Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

America's Cup: Three contestable crew positions left on Team New Zealand

Emirates Team New Zealand's new AC50 is launched in Auckland. Photo / Richard Gladwell.
Emirates Team New Zealand's new AC50 is launched in Auckland. Photo / Richard Gladwell.

There are just three contestable crew positions left on the Team New Zealand race boat for this year's America's Cup.

The Kiwi syndicate yesterdayofficially launched its slick new 50-ft catamaran for the Bermuda event, which gets underway in May. Much of the focus at the launch was on Emirates Team New Zealand's radical new pedal-powered hydraulic system.

The boat, christened New Zealand, features cycles in place of the traditional pedestal, in which the grinders turn handles.

Team NZ have been working on the innovative system for the past three years, but kept it carefully under wraps to prevent the opposition from replicating the development. But behind closed doors the crew have undergone a rapid transformation, with much of its training programme targeted towards cycling.

The team have also recruited track cyclist Simon van Velthooven to provide raw power for their machine.

With the emphasis of the campaign now moving from the confines of the boat shed to the open water on the Hauraki Gulf, the next month will be about trying to find the right balance between sailing smarts and brawn in their six-strong crew.

Team NZ sailing director and skipper Glenn Ashby said the team are still working to define some of the crew roles on the boat.

"Some things are locked down, but other things aren't. We've got to stay a little fluid with how we learn to sail the boat in the new configuration, but that's something we're working very hard on over the next few weeks," he said.

Ashby will be the team's wing trimmer, a role he also performed for Team NZ at the last America's Cup in 2013. Peter Burling will be at the helm of the boat, while Blair Tuke, who paired up with Burling in the 49er class to win gold at the Rio Olympics, will pilot some of the control systems as well as power them.

"Blair's going to be in a trimming role on the boat, also power providing and tactical, so he's going to have a few things on his plate," Ashby said.

That leaves the remaining members of the sailing team battling it out for three positions on the boat.

While the likes of van Velthooven and former Olympic rower Joe Sullivan were recruited for their energy output, Team NZ operations manager Kevin Shoebridge said several other members of the crew have become impressive athletes in their own right.

Josh Junior, who represented New Zealand in the Finn class at the Rio Olympics, and Andy Maloney, who narrowly missed out on the Laser spot for the Games, have noticeably bulked up. Shoebridge said both sailors have worked hard to become strong, efficient cyclists.

"We've had a lot of help from a lot of the cycling fraternity in the country with getting the system up and running. But we also need good yachtsmen, you see a lot of young guys in the team now like Josh Junior and Andy Maloney, and they've become real cyclists in their own right now," said Shoebridge.

Van Velthooven, who was a reluctant star at yesterday's launch, admitted his sailing experience is limited, but there's no doubt of the contribution the Olympic, Commonwealth and world championship medallist can bring to the team.

"My uncle had a boat, I've done Outward Bound and I know the terms. But this isn't sailing, this is a war machine. It's not a sail boat at all, there's nothing like it in the world.

Hopefully there we are going to get over 100km per hour," he said.

The 28-year-old was approached by Team NZ after he missed out on a spot in the world championship team in February last year. He initially wondered why an America's Cup syndicate were chasing him, but he didn't need much convincing to head along and find out what it was all about.

"As a kid growing up I knew about the America's Cup long before I knew about track cycling - it was every Kiwi kid's dream to be on an America's Cup boat. There's a huge legacy for New Zealand with the America's Cup."

Van Velthooven admitted it has been difficult keeping his involvement in the programme under wraps.

"It's been a long 12 months," he said.

- NZ Herald

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