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America's Cup: Dean Barker reveals reason for joining Swiss challenger Alinghi

August 11, 2022

Dean Barker can see the irony.

The former Team New Zealand and American Magic helmsman has signed on with Swiss challenger Alinghi for the next America's Cup.

Barker was the back-up helmsman for Russell Coutts when Team New Zealand defended the Cup in Auckland in 2000, having joined the syndicate in 1995.

It was effectively ripped apart when Swiss billionaire Ernesto Bertarelli swooped and signed Coutts, tactician Brad Butterworth and a swag of other Team New Zealand personnel for his entry into the Cup in 2003 with Alinghi.

The rest is history, Coutts and Butterworth were labelled traitors as Alinghi swept the Barker-helmed Team New Zealand 5-0 in the Cup match, again in Auckland.

Barker would go on to helm Team New Zealand through the unsuccessful 2007 Cup campaign in Valencia and the heartbreak in San Francisco in 2013, when Oracle came back from 8-0 down to win 9-8. It marked the end of his association with Team New Zealand. He helmed the Japanese challenge in Bermuda in 2017 and American Magic's ill-fated campaign in Auckland for AC36 last year.

Shut out of an on-board role for AC37 due to the strict nationality rules, Barker started talking to Butterworth and co a few months ago about taking on a coaching role with Alinghi, who have purchased Team New Zealand's first AC75, Te Aihe.

They launched the rebranded boat as Alinghi Red Bull Racing with the aim to start training in Barcelona in the next few weeks.

Speaking to the Herald from Lake Garda in Italy where Barker is coaching his daughter at the Nacra 15s world championships, he said the job is very much "an advisory role slash coach within the sailing group, and it's part time with Mandy and I and the kids based back in New Zealand fulltime."

Bertarelli has also signed Pietro Sibello, a finalist with Luna Rossa in the 2021 Cup Match.

Barker understands there could be comparisons with Coutts and Butterworth's defection and concedes there is a certain irony, although unlike the former duo at the time, he hasn't been part of Team New Zealand for nearly a decade.

"Yeah, I can [understand the irony] but you know, I've known a lot of the guys that were involved in the Alinghi team for many years, and clearly we were bitter rivals back in the day, but I've done a lot of sailing with Brad, Silvio, and a bunch of the other guys in the team and I've got to know Ernesto from time to time," Barker said.

He doesn't expect there will be any negativity from Kiwis towards him - in contrast to Ernesto Bertarelli's first foray into the Cup in 2000.

"No, it's very different times. I think, given the number of teams and there are obviously limited opportunities, and Team New Zealand's got a fantastic group of sailors, designers that make up the team. So if you want to continue to be involved, you have to look at what the opportunities are and this role that's been offered suits exactly what we want to do as a family and it's nice to be able involved but still be based in New Zealand, which is where the Cup should be."

While Barker has accepted for a long time his America's Cup career on the help of a Challenger or Defender is probably over, he has never lost his desire to be involved in a competition that has consumed more than half his life.

"I'll be able to do some sailing with the guys, there's a fantastic squad that's been assembled a huge amount of talent. Really it's just trying to help pass on a lot of the experiences that I've had, particularly in the AC 75. It's very limited what you can really do as a new team because there's very little racing. So it's about getting up to speed with not only sailing the boat, but racing and everything else," Barker said.

"Having the ability to sort of share a lot of those experiences that both myself and Pietro Sibello had during the last event is a really good way to sort of help the team improve as quickly as they can."

Barker says the Swiss have assembled a talented group of sailors but they have had no experience on AC75s and will be starting behind the other challengers and defender.

"I think the biggest things will clearly be just trying to sort of break down that head start that the other teams have. Alinghi has assembled a very strong design team, which you can sense straight away that there's a real mission there and I'm sure in the end the boat that is produced is going to be a very good boat," he said.

"But the America's Cup is a combination of many different factors and you can't just have one strong aspect and expect that will be enough. I think the number of experienced heads there, from the board that they have right through the group of the team that's assembled, there are some very good people. It's always a game of catch-up when you come in after missing a certain cycle of the America's Cup, but I've got no question that these guys are more than capable of being very competitive."

By Matt Brown

News Director for Newstalk ZB Sport
Read the the article here.