Peter Harrison’s America’s Cup GBR Challenge has today officially started its programme in New Zealand, one year before the Louis Vuitton Cup is due to begin in the Hauraki Gulf. This represents another milestone for the historic challenge, becoming the first British entry to return to an America’s Cup venue since 1987.

The shore crew and contractors in New Zealand, led by George Hendy, have worked hard over the last six months to transform Base Eight in the Viaduct Basin into a working America’s Cup base. For the last three weeks the shore crew have been preparing GBR 44 for sailing – the 2000 generation yacht was amongst the first shipment that Peters & May arranged for P&O Nedlloyd to transport to New Zealand. The Sailing Team will start training later this week.

The GBR Challenge base is a compact version of the Cowes base, with a sail loft, administration offices, an operations facility, a travel lift and an extended pontoon. The team, based there from now until the end of March, will then return to Britain to work on the new yacht.

Harrison outlined the mood in the team. “David Barnes, Ian Walker and myself and very pleased with the progress so far. We are constantly evaluating everything and have set up a number of objectives for the second phase, to ensure that we continue to improve in all areas of the project.

“We have managed to hit the ground running with a smooth transfer of operations to Auckland and we are now familiarising ourselves with the Hauraki Gulf. We will be able to work on speed through technique, sail and configuration changes in the exact conditions the Louis Vuitton Cup races will be held and we will simulate race situations with our two boats to give the sailing team the experience they will need. The demanding training regime we have planned for New Zealand will look to build on the big gains already made in strength and fitness. We have made a good start and now we need to take everything to a new level.”

After the comprehensive trials throughout the first phase, the Sailing Team sees four new sailors officially join the Challenge. Toby Iles and Mal Parker have joined as trimmers, with Matt Cornwell signed up as a bowman and Craig Nutter for the pit. Iles has taken a sabbatical from BAE SYSTEMS to join the team.

Sailing Manager Ian Walker outlined the attributes of the new team members. “Toby, Matt, Mal and Craig came through the trials, showing their world class ability. Toby is an amateur who has made his name recently sailing on the Farr 40 circuit. In addition to his sailing skills, we were attracted by his scientific and analytical mind. His knowledge of aerodynamics will be an asset to his trimming and analysis of our sail development programme.”

“Matt has showed himself to be a very competent bowman, particularly on big boats. He’s young, fit, hard working and keen – exactly the kind of person we want on the project. He gives us another option in the bowman position, particularly with James Stagg’s move to working the ‘pit’.”

“Lightning (Craig) is a very good sailor in any of the positions in the middle of the boat. He also brings his extensive experience ashore and afloat that includes the 1997/98 Whitbread and America’s Cup sailing.”

“Mal Parker also brings his America’s Cup experience to the project, having sailed with Young Australia in Auckland last time. Mal joins Simon Fry, Ian Budgen and Toby as one of the specialist trimmers, with Richard Sydenham moving to join Chris Mason as a mainsheet trimmer.”

The shore crew has been boosted by the arrival of Jamie Marina, who was a key part of the Nippon Challenge shore crew. In particular, he will assist with the rig maintenance work. Marina will also work with several of the boat development projects and the commissioning of the new yacht.

GBR Sailing Team

1. Ian Walker – Sailing Manager / Helmsman / Tactician

2. Ado Stead – Tactician

3. Julian Salter – Navigator

4. An