Russell Coutts chats to Sue Pelling about his life outside the America's Cup 8/2/07

 Not being involved in the America’s Cup this time round has given Russell Coutts – three times America’s Cup skipper – an opportunity to explore other areas of sailing that he would not otherwise have been involved in. He even found time last week to compete in the Omega Four-man Sailors on Ice bobsleigh championship in St Moritz – definitely something he wouldn’t have considered had he been in an ACC team see previous news story here .

But one of the most significant events on Coutts’ agenda right now is tomorrow’s announcement in Portugal of a major, new international sailing event – a joint venture between himself and Paul Cayard. Coutts was fairly tight-lipped about the plans of this event but rumour has it, the new venture is a series of world circuit events for 60ft multihulls. We’ll bring you more news on that tomorrow.

A relaxed Coutts was keen to chat about the other areas of sailing that he’s passionate about including the TP52 class and, not surprisingly, his own design – the RC44. Coutts has been sailing the TP52 for a Swedish owner for two years now, and this year they’ll be launching their new boat, which is currently in build at the Cookson yard in New Zealand.

So what attracts arguably the world’s best sailor to the TP52 class? Coutts says it’s all about development in sailing in general, commenting: “I think the TP52 class has been an excellent step for sailing by encouraging owners into more high performance boats. The TP52s are great fun to sail. These owners love it and love the feel of sailing a more high performance boat. I think you are seeing a change in sailing. Look at the mega yachts, look at the look of them today compared to 10 years ago. I think the sport needed to change and some of the rules we raced under needed to change. These box rules and one-design rules are great. People these days haven’t got a lot of time to work on their boats, 20, 30, 40 years ago people allocated time to that, now people don’t have time, they work hard and just want to go sailing and have fun. That’s more what people are demanding these days.”

As popular as the TP52 is right now the class does risk becoming too expensive and therefore inaccessible to all but extremely wealthy owners. Commenting on this concern Coutts said: “Indeed, it’s certainly one thing that needs to be addressed. No matter how wealthy the owners are, cost is always an important criteria. We’ve all heard it before when people have said: ‘well these people are wealthy enough price doesn’t matter’, I can tell you, in my opinion it always matters. And not just the TP 52 class but right down through to junior sailing. I think it’s a key focus for organisations like ISAF to keep an eye on things and try to think of ways to make the sport more user friendly and accessible.”

Coutts’ other sailing passion is his own designed RC 44 which is a light displacement, high performance one-design. Designed jointly by himself and naval architect Andrej Justin for top level racing in international regattas this new boat looks set to make an impact on the international racing scene with eight teams already signed up for the first event. Coutts added: “We have a 10-event series planned and by the second event we should have 10 on the water. The boats are being produced at two yards one in Budapest and one in Dubai. The Dubai operation is just completing the first boat now.”

Commenting Dubai and its growing appeal as a top location for sailing and building Coutts said: “? that whole area is largely undeveloped and undiscovered as a boating destination. Dubai is one area and there’s also Abu Dhabi. From November to March the climate is great. There are even good sea breezes? I think that area has a lot of potential for sailing events particularly with its location which is halfway between Asia and Europe.”

Chatting about the Cup and how he feels about not being involved this time Coutts didn’t hide the fact that he was starting to feel the strain, adding: “There is no doubt that when the racing gets underway I would love to be involved but I can’t, so I’m just focusing on my other projects. But yes, of course I’ll miss the racing, it’s a big part of my life.”

Chatting about his involvement in future America’s Cup Coutts confirmed he hadn’t yet made a decision, but he would be totally free to do so. It was also interesting to see Coutts’ reaction to the British America’s Cup announcement and whether he would consider signing up with the team given the chance.

“I really don’t think that would happen because there are plenty of people they can tap. I haven’t seen a cohesive British team in the America’s Cup for the last 20 years but I think Keith Mills seems to be the sort of guy to put together an excellent programme. Just look at his track record it’s pretty inspiring. It would be great to see a British team in the Cup, a well-organised team in the Cup. All the elements are there; great designers, great sailors and great sponsors and plenty of funding opportunities.”

Sounds like the perfect opportunity to me.