Kiwi sailors - training the world's best

There are few sailing events around the world that a Kiwi hasn’t conquered and there’s no doubt that they’re regarded among the best in the world.

"I don’t know exactly why Kiwis are so good at yachting," muses Mike Quilter, a New Zealand veteran of six America’s Cup campaigns and five round-the-world races.

"It’s something to do with being brought up on a boat in a place like Auckland, sailing barefoot, then scrubbing the boat down afterwards."

It’s about yachties who can sail the boats, and fix them - "Kiwis know how to be part of a team."

Grant Dalton, who has sailed around the world seven times - including four times with Quilter, agrees.

"It’s about our geographic proximity to the sea - we have the best sailing grounds in the world. And it’s a sport that’s financially in reach for pretty much anybody," says Dalton who is now managing director of Emirates Team New Zealand.

"Kids are encouraged into dinghies at a young age, and there are many really good sailing clubs and programmes to foster their abilities. I started sailing on the Hauraki Gulf, at the Maraetai Beach Boating Club, as a kid. The coaches and administrators of these clubs understand the needs of the kids and run really good regattas which can attract hundreds of kids each weekend.

"With schemes like the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron’s youth training programme, there’s a wealth of talented young sailors who move into Olympic and keelboat classes and do really well on the world stage."

America’s Cup

Flick through the team lists for the 35th America’s Cup sailed in Bermuda in 2017, and there were Kiwis everywhere - sailors, designers, boat-builders and shore crew. It was the work of team of Emirates Team New Zealand who took home the America's Cup in emphatic fashion beating BMW Oracle Team USA 7-1. 

Sir Russell Coutts, who began his hugely successful America’s Cup career with Team New Zealand 27 years ago, is CEO of the winning Oracle Team USA.

Peter Lester, a respected New Zealand yachting coach, puts the development of top New Zealand sailors down to three factors - a vast coastline, a temperate climate and easy access to the water and boats.

"It’s a very natural part of the New Zealand experience to go to the beach and play in or on the water," Lester says.

It’s not unusual for kids who grow up on boats from the moment they can walk, to go on to success in the youth classes and continue through to elite levels of the sport.

Often their roots can be tracked back to a little Kiwi dinghy called the P-class. It’s unique to New Zealand, designed in 1920 by a Northland weekend sailor called Harry Highet, who wanted a single-handed dinghy children could sail without capsizing.

Today, the P-class is sailed in almost every yacht club in the country, and at national championships, you will see more than 100 boys and girls battling it out in the boxy, snub-nosed boats - the next generation of world beaters.

Winning Kiwi crews

There’s no doubt that New Zealand sailors are regarded among the best in the world. They are in demand for every crew - be it on board a professional race boat in Europe, or a cruising yacht in the Caribbean.

There are few sailing events around the world that a Kiwi hasn’t conquered. Take the last couple of years, for example.

In the 2012 Olympics, Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie won gold in the women’s 470, while Peter Burling and Blair Tuke claimed silver in the 49er skiff. In the 2016 Olympics Powrie and Aleh claimed silver while Burling and Tuke took gold and Sam Meech took home a bronze in the laser class. 

Kiwi Conrad Colman won the 2011-12 Global Ocean Race; Andy Maloney won gold in the Laser class at the 2013 ISAF World Sailing Cup in Palma; 10-year-old Sean Herbert won his division in the World Open Bic Cup in Miami.

The youth crew from the Royal Port Nicholson Yacht Club in Wellington won the prestigious 2012 Governors Cup in California. Auckland trimaran Team Vodafone Sailing broke its own record in winning the 2013 Auckland-to-Musket Cove Fiji Ocean Race.