IN DEAN THEY TRUST

Sailing World - - Contents - BY DAVE REED

Softbank Team Ja­pan ral­lies be­hind its leg­endary skip­per.

Lead­ing Softbank Team Ja­pan in its first foray into the Amer­ica’s Cup is a man who’s borne the dark­ness of the Cup but now flies to­ward the light.

DEAN BARKER IS dressed head to toe in tight black sail­ing gear, his scarred white hel­met tucked un­der his right arm. As he gazes across Ber­muda’s Great Sound, painted by the orange hues of a win­ter sun­set, he gnaws at an ap­ple in his left hand. The shore team hus­tles to crane the 50- foot cata­ma­ran Hikari from the wa­ter and place it into its cra­dle be­fore dark. They’ve seized upon a late-af­ter­noon breeze to take the boat for its sec­ond break- in, which amounts to a 90-minute sys­tems check.

Off in the dis­tance, Land Rover BAR’S crane is idle, the base de­serted; the Bri­tish chal­lengers had pulled the plug ear­lier af­ter wait­ing all af­ter­noon for wind. But Barker and his team­mates don’t have such a lux­ury. The clock ticks, and the very com­pe­ti­tion that tram­pled his spirit is now fewer than 100 days out. It’s al­ready late Fe­bru­ary, and while the winds on Great Sound have barely touched 5 knots, every minute on the wa­ter will count for some­thing come June.

The 6-foot-4-inch and steely-eyed 44-year-old Barker is one of the most com­plex and cu­ri­ous char­ac­ters of the mod­ern Amer­ica’s Cup. He’s a thick­skinned New Zealan­der to the core: guarded, pen­sive and loyal to a fault. His sixth Amer­ica’s Cup is loom­ing, and while he ap­pears re­laxed af­ter the short sail­ing ses­sion on the new boat, the bur­den upon on his broad shoul­ders is real. For it was not long ago, in San Fran­cisco in 2013, when Barker, at the helm of an Emi­rates Team New Zealand’s AC72, found him­self on the re­ceiv­ing end of Or­a­cle Team USA’S come­back shocker. Barker — stoic and gra­cious in de­feat at the time — stood proudly with his mates, but critics back home gave it to him on the chin.

His sub­se­quent divorce from Emi­rates Team New Zealand af­ter

nearly 20 years was in­evitable. The part­ing was messy, but as one door closed in Auck­land, the next opened in Tokyo, at thresh­old of Masayoshi Son, the bil­lion­aire founder and head of Softbank, an in­ter­na­tional telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions com­pany that’s worth a re­ported $67 bil­lion.

Son, says Kazuhiko So­fuku, the team’s gen­eral man­ager, was in­trigued with the Cup. “He has same phi­los­o­phy,” says So­fuku. “He likes fast, be­ing num­ber one, and hav­ing some­thing that’s chal­leng­ing. From Ja­pan he is chal­leng­ing the world, and that is what we are do­ing.”

At the out­set of the cam­paign, says So­fuku, Barker brought over good peo­ple with him. “Ev­ery­one fol­lows Dean, and the re­spect they have [for] each other is amaz­ing: It’s at­ti­tude and pro­fes­sional,” he says. “We are a team from Ja­pan, and the guys re­spect our cul­ture, to work hard and be po­lite. Like Mr. Son did with his busi­ness: He started small, and so we are too.”

A flip chart on an easel in the cafe­te­ria re­minds the sailors as much: “50=»80” it reads. “50 on the boat… Mate­ship…re­spect for each other.”

When I ask what it means, So­fuku says, “We must do with a team of 50 what oth­ers do with 80.”

The face of this small and nim­ble team, of course, is Barker, who I’m told is highly re­garded in Cup cir­cles for his abil­ity to del­e­gate and move swiftly with crit­i­cal de­ci­sions, a trait ap­pre­ci­ated by the team’s lead de­signer, Nick Holy­rod, an­other Team New Zealand alum­nus. Holy­rod is cred­ited with mas­ter­mind­ing ETNZ’S foil­ing 72-footer, which led Amer­ica’s Cup into its cur­rent state of foil­ers. As far as de­sign-team draft picks, Holy­rod is first round. Barker wanted him on his team, as he did long­time team­mate Jeremy Lo­mas, an­other New Zealan­der and sage Cup vet­eran. Lo­mas was right there be­side Barker when ETNZ went down in flames in San Fran­cisco, and three years later, the loss still burns.

“It’s too easy to look back at it and put [ the loss] to the races where we were ahead when the races got blown off,” he says. “We ar­rived sail­ing the boat at about 90 per­cent, where Or­a­cle turned up at 50. They kept evolv­ing, and we were tapped out.”

Part­ing ways with his clos­est mates and fol­low­ing Barker out the door wasn’t easy, he says, and still weighs on him to­day. “One of the things I’ll have to deal with is what if Team New Zealand wins .... And that’s still a re­al­ity.”

Yet, he has no re­grets. For to­day’s Cup sailor, a job is a job, and for Lo­mas and sev­eral oth­ers on the team, Barker was a known vari­able in an event with so many un­knowns. “Dean was the big­gest mo­ti­va­tor in mak­ing my de­ci­sion,” says Lo­mas. “I had a lot of sleep­less nights, but it’s nice to be sit­ting in this po­si­tion now.”

Other vet­eran ETNZ de­fec­tors — on the sail­ing team alone — in­clude Derek Saward and Win­ston Mac­far­lane. Along­side a few Aus­tralian and Ja­panese sailors, the odd man in the lineup, the one with the Bri­tish pass­port is 37-year-old Chris Draper, who helmed Luna Rossa’s AC72 in 2013 and is now Softbank’s on­board strate­gist.

While the rest of the guys are slav­ing over their grind­ing pedestals, Draper is Barker’s co- pi­lot, his eyes out­side the boat. Their dy­namic is new and evolv­ing, but he’s happy and learn­ing to fol­low Barker’s lead.

“Dean’s ex­pe­ri­ence in San Fran­cisco has cer­tainly left him with mem­o­ries,” says Draper, “but I’ve watched that race many times since, and I re­mem­ber watch­ing Dean’s speech af­ter the Cup. It was un­be­liev­able …. How any­one can do that is be­yond me.”

Not one per­son on the shore team or the sail­ing team doubts Barker’s abil­ity to ex­cel un­der pres­sure, says Draper. “The closer it gets to the Amer­ica’s Cup hap­pen­ing, the more we’re see­ing that from him. Ev­ery­one senses it here. For sure, he’s go­ing to want to right some wrongs.”

When Draper con­sid­ers mis­takes made dur­ing the 2016 Amer­ica’s Cup World Se­ries events — they fin­ished fifth over­all — he con­trib­utes them to sim­ple com­mu­ni­ca­tion break­downs. “That’s the stuff we’re try­ing to re­fine,” he says. “We all know Dean can go and win any boat race, and I am ca­pa­ble of mak­ing the de­ci­sion he re­quires to win sail­boat races.”

With Barker pre­oc­cu­pied with fly­ing the 3- ton boat on its foils, he has pre­cious lit­tle time and space to con­sider tac­tics or his dis­tance to the race­course’s vir­tual bound­ary. For this, he re­lies on Draper. “It’s re­ally hard to make good de­ci­sions when

“THE FASTER THE RAC­ING, THE MORE IM­POR­TANT SIT­U­A­TIONAL AWARE­NESS AND MUS­CLE MEM­ORY ARE. BARKER’S EX­PE­RI­ENCE BE­HIND THE WHEEL OF AN AC BOAT IS NOT TO BE UN­DER­ES­TI­MATED.”

you’re mak­ing the boat go fast,” he says, “so we’re find­ing ways to find that bal­ance, as are the other teams.”

The faster the rac­ing, the more im­por­tant sit­u­a­tional aware­ness and mus­cle mem­ory are, says Holy­rod. In this re­gard, Barker’s ex­pe­ri­ence be­hind the wheel of an AC boat is not to be un­der­es­ti­mated. “He’s been rac­ing at this level for so long,” says Holy­rod, who sailed against him as a crew on Team New Zealand’s B boat in Va­len­cia. “He un­der­stands how maneuvers will un­fold, the tim­ing of them, and what he needs to do to make it work. His abil­ity to process the big­ger pic­ture of what’s hap­pen­ing on the boat is re­mark­able.”

What’s also re­mark­able, says Draper, is Barker’s abil­ity to lead by ex­am­ple and do more with less. “We have one guy do­ing what per­haps eight oth­ers are do­ing on an­other team. They might work un­til bloody 12 o’clock at night, but they’re do­ing it. We have only 50 peo­ple, and we’re go­ing against teams with triple that.”

That hu­man re­source fig­ure, how­ever, is slightly mis­lead­ing be­cause early on in the cam­paign, Softbank worked closely with Or­a­cle Team USA, their sur­ro­gate and neigh­bor in Ber­muda through a de­sign- pack­age shar­ing ar­range­ment. The two bases are sep­a­rated by an un­locked chain­link gate, and they freely pass through each other’s bases and cafe­te­rias. They trained along­side each other all win­ter long, bound by rules to not share per­for­mance data.

As the Louis Vuit­ton Amer­ica’s Cup Qual­i­fier races ap­proach, how­ever, they’re keen to draw the di­vide. “Un­der no un­cer­tain terms are we the same team as Or­a­cle Team USA,” says Draper. “Every de­ci­sion we make is for the ben­e­fit of our team. With­out the sup­port we’ve had from them, there’s no way we’d be com­pet­i­tive, but we’re a small-bud­get team. I don’t think what we do on the wa­ter here in Ber­muda re­flects us as such.”

In­deed, they’ve laid a few big mile­stones along the way, claim­ing to be the first team to com­plete a foil­ing tack on the foil­ing AC45S used for train­ing and de­vel­op­ment. “That first foil­ing tack was a case of luck,” Draper con­fesses. “Or­a­cle was al­ready pretty close to tack­ing on the foils, but we just hap­pened to beat them to it. They went out a few days later and spent the whole day try­ing to do one.”

The foil­ing tack was a shot of con­fi­dence in their pro­gram. Draper at­tributes it to be­ing able to move for­ward with their de­vel­op­ment while their more cum­ber­some com­peti­tors mud­dle through the weeds. “I was talk­ing with one of the other guys when we were full of piss at a party, and he was like, ‘One of the things you’ve got is that you don’t have all the f--- ing noise. You don’t have the bag­gage,’” he says. “It’s true, though. We’ll go into a meet­ing, and in an hour make a bloody big de­ci­sion.”

Draper puts his faith in Barker to de­liver come race time, and he’s also ex­cited to have had Holy­rod lead the de­sign team. “He knows how ev­ery­thing works and the en­gi­neer­ing of it. He’s not our only de­signer, but not far off,” says Draper. “He’s highly ca­pa­ble in all ar­eas: rud­ders, dag­ger­boards, pump — any­thing — but the one big thing is the foils. It’s a huge part of what this is all about: con­trol sys­tems, foils and wing con­trols. There’s so much go­ing on, you’re al­ways nearly within one but­ton press of a crash. There is plenty to go wrong.”

With the de­mand for pre­ci­sion flight con­trol, con­tin­u­ally ad­just­ing the three­d­i­men­sional move­ments of the dag­ger foils, rud­ders and wing, there’s an ab­so­lute de­mand on ef­fi­cient hy­draulic con­trol sys­tems, the in­ner work­ings of which are closely guarded by all teams. The AC50’S magic is hid­den in the hulls: a web of pumps, valves, cir­cuits and tubes that de­liver power to ad­just­ments through­out the boat.

“If you can sail around the course and al­ways have as much oil as you need to ac­com­plish any ma­neu­ver any time,” ex­plains Draper, “you’re go­ing to be so strate­gi­cally pow­er­ful, and that’s why we’re all push­ing to the ab­so­lute end to fine-tune the con­trol sys­tems. If one guy is able to do three tacks back to back, it’s go­ing to be easy to be able to get a split and get away. Con­trol sys­tems are ev­ery­thing.”

With pre­ci­sion hy­draulics, there’s a push to­ward faster but un­sta­ble foils, which places a greater bur­den on the sailors to main­tain con­sis­tent flight and ma­neu­ver­abil­ity. When the boat is sail­ing in a straight line, Barker con­trols the flight of the boat more than one would re­al­ize, says Draper. That means con­stantly ad­just­ing the foil’s rake while com­pen­sat­ing for in­stan­ta­neous changes in wind strength, crew weight move­ment, and un­pre­dictable nu­ances com­mon to sail­ing.

It’s a skill that re­quires a hard-wired brain such as Barker’s, and with Holy­rod as an ace in hand, Softbank Team Ja­pan’s sto­ry­line in June could very well be a David and Go­liath match be­tween the two foes-turned al­lies. “It would be se­ri­ous egg on their face if we do beat them,” says Draper. “Imag­ine the con­ver­sa­tion be­tween Dean and Jimmy if we were up on them go­ing into the fi­nal race, given what hap­pened last time. That would be ab­so­lute gold.”

Re­demp­tion is a pow­er­ful mo­ti­va­tor, and while that’s true for both Barker and Emi­rates Team New Zealand, what makes it dif­fer­ent for Barker is that it’s per­sonal. His small posse of loy­al­ists has his back, but should he live to race again, he must fire the first shot, and it had bet­ter be on tar­get. Q

“THE CLOSER IT GETS TO THE AMER­ICA’S CUP HAP­PEN­ING, THE MORE WE’RE SEE­ING THAT FROM HIM. EV­ERY­ONE SENSES IT HERE. FOR SURE, HE’S GO­ING TO WANT TO RIGHT SOME WRONGS.”

Softbank Team Ja­pan’s Hakari, which trans­lates to “flash of light,” un­der­goes early de­vel­op­ment in Ber­muda. P H O T O : M AT T K N I G H T O N

Softbank Team Ja­pan’s pro­gram got a kick-start with an Or­a­cle Team USA de­sign pack­age, but there’s no shar­ing of data al­lowed be­tween the two. In March prac­tice races, ob­servers noted SBTJ “wasn’t slow.” P H O T O : M AT T K N I G H T O N

Dean Barker en­ters his sixth Amer­ica’s Cup, this time on his own terms, and backed by those who believe in his abil­i­ties. P H O T O : M AT T K N I G H T O N

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