Russell Coutts is happy to be judged by his results.
If Team New Zealand defend the America’s Cup that judgement will lead to public adulation, but skipper Coutts knows that if they lose the criticisms will flow — fast and furious. “The public expectations are going to be high, they always will be, they always have been,” he said. “It’s a fact of life. It’s one of the good things about being in this sport, that you are challenged, you are judged on your results.”
Coutts, the winning skipper for New Zealand in the 1995 cup challenge at San Diego, recalls only too well how quickly tall poppies can be cut down to size. “I can remember after ’95 I went on the match-racing circuit, and it didn’t take too many losses before people were saying `oh, these guys aren’t that good’.
“We know we’re going to get criticised if we lose, and fine. “If you didn’t like that, you shouldn’t be in the game.” While Sir Peter Blake has been the public profile for Team New Zealand over the past few months, Coutts is credited by his crew as the force that has kept the close-knit team together. No one has walked out on Team New Zealand and some crew — like grinder Jon Macbeth — so much wanted to be part of the 2000 defence they worked for no pay for almost a year before being welcomed into the fold.
Team New Zealand has two full sailing crews, and although some key posts are not really up for grabs — like Coutts steering with his tactician Brad Butterworth — no one has been told who will be on the boat for the first race on February 19. Coutts will post a crew list each race day in the best of nine series, and although there may be the occasional change, it is likely a core group of 16 sailors will race all the time. At 37 and a veteran of two other America’s Cup campaigns and Olympic regattas, Coutts is well aware that competition could have led to internal problems.
He said holding the sailing team together was a challenge for Team New Zealand. “In any long campaign that’s always an issue. “Internal competition fuels the problems that you can have, and I’ve experienced those in other campaigns. “Where you have a long-term objective, you almost live together for a period and that presents its difficulties.”
Coutts says, almost by accident, the team has operated on a family approach to problem solving. “Where on the one hand, you have to be honest and objective and open, you have to use tact — something that probably isn’t one of my strengths. “You have to realise that the group collectively is where the strength is.”
He says where there has been a disagreement, “a method of figuring out” a resolution has been used, but just as important has been a requirement to move on. “We can’t just live in the past and accuse each other forever. “I don’t think, to be honest with you, it’s taken much directing if any. “A lot of it was actually developing this philosophy as a group and getting everybody to buy into it and understand it.” Coutts said Team New Zealand had also been very careful about “people selection” which had left crew like Macbeth hanging for a long time, waiting for an acceptance or rejection. “Sometimes they get frustrated. He (Jon) came in and worked, a lot of it without pay, for a year and now he’s become a fabulous team member.
“He will race on America’s Cup boats if not this time, in the future for sure.” Coutts said selecting the right people had been more important than compromising team secrets by trialling crew and not accepting them.
While it is not known how much any of the crew are paid, informed conjecture suggests the sailors are substantially less well paid than Team New Zealand administrators. Coutts does not divulge any salaries, but says a lot of sailors would get paid more with other syndicates. “People come down here and look at the superyachts and they’ve mistaken us for owners. “I wish it was true… I couldn’t afford to own one. I’d be bankrupt on the ru