Dean Barker: I am absolutely gutted in way I have been treated
An emotional Dean Barker has lashed out at the manner of his dumping as Team New Zealand helmsman.
Barker broke his silence in an interview on Campbell Live tonight, still reeling from an internal communication breakdown and today's news that Australian Glenn Ashby and rising star Peter Burling would instead contest the helm.
"I am absolutely gutted in the way that I've been treated by Team New Zealand and the management in this whole process," said Barker, a 20-year America's Cup veteran, who has been offered a role as sailing coach and performance manager.
"It's just been incredibly difficult to understand."
Barker said communication from Team New Zealand, led by boss Grant Dalton, had been poor.
"Through a leak to the media I found out that I'd been dumped as the sailing director of Team New Zealand and today I learnt through the media that was in fact the case," Barker said.
"I have always remained loyal to Team New Zealand. I could have gone a number of other times, to go and work for other teams. I had an approach from Alinghi, Luna Rossa, but for me it's never been about working for another team. It's not about the money. It's about bringing the America's Cup back to New Zealand."
With the wounds still raw, Barker was yet to decide whether he had a future with the Kiwi sailing syndicate.
"Twenty years with the team, you put everything into it and half my life has gone into that team... It's incredibly difficult now to see what the next step is," he added.
"An hour ago I read the media release from Team New Zealand so I need some time to assess what my options are. But now I know I have been dumped from the sailing director role, I have to seriously consider what my options are. I've put everything I had into this team. I'd still love to see Team New Zealand bring the America's Cup back to New Zealand. It's not about one person."
Barker also denied a Herald on Sunday report claiming he had "called in the lawyers."
"I haven't sent a lawyer to talk to Team New Zealand. The only involvement was a letter that was sent yesterday to say that we don't agree with any of the process that's been conducted to date."
Team New Zealand wouldn't respond to Barker's claims after being contacted by Fairfax Media tonight.
Earlier today Dalton said replacing Barker at the helm of their boat was "the most logical move" for the syndicate's hopes of winning back the America's Cup.
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The changes come as part of an intense review of the team's 9-8 loss to Oracle Team USA in the cup match in San Francisco in 2013. This had been ramped up in November as they searched for the best way forward and Barker had been part of that process.
Dalton said identifying how Oracle had managed to overcome an 8-1 lead and stage their remarkable comeback pointed to major input off the boat from their coaching team, headed by Sir Russell Coutts.
They believed Barker was the best person to offer something similar as the Kiwi syndicate works towards Bermuda in 2017.
He had the skills to transfer to a sailing team and input into the ongoing design process.
"We see this as the logical and obvious place for Dean to contribute across the organisation," Dalton said, recognising Barker's vast experience and contribution to the syndicate.
Team New Zealand's previous coach, Cup veteran Rod Davis, stepped aside after San Francisco and has joined Swedish syndicate Artemis Racing.
With the signing of Burling, an Olympic silver medallist and double world champion in the demanding 49er class, Team New Zealand had three "very skilled" helmsmen and that was a luxury.
The 24-year-old Burling represented the future as he had shown by transferring his skills to a Moths world title in Melbourne in January. But he still had to fight for his place at the wheel, Dalton emphasised.
When catamarans were introduced for the last cup Ashby had been hired to teach the team the intricacies of multi-hull sailing. He had achieved that successfully while still demonstrating his own class in catamarans, blitzing the A-Class field in Auckland last year.
"Glenn has 15 world titles across three classes of multihulls. His pedigree is unquestioned," Dalton said.
"Peter has to earn his position from here but we believe we have enough grey hair around him to help him with that … and that hopefully includes Dean Barker.
"This is the most logical and best step in this organisation to win the America's Cup."
Dalton said the review process had been robust and it was impossible to divorce personalities from that.
He described Barker as "immensely important and well respected" by everyone in the syndicate.
He believed his relationship with Barker was workable moving forward.
Dalton also emphasised that his syndicate was operating off much tighter budgets.
The choice of Bermuda had seriously affected their funding process.
"Our world changed when Bermuda was announced," Dalton said.
"As a result everyone was asked to take a pay cut … some very significant. Everyone agreed to that."
Team New Zealand have also decided to drop one of their planned test boats as a consequence of the financial squeeze and with that went one of the necessary helming positions, adding further pressure over the skipper puzzle.
Dalton said they had 50 people on the team and the real work starts next week.
"Everyone walks through the gate son Monday with their lunchboxes ready to go from here," he said.
The recruitment process remains open though. Determined to bring a fresh look to the syndicate as they had shown with the hiring of Burling and his sailing partner Blair Tuke, they were looking for more young talent."
Work will start immediately on modifying an AC45 catamaran to foil.
With the first America's Cup World Series regatta scheduled to take place at Cagliari, Italy in June, pressure is on the team to start the modifications.
Barker, 42, has been involved with Team New Zealand since 1995 when the Kiwis won the cup in San Diego.
He was handed the helm for the final win in the 5-0 defence against Italy's Luna Rossa in Auckland in 2000. He skippered the disastrous 5-0 loss to Alinghi in Auckland three years later and took Team New Zealand to the America's Cup finals in both 2007 in Valencia and 2013 in San Francisco, losing both in heartbreaking circumstances.