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Dean Barker Interview—Two Months and Counting

A Dec. 13 Interview with the man behind the wheel of Team New Zealand.

December 30, 2002
Courtesy Team New Zealand/ivor Wilkins

Gary Jobson did an exclusive interview with Dean Barker for ESPN, which will be televising the America’s Cup match, and has granted permission to SailingWorld.com to post some excerpts.

Jobson: What’s difference between last time, when you were the “B” boat skipper, and now, where you’re in charge of the sailing team?

Barker: My role has really changed a hell of lot considering where I was in March 2000, so it’s been quite a challenge when it comes to terms of leading a team.

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Jobson: If Alinghi ends up getting into the Cup how it is going to be sailing against Russell Coutts?

Barker: It’s going to be quite good actually. We’ve obviously done a lot of sailing against each other during the last campaign and it is sort of, in a way, just like sailing against former teammates. It’s a lot of the same guys from the last campaign. Guys we know well and we’ve been racing against them a bit on the Swedish Match tour and things, which is always good fun. They’re always very aggressive and sail well, so they are always the benchmark. For us to keep the Cup here we’ve going to have to be able to beat the best team here. And right now they look like they’re certainly leading the way in the challenger series.

Jobson: Would it be pretty satisfying to beat those guys?

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Barker: I think, for us, we’d just love to keep the Cup here in New Zealand again. We really feel like we’ve got a huge job on our hands this time. The teams are of a much higher standard than before and to do that would, for us being crew, be satisfying.

Jobson: Thinking of that high standard. How has it been everyday all through this Louis Vuitton Cup with these other teams going out racing? You guys are always on your own. Is that hard to watch the others race while you’re on your own?

Barker: It is just one of the things of being the defender. That is a tough position to be in. We have to go about our duties. We think we are doing everything right, but to actually to figure out whether that is going to work or not is pretty hard.

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Jobson: We were just talking about what it feels like when all these other teams are actually going out racing each and you’re left training. Is that tough?

Barker: It is, yes, because we can see those teams getting better and better. We know that the bar has definitely been raised a lot this time around, the standard of the Louis Vuitton series is incredibly high and whoever comes through is going to be really hard to beat. We can see them getting stronger and stronger and we have to make sure that what we are doing is of an equally as good level. That is that the one challenge that we face, to have two teams that are racing at or above the same level that the challengers are at.

Jobson: Do you get stale racing against the same people all the time?

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Barker: The advantage that we have in what we do is that we can mix things up. If a race isn’t going well we can stop and start again. We can make changes to the boat and we know how those changes are affecting our performance. We can probably learn more about our boats.

Jobson: How do you balance your time between racing and training and trialing?

Barker: As we get closer to the Cup, we spend a lot more time racing because in the end it makes a difference between winning and losing. Racing well is going to be a hard thing to do well, coming fresh into an America’s Cup series. If you have a fast boat, it can make you look a lot better. But obviously there is a finite time you can put on testing and development. In the end it does come down to how well you can sail your boat. We’re now moving into more of a racing phase in our campaign. We feel that a lot was achieved with our testing program. It is almost getting to the point where it’s too late now to start building a lot of keels and rudders and all the hardware that goes with the boats. It is getting too late to build new equipment and now it comes down to how you put it all together and how you made your boat relative to whoever challenger will be.

Jobson: How important is having (design coordinator) Tom Schnackenberg as a mentor?

Barker: He’s been fantastic. Without Tom on the team it wouldn’t have happened. He is a pretty special guy and I was very lucky to have him on this team.

Jobson: What kind of things do you learn from him?

Barker: I think because he has been around for so long in America’s Cup campaigns, his abilities and talents are just endless. He’s got a story for every scenario, every situation. You know those life experiences that he is able to share with us have to make us a much stronger team. Every single day is an education when you are around Tom Schnackenberg. We love it.

Jobson: How hard was it building a team a back up? You had a big hole with Russell, Brad Butterworth, Simon Daubney, and Warwick Fleury leaving. Those were some pretty good guys.

Barker: A lot of the guys from the team have gone to other teams. Fortunately for us they haven’t all gone to one team, they’re spread them out among several teams, and so that made it a bit easier. For sure they’ve taken with them a lot of ideas and know how and they obviously take with them the key components that made Team New Zealand successful in 1995 and 2000. That gives them a big head start in terms of how to prepare or how to develop a team which will be competitive. We’ve seen so far in this Louis Vuitton that the teams with the ex-Team New Zealand members are performing very well. I suppose in some ways it gives us confidence too because it means that that same concept is working again now and hopefully that will apply to our team in February.

Jobson: What would successfully defending the Cup mean to you?

Barker: Well personally I couldn’t imagine doing anything better. It is what I have dedicated my last three years to. Everyone on this team is just completely focused on that objective. It is difficult because it is such a long period and it is very hard to stay completely focused on that. Me, personally, it would just be¿hard to explain. In Race 5 last time it felt like a dream come true, but to be able to win it this time would be something pretty special.

Jobson: How important was actually steering the boat in Race 5. You got to see the whole thing, you actually did it. How much of a help has that been for you?

Barker: I think looking back now, I’m incredibly thankful to Russell for giving me that opportunity because if I hadn’t had that experience I guess a lot of questions would be asked now outside the team whether or not I was up to the job. Although I’ve only done one race I think it gives you an insight into what it is actually like when you go out there under that sort of intense pressure. Having had that experience is going to make a difference. We are fortunate that we’ve got a number of guys on this team that have raced in America’s Cups, an actual match race, so they know the pressures and what to expect. Hopefully that is going to flow right through the team.

Jobson: It is pretty different isn’t it?

Barker: Yeah it is different.

Jobson: I was your age when I was there. Big day when we went out. “Oh my God this is different.”

Barker: Definitely opened some eyes and people they don’t know what to expect when you haven’t been there before. For me, last time was a real eye opener so this time it is a lot easier to try and prepare for that.

Jobson: Are you confident you are going to do it?

Barker: We think that everything we have done so far has been very good. We wouldn’t change anything if we could. I guess the billion dollar question is how our boat is going to compare to the challenger that we face? We believe that everything that we are doing is as good as we can possibly do. We have to make sure we go out and race as well as we can. It might be until Race 1 on the 15th of February that we actually know how it is all going to pay off.

Jobson: Have you had any scrimmages with any of the other boats?

Barker: Not yet, no. Not with the new boats.

Jobson: Do you try?

Barker: We’d like to but the challengers obviously see the best way to try and get the Cup out of New Zealand is not to help the defender. We’re on our own and we have to believe that everything that we are doing is right.

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