyzing. He was really instrumental in working with the wing and helping Goobs out with understanding how the wing works, I was in charge of the wing. We’d touch base every day. We worked really well together and trusted what each of us was doing, which was pretty key. When we’re on the water there’s a huge respect for each other out there. I’ve been sailing with Goobs my whole life so it’s like having another person join our team. Then to get the confidence from everyone else in the team, once they see that a few of the key guys on the boat are working well together and on the same page, then everyone else joins you.
How do you like the team environment?
NO: It was initially pretty daunting. I was brought into the team as a reserve helsman, and at the same time Loick Peyron showed up so we had me, Terry [Hutchinson], and Loick. For the first few months it was just interesting watching the dynamic and try to understand where I’m at, where it would end up this year, and how I could best help the team in whatever capacity. For much of the first few months I was just watching and learning, listening to what was going on, hoping at some point I’d get my chance to drive the boat. As soon as I did, I knew it was important to try to give feedback to the design team because this Cup was all about designing a faster boat. I had nothing to do with the design of the boat, but I could help refine it however I could. I think that’s where I just started to give little bits of feedback and that’s how I got into the team and working with Perc, something I could add value to.
What does it feel like helming something that’s going so fast?
NO: It doesn’t feel like it’s going as quick as it is. Upwind you’ll do 20 knots, and that’s faster than most boats ever do. You feel like you’re just cruising along almost slowly except there is so much wind in your face you know you’re going quickly. Your apparent wind is so strong. Because the boats are so big and heavy and the wing is huge, everything happens quite slowly. When you’re foiling downwind, the boat pulses up and down, but it doesn’t feel that fast. But, the moment the windward hull touches the water and the spray comes up to you, that’s when you realize you’re going quick. Whereas on the foiling 45, it’s smaller and it’s a rough ride, very aggressive and jerky, you’re steering with a tiller, you could feel the loads going through your hand, whereas on the wheel on the 72 it was all smooth and dampened out. But the moment you hit 38 knots or so, it gets really twitchy, and then you feel like you’re going really fast.
Your thoughts on a multihull versus a monohull for the next Cup?
**NO: **I think no matter what, the boats are going to change again. I think they overstepped the mark slightly in terms of practicality with the 72. If we go back to keelboats again, my opinion it is a step backwards in terms of design and performance. We’re just touching the tip of the iceberg with what we could do with these boats so that would be slightly disappointing for me from my interest in the design and the faster boats. A refinement of what we currently have would be really good—something smaller. It’s going to get faster no matter what, even if we go smaller. What I think is really important if it stays in foiling catamarans is to ensure that the wing sail size comes down quite a bit so that we can start using code zeros because at the moment you watch the racing, and it doesn’t look that exciting because you go around the top mark and nothing changes. For a lot of people watching, especially specatators who don’t know sailing, they ask, “Are they going up or downwind?” How would you know? So we have a need for downwind sails and get rid of the need for people to be grinding for power, or the control systems have proper stored energy on the boat to control the daggerboards and adjust the rudders and wing. Then we won’t just have human grinders, we’ll have skilled sailors helping the boat get around the racecourse instead of just powering it. At the moment we basically have three people and then everyone else just grinds—a driver, a wing trimmer, and a jib trimmer, and everyone else at some point is just powering the hydraulic system so you can control the wing or boards. You’re not clicking spinnaker poles on or any of the drama that we saw at the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup.