Dean Barker: Team New Zealand look strong head of America's Cup
Dean Barker talked up the strength of Team New Zealand as the America's Cup syndicates cast a wary eye towards the late arrivals in Bermuda.
Team New Zealand have settled in to their tropical base after arriving last week and are busy preparing their pedal powered AC50 for its debut on the Great Sound.
There is one round of official practice racing left ahead of the May 27 start to the Louis Vuitton challenger series.
Team New Zealand's radical design approach and their contentment with their Auckland training away from the glare of the opponents has everyone guessing.
Barker, a part of Team New Zealand since 1995 before leaving the Kiwi syndicate in controversial circumstances for this cycle of the Cup to link with Team Japan, is eager to see his old outfit sailing firsthand.
"They look strong. We just haven't been testing yet on the same piece of water," Barker told Bermuda's Royal Gazette.
"You can't discount any of teams now. We haven't seen Team New Zealand. No one knows where they are going to fit into the mix right now."
Team New Zealand are yet to confirm if they will participate in the official practice racing. Their "lone wolf" approach in the boardroom and with their sailing buildup now appears to be a position of strength, though the opponents will quickly get the measure of them, even in testing and training in Bermuda.
Kiwi Jono Macbeth, the British syndicate's team manager, expects another strong showing from Team New Zealand.
"Nobody should discount the Kiwis. They have been in the thick of the America's Cup for years," he told the Royal Gazette.
His boss, Sir Ben Ainslie, quickly added: "It will be fascinating to see them out there."
While Swedish syndicate Artemis Racing has been the big improver over the latest round of practice racing, going unbeaten, Barker felt the fleet was even enough to have everyone worried about their rivals.
"What we are seeing is a number of the boats performing well in certain conditions and not well in other conditions," Barker said.
"From the time we've been here, a year or so, we've seen different teams leapfrog ahead. It's been a time when we were going well, then Oracle's been going well and in these last races Artemis performed well. But there's nothing in it.
"A lot of the races have been very, very close, down to one or two manoeuvres. Artemis has focused on their crew work and it has paid off in a number of their races. What's exciting is we are going to see a really close battle between at least three or four of the teams."
Barker felt a better indicator would come with the winds easing off into lighter conditions which could dominate the actual Cup racing.
"We've only seen one set of daggerboards [each challenger is allowed two sets] for each team and these have been for the heavier weather conditions we've experienced. It's really only part of the picture," he said.
"We expect in May and June a decent proportion of time when we sail will be in light air which we haven't seen much with any of the boats yet. It is a big unknown now. This winter and spring we've seen medium and heavy winds most of the days."