The Dean Barker story


Dean Barker burst into the public arena in the year 2000, having skippered the final race against Luna Rossa in the Americas Cup defence in that year. In a picture that we all thought told a thousand words, Dean Barker and Russell Coutts held the Cup on high, indicating that, not only were we the greatest on the water, but our up and coming generation was pretty damn good too.

It turned out that Russell Coutts did not mean that at all. What he meant was that he was heading offshore to lead another, rather more lucrative campaign and that Dean Barker was to be our new hope for the future.

Sadness turned to anger when the news broke that Coutts was off to Alinghi. There was a ‘Blackheart’ campaign. Everyone hated Russell Coutts. People asked why on earth would he win the Cup and defend it for New Zealand, and then head off overseas with the intention of taking it away? Well, the public accolade was very nice, but a Swiss billionaire’s money was so much nicer. No contest in fact.

Dean Barker became our hero. The man who did not sell out to the big money. The fiercely proud New Zealander whose main purpose in life was to bring the Americas Cup home. He may have had many offers, but he wanted to stay here in New Zealand and win the Americas Cup back for us all.

Dean is also one of the nicest people on the planet. Honest, decent, we all fell for him and his quest. He was no slouch in the sailing field either. This from?Wikipedia? Quote:

Because there was no defender’s series [in 2000] Team New Zealand used high intensity in-house racing to prepare for its cup defense. Barker?s skill as a match racer rapidly developed and he became skipper of the ?B Boat? in these races. Although the racing was not public, and scores were not kept, it became apparent that he was at least holding his own with Coutts.

Team New Zealand went on to successfully defend the 2000 Cup 5?0, with Coutts relinquishing his normal helming role to Barker in the last race. After the 2000 cup there were multiple defections to other syndicates, most notably Coutts and?Brad Butterworth?to?Alinghi?and as a result Barker became skipper. End quote.

Yes, he had given Russell Coutts a run for his money. No slouch then. Barker was our man. Russell Coutts was toast.

I only wish that were true. Quote:

In the 2003 Americas Cup, the Swiss boat?Alinghi?defeated?Team New Zealand?in a 5?0 series. The subsequent internal team review left Barker’s reputation intact and he was selected as skipper and helmsman for the?2007 challenge. End quote.

Nothing that happened in the defence in 2003 was Dean Barker’s fault. The weather conditions were much wilder than expected in the Hauraki Gulf at that time of year, meaning that the design of the boat was woefully ill-suited to the conditions on the course. Our boats simply fell apart. Nobody blamed Dean Barker.

It was probably his worst nightmare though. Sailing these highly tuned vessels requires enormous skill. But what must have hurt Barker the most was that Alinghi had no trouble. They just sailed away to victory, race after race.

2007 saw Barker back, in the waters off Valencia, up against his old foes again. This time, however, although it was a better contest, Emirates Team New Zealand were beaten fair and square, with a 5-2 win to Alinghi. The writing probably should have been on the wall for Barker then, but no one really mentioned it. He was still our man to bring the Cup home.

Was he spooked by the 2003 regatta? Or did he still feel inferior to his old mentor, Russell Coutts?

2013 saw Emirates Team New Zealand in a much stronger position, against Oracle. The boat was fast, they were sailing superbly. Barker had won the Challenger series once again, as he had in 2007. In fact, since 1995, the New Zealand team had always been either the holder or challenger in every regatta. Not a bad record for Dean Barker.

ETNZ led 7-6 and with only one race to go, Barker was the man of the moment.

Then the mind games started in earnest. Oracle’s irascible skipper, Jimmy Spithill started talking up his team’s chances. Could they really win 8 races in a row and win the Cup? No one believed him. Except possibly Russell Coutts.

Coutts called a timeout at this point in the game, giving his team a couple of days rest to resolve some of their issues. It was believed that they were going to tweak their boat, and rumours swirled that they had done something illegal. It now seems that Oracle’s problem was that they were just not sailing their boat well. ETNZ were managing to get up on their foils in both the upwind and downwind legs, whereas Oracle only seemed to be able to manage it on the downwind runs. It had given ETNZ an enormous advantage, and an enormous lead.

So Oracle spent a couple of days learning how to sail their boat properly. Back on the course, ETNZ still only had to win one more race. The competition had been evened up now, for sure, but they still only needed one more win. Out of the next 8 races.

This is where the mental side of the sport truly kicked in. We have all seen the All Blacks down by 20 points with their tails up. We have seen the Australian cricket team do the same thing.

It wasn’t mind games that caused TNZ to lose in 2003. That was a badly designed boat. 2007? Hard to say. But 2013? With one race to go and 8 opportunities, there really is no other explanation. Oracle was not going to sail perfectly every time. No team ever does that. But with Spithill singing at every press conference, the toll on Barker grew heavier and heavier and we all know how it ended.


When 2017 rolled around, minus Dean Barker, in spite of having a sneaking admiration for Jimmy Spithill, I admit I was scared of a repeat performance. Spithill had seemed to have the mental edge over everyone last time and had only become even cockier since then.

But this time it was different and apart from having the best sailors and the best boat, that is how we won the Americas Cup in 2017.


I still feel for Dean Barker. He’ll be back in 2021, at the helm of the New York Yacht Club’s entry, American Magic. Whatever you say about him, he doesn’t give up, but his dream of winning the Cup for New Zealand has gone. To quote the incorrigible Jimmy Spithill -“In this game, you can be the rooster one day and a feather duster the next.” That’s match racing for you.