America's Cup: Barker ready for his time in sun after long rivalry

By Paul Lewis

As he faces off against Coutts again, Team NZ skipper will hope to lay demons to rest.

Dean Barker relishes the moment after Team New Zealand's Louis Vuitton Trophy win in San Francisco yesterday. Photo / Gilles Martin-Raget
Dean Barker relishes the moment after Team New Zealand's Louis Vuitton Trophy win in San Francisco yesterday. Photo / Gilles Martin-Raget

They were teammates but now they are adversaries. On September 8, it will once again be Sir Russell Coutts vs Dean Barker.

Yesterday, Emirates Team New Zealand, skippered by Barker, won the Louis Vuitton final against Luna Rossa 7-1. They will now try to wrest the America's Cup from Coutts-led Oracle Team USA.

Coutts, 51, does little sailing these days as chief executive of Oracle after his high-profile departures from Team New Zealand and Alinghi.

Barker, 41, is Team NZ's great hope.

So far through the 34th America's Cup and the Louis Vuitton, he has scarcely put a foot wrong - helming and talking his team through their taming of the AC72 yacht; the epitome of cool and calm decision-making.

Not so far away is Coutts himself, who famously never lost an America's Cup race.

But their backgrounds are quite different.

Russell Coutts  and Dean Barker before NZ's loss to Alinghi in Auckland in 2003.  Photo / Glenn Jeffrey
Russell Coutts and Dean Barker before NZ's loss to Alinghi in Auckland in 2003. Photo / Glenn Jeffrey

Barker was the North Shore boy earmarked for success at a young age. Coutts was raised in Wellington and Dunedin - and still remembers being laughed at when he ventured at school that he'd like to be an America's Cup sailor.

They developed differently too. Coutts became the intense, fervent competitor; not always at ease in social situations but highly polished when it came to winning. Barker was shy, laid-back but prodigiously talented; but didn't always win in proportion to the talent.

Coutts at 22 won an Olympic gold medal in the Finn class at the 1984 Los Angeles Games. Barker was a world Laser champion at 18, got beaten into second place at 19, and then by his own admission, self-destructed as a 21-year-old in a world championships in Takapuna he was widely expected to win. He never made the cut for Olympic selection.

Their careers converged in 2000 in the Team New Zealand defence of their 1995 America's Cup win. Coutts was the master and commander; Barker the apprentice. Coutts handed over the wheel for the final race against Luna Rossa that year.

Barker won, and Team NZ took the America's Cup 5-0. Then disaster. Coutts and others jumped ship to Alinghi and other syndicates and, in Barker's words: "Team New Zealand fell apart."

Many hardened Kiwi sailors felt it was wrong of Coutts to hand the defence over to a 28-year-old novice. The cynics said he had merely promoted someone he knew he could beat in future America's Cups.

"At the time, most of us thought Dean was pretty green, soft around the edges," said former Cup sailor and Herald columnist Peter Lester.

It says a lot about Barker that he sees that time differently.

"I guess I was maybe a bit too young and naive to see it that way. But, at that age, with things ahead of you, you don't focus on the negatives or search for hidden meanings. You don't turn something like that down.

"To this day, I don't think Russell and the other guys had made any decisions on leaving or whether they had even started to position themselves to leave - but who knows?"

That is typical Barker - not wilfully applying a critical measure to anyone else, reserving judgment and getting on with his own development.

But 2013 may be the year he finally emerges from the Coutts shadow.

Barker lost to Coutts and Alinghi, whipped 5-0 in the disastrous 2003 America's Cup defence.

In 2004 Coutts was let go by Alinghi and didn't play a role in the 2007 campaign. But Brad Butterworth led Alinghi to victory against Team NZ with some of the most exciting duelling seen in the Cup for years.

Coutts joined Oracle and, after a court fight, won the Cup from Alinghi in 2010 in a Deed of Gift challenge in Spain.

Barker has already rid himself of the Coutts sailing shadow, beating him in the Louis Vuitton series in Auckland in 2009 and on another occasion.

This may be the time he overshadows Coutts,' Cup heroics for NZ; so the rivalry is expressed Barker v Coutts, as opposed to Coutts v Barker.

America's Cup schedule

Best-of-17 series, races start each day at 8.10am NZ time
* Sunday, Sept 8: Race 1 & 2
* Monday, Sept 9: Race 3 & 4
* Wednesday, Sept 11: Race 5 & 6
* Friday, Sept 13: Race 7 & 8
* Sunday, Sept 15: Race 9 & 10
* Monday, Sept 16: Race 11 & 12
* Wednesday, Sept 18: Race 13 & 14
* Friday, Sept 20: Race 14 & 15
* Sunday Sept 22: Race 17.

- NZ Herald

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