They might be the rookies in the Extreme Sailing Series™ this season but NZ Extreme Sailing Team have made their intentions for 2017 clear – by signing up America’s Cup and Olympic hero Rod Davis as their coach.

The draft marks a clear gear change for the band of young Kiwis as they look to transform themselves from a fledgling crew into a serious outfit capable of contending for the top spot.

Led by talented co-skippers Chris Steele and Graeme Sutherland, NZ Extreme Sailing Team made their first appearance on the global Stadium Racing tour as a wildcard at the 2016 season finale in Sydney under the name RNZYS Lautrec Racing.

Steele was no stranger to the Extreme Sailing Series having raced as part of Taylor Canfield’s CHINA One syndicate in the early part of 2016, but this was the first time he had been thrown onto the helm of a super-fast GC32 catamaran.

Despite the team’s inexperience they came away with an impressive two race wins and two seconds – and in the process caught the attention of Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron member and property tycoon Mike Mahoney.

With financial backing in place Steele and Sutherland were able to commit to a full year with the Extreme Sailing Series, and again turned heads at the 2017 season opener in Muscat, Oman.

Their talent as a team was clear but the young guns needed a mentor – and that’s where American Davis comes in.

An Olympic silver medallist in 1992, Davis went on to enjoy an illustrious career as a sailor and coach with numerous America’s Cup outfits including Emirates Team New Zealand’s foiling challenger for this summer’s regatta.

His experience and knowledge could be just what Steele and Sutherland’s men require to boost their campaign into the big league.

“Rod is a huge help especially to me, not just from a coaching point of view but on the management side of things too,” said Steele, 24. “He’s been involved in so many different high profile sailing teams over the years that he really knows how to build a team from the ground up, set the bar high and keep improving our performance. Having Rod in the team has made us all realise that this is a real thing that’s starting to come together.

“Rod has more experience helming than anyone on the boat, and with his involvement with ETNZ he’s at the pinnacle of the sport. That’s a dream we’re all striving for. There’s definitely a bit more pressure on us to perform now but with that comes opportunity. We’re just super-excited to have his involvement.”

For Davis, the chance to act as a coach, mentor and father figure to one of the world’s most promising young crews was too good an opportunity to pass up.

“The idea behind the programme is to introduce young Kiwi sailors to the world sailing circuit, and to build a culture of learning and improvement,” he said. “That’s really where I come in, trying to create this culture of learning from our mistakes and treating the team like a professional outfit on the main stage of our sport. That doesn’t happen overnight, it happens little by little and with each passing day of the regatta.

“My expertise in how to sail the boat isn’t really what they need right now, it’s more about me being a mentor to them as they put together this programme. These guys are a really talented bunch but they’re also really young. They have the enthusiasm and athletic ability and I have the experience. We’ll try to blend those two and try to bring out the best of both sides. I think it could be a really exciting year.”

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