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America’s Cup: Afterguard analysis – Emirates Team New Zealand

America's Cup

The latest generation AC75s might be raced by a crew of 11, but with a large percentage of each team’s line up being dedicated to turning the handles of the pedestal winches that provide the all-important hydraulic power required to trim the sails, it’s the ‘speed teams’ in the crews’ afterguards that are doing most of the actual racing.

Unsurprisingly, given that this is the America’s Cup (the very pinnacle of professional yacht racing) these groups – comprising the helmsman, tactician, sail trimmers, and flight controller – are made up some of the most talented sailboat racers on the planet.

Although all the four teams look to be operating in differing configurations of job roles, we have made an attempt at a breakdown of the speed team line ups for each of them – beginning here with the Defender, Emirates Team New Zealand.


Emirates Team New Zealand

Based on what we could glean from the on-board footage during the New Zealand team’s victory at the recent America’s Cup World Series regatta in Auckland prior to Christmas, there are just three sailors responsible for the boat’s sail trim, flight control and tactical decisions.

Listening in to the on-board communications (and by the way, what a treat it is to be able to hear the sailors assessing and strategising in real time) the chat appears to largely be between helmsman Peter Burling, sail trimmer Glenn Ashby, and flight controller Blair Tuke.

From what we could tell, these three sailors are also sharing the tactician’s role between them. There is little in the way of direct conversation, however; it’s more a case of Ashby and Tuke mostly feeding their observational inputs to Burling who makes the final call from the wheel. From time to time Burling also contributes with his own observation or a question for the other two.

This looks to be an uncomplicated, streamlined and effective system based on clear concise information sharing that allows for quick and definitive decision making from Burling.

Away from the tactics and strategy, Ashby also appeared to take the lead in terms of the boat’s set up into and out of manoeuvres and could often be heard calling for specific angles out of tacks – particularly in the lower wind ranges.

He also acts as Burling’s eyes and ears to leeward on close crosses and mark rounding’s – they likely won’t forget for a while the one where his increasingly urgent calls to Burling narrowly averted a foil-destroying collision with the right-hand windward gate buoy.

Peter Burling/Blair Tuke

America's Cup
Image © Emirates Team New Zealand

Helmsman/flight controller

Notable achievements:
America’s Cup wins: 1 – 35th edition with Emirates Team New Zealand
Olympic medals: 49er silver at London 2012; 49er Gold at Rio 2016
World Championship titles:
Burling/Tuke: 6 x 49er;
Burling: 2 x 420; 1 x Moth
Youth America’s Cup wins: 1 in 2013

Inseparably close friends on and off the water Peter Burling (29) and Blair Tuke (31) have taken the sailing world by storm since they first teamed up in the 49er back in 2008. After consecutive silver medals at the 49er world championships in 2011 and 2012 and an Olympic silver at London 2012, New Zealand’s dynamic duo went on an unprecedented worlds winning spree that saw them clock up six consecutive world titles and the gold medal at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

After masterminding a New Zealand victory at the Youth America’s Cup in San Francisco in 2013 they were inducted into the senior squad to spearhead Emirates Team New Zealand’s successful challenge for the 35th America’s Cup in Bermuda in 2017.

Seemingly unflappable in even the most high-pressure of on-board racing scenarios, Burling and Tuke are recognised as two of the world’s most instinctive sailboat racers and are among the very few sailors with the talent, instincts and reaction times to be able to race the latest generation AC75s to their full potential.

Burling and Tuke have a busy 2021 in prospect as they try to defend the America’s Cup and their 49er Olympic title, as well as launching their own NZ team on the SailGP high-performance global circuit.

Glenn Ashby

America's Cup
Image © Richard Hodder/Emirates Team New Zealand

Sail trimmer (and so much more)

Notable achievements:
America’s Cup wins: 1 – 35th edition with Emirates Team New Zealand
Olympic medals: Tornado silver at Beijing 2008
World Championship titles: 10 x A Class; 1 x GC32; 3 x Formula 18

Australian-born Glenn Ashby (43) is arguably the most prolific multihull racers of his generation with a 24-year racing career that has seen him dominate internationally in the A Class – one of the world’s most technological and challenging boats to race.

Ashby’s involvement with Emirates Team New Zealand began in 2010 when he was recruited to coach helmsman Dean Barker in the dark arts of high-performance multihull sailing. Somehow that coaching role transitioned seamlessly into Ashby trimming the giant wing sail on the Kiwi’s AC90 at the 34th America’s Cup in San Francisco.

Despite fielding offers from a multitude of aspiring challengers for the 35th America’s Cup – including one from Australia – Ashby stuck with the New Zealand syndicate as it regenerated itself after the crushing defeat in San Francisco at the hands of Jimmy Spithill’s Oracle Team USA.

Officially listed as skipper in Bermuda Ashby’s ‘X-Box’ controlled wing trimming and other on-board input was undoubtedly at the heart of the New Zealand victory in Bermuda.


Now he is back to try to defend the Cup for New Zealand. Once again he is in charge of the gigantic twin-skinned mainsail, as well as – based on a glimpse we saw from an onboard camera during the ACWS regatta in Auckland – casting off the sheet of the headsail on tacks and gybes.

But you only have to eavesdrop on a few minutes of the on-board communications aboard the Kiwis AC75 during racing to hear the constant stream of input coming from Ashby’s headset microphone to understand how critical he is to coaxing the boat and the crew around the course.

Main image © COR 36 | Studio Borlenghi