America’s Cup 2021: Dean Barker breaks silence on American Magic’s capsize, reflects on campaign

Say what you want about Dean Barker – and there are many differing opinions – but he always fronts up.

The American Magic helmsman was the last to leave the media area on Saturday night, facing questions from the assembled press, long after the other team representatives had gone.

And, just like 2003, 2013 and to a lesser extent 2007, they were difficult questions, with no easy answers.

The bare facts are that American Magic had failed.

Six months ago, they were Prada Cup outsiders, as the only new team and less heavily resourced than their opponents.

That sentiment changed after December’s America’s Cup World Series, when they were the only challenger to beat Team New Zealand (and pushed them close in another race).

That set a high bar, but they didn’t win a race in the round robin series, before the game-changing capsize.

“Until two weeks ago, we thought we were tracking pretty well,” Barker told the Herald. “But a week is an eternity in this development class.

“[After December] we knew there was a long way to go and we had to keep getting better. I have been very strong right from the start within the team, [that] what is good enough today will not be good enough in a month. We had a real ethos of continuous improvement.”

The capsize is a flashpoint, but the day before was pivotal. American Magic had two races, but dropped them both, in fluky, shifty conditions which saw marginal foiling.

At the time Barker questioned the validity of such racing, and pressure was on the winless team ahead of that fateful race against Luna Rossa, in strong winds and a heavy sea state. Did they push it too hard?

“I relived it a lot on the Sunday night, said Barker, discussing the capsize for the first time.

“It is just one of those things. With these boats you have to keep pushing hard.”

As Patriot flew towards the mark, the afterguard were considering their options, before deciding on the sharp bear away.

“In my mind it was the right decision [but] it was the way that we executed it,” said Barker. “There were a couple of things that I could have done differently that would have probably alleviated that situation.

“But at the time you are racing hard and it’s breezy, and you know you need to keep pushing the boat hard. People say you could have backed off and done something different but that is quite often when you get into trouble.”

A conversation with team principal Roger Penske, who holds the record for Indy 500 wins as an owner, helped with perspective.

“He [recalled] the number of times they put a fast car into the wall in qualifying and still came back and won the race,” said Barker. “For him, the way he looks at it, you have to keep pushing to find the limits and unfortunately we did it at a bad time and the result wasn’t great.”

Just like 2013 and 2003, Barker is braced for criticism, as the helmsman of a team that didn’t fulfil its potential.

“I’ve learnt to get some pretty thick skin over the years,” said Barker. “If you listen too much to what other people have to say, you would probably find yourself in a pretty dark space.

“People that know you can vouch for the contribution that you make, you are just one part of a big team. Obviously my role is very visual and it is kind of natural you end up being pinned with a lot of it.

“But I take full responsibility for the results we achieve in any of the teams I have been involved in.”

Chasing the Auld Mug has given Barker a wonderful career, but fate hasn’t always been kind, with the brittle NZL82 in 2003, the bizarre twists and turns in 2013 and now the capsize.

“You do question at times – why me?” admits Barker. “But the America’s Cup is such a massive challenge. It’s not just a sailboat race; it’s everything that leads up to it, the designers, the engineers, the shore team, the sailors. That’s what makes it so hard to win, being able to put those elements together.

“I would certainly much prefer to say I have been involved in one winning team, but I have had some memorable experiences with a lot of different teams.

“It’s always a lot harder being on this side of the end result…at the same time they are the experiences you never forget.”

Despite his mixed record, Barker’s name could come up in recruitment discussions for the next Cup. He was at the forefront of the foiling revolution in 2012 and is one of the few who has driven the AC70s, AC45s and the AC75s.

His priority now is to invest some quality time with his wife Mandy and their four children, after the intense three-year campaign. But there was a hint that the door remains open.

“I still love the racing, love the competition,” said Barker. “I’m going to enjoy a bit of downtime now to reflect and decide what the future holds. It’s been a long time in the game and who knows what happens. I’ve got a lot more grey hairs than when I first started, but I would like to be able to continue if I can.”

Heading into the Cup racing?

• Give yourself plenty of time and think about catching a ferry, train or bus to watch the Cup.

• Make sure your AT HOP card is in your pocket. It’s the best way to ride.

• Don’t forget to scan QR codes with the NZ COVID Tracer app when on public transport and entering the America’s Cup Village.

• For more ways to enjoy race day, visit at.govt.nz/americascup.

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