Q & A with NZ Extreme Sailing Team Skipper & RNZYS YTP Grad Chris Steele

We spoke to our YTP graduate Chris Steele, skipper for the NZ Extreme Sailing Team which is currently competing full time on the Extreme Sailing Series. The team is made up of current RNZYS Performance Programme members & RNZYS YTP graduates, and are currently in Hamburg this week for the latest chapter (Act 5) in this year’s Extreme Sailing Series. Chris also competes on the World Match Racing Tour and recently finished 3rd at the M32 World Championships in Marstrand.

Chris talks how the team (NZ Extreme Sailing Team) is getting on so far, his ultimate sailing goal, the perils of travelling, his favourite place to race, being a proud kiwi, flying Phil Robertson, Josh Junior, and much more.

Q: How has the teams preparation been for this week’s Extreme Sailing Series event in Hamburg?

A: The team’s preparation so far has been really good. There seems to be a good buzz from the guys, we have made some changes to the boat, and also to the crew. It all seems to be coming together pretty nicely.

– NZ Extreme Sailing Team – 

Q: With 4 Extreme Sailing Series events under the belt for the team this year, how do you rate the progress being made?

A: The team’s progress has been a bit of a roller coaster, we made massive strides early on, but have struggled to close the gap to the top 4 teams on this series who have clearly been at it for a few years now. These boats are very difficult to set up, and they are constantly developing. The biggest learning curve for the guys has been general boat set up, and preparation. It’s a lot of work constantly tweaking the boat, trying to find better systems to make life easier for each guy and his area on-board.

These boats are very physical, and throw that in with the extremely tight race course we race on, it makes sailing them very hard, I can assure you it looks a lot easier watching on the internet! Doing upto 10 races a day, with no more than 5 minutes break in between races, it’s a real challenge. It’s not a matter of ‘if’ you’re going to have a bad race, it’s a matter of when – but that’s the same for everyone in the fleet.

– NZ Extreme Sailing Team in action in Qingdao, China earlier this year – 

Q: What is the most positive thing you have noticed so far with the teams on water progress?

A: The biggest positive for me has been seeing how the initiative from these younger guys has come along. The likes of Josh Salthouse and Harry Hull (who I’ve sailed with for a number of years at the RNZYS and who are both graduates of the RNZYS Youth Training Programme) are very new to this fast paced fleet racing and their ability to do their job well, and look ahead to what’s about to happen next has been really impressive.

Harry who trims, really knows these boats well and has a good feel for the setup. As for Salty, he trims the foils, and has learnt very quickly how the boat needs to take off, when to push it, when not to, and has certainly taught me a thing or two off the water too. We have then rotated in a number of guys who have literally been thrown in the deep end, some with no cat experience at all, and everyone has adapted fast in a style of racing where everyone has to pull their weight on the boat.

 – Steele, Salthouse and Hull pictured below after winning last years NZ Match Racing Champs at RNZYS –

Q: What is the main thing the team needs to work on?

A: The team is constantly working on straight line boat speed, we are competitive for sure, but Teams such as the likes of Alinghi and SAP Extreme are definitely a click faster at times. In this fleet gaining one boat length around the track can save you one tack or gybe, which can give you a lane on your own where you can potentially sail upto 3-4 knots faster upwind, and 10knots faster downwind (foiling vs non foiling) so obviously this is the difference between a top 3 and bottom 3 placing at the end of each race.

Q: What do you do to keep busy in between events?

A: I actually don’t have a lot of time off between events. Usually pretty busy between the World Match Racing Tour and Extreme Sailing Series. With the Extreme Sailing Series we have to unpack the boat from the container then build the boat, which takes 2 days. Then take it apart at the end of the regatta and pack it all away again. An Extreme Sailing Series event is about a week long with only 4 race days. The World Match Racing Tour is an 8 day event, with 6 days being sailing days. So we have a day either side to settle in/unwind. It’s pretty full on, let’s just say I wish I got paid for sitting in airports and on planes, if that were the case I would actually be doing pretty well for myself!

– Judging from the below picture we nicked from Chris’ Facebook page, it seems he still has time to hit the fairways in between events! –

Q: What is the hardest part about all the travelling you have to do?

A: The hardest part about traveling is the time you spend in the air I believe. Obviously flights from NZ to Europe are 30-40 hours. And that’s a lot of time. Physically it’s difficult but mentally it takes huge toll as well.

Q: Which event/location is your favourite to sail?

A: Sweden has to be my favourite place to sail in so far this year. We race off an island called Marstrand (which we stay on) and it’s got a real buzz to it. The Swedish folk all get right behind the event, it’s really well run and the sailing is an awesome arena surrounded by big rock faces, which are always packed with spectators. It’s a real stadium style race course. Awesome fun! (We wonder if this has anything to do with the ladies in Sweden? Maybe.)

Steele in action in Marstrand at last months M32 World Champs –

Q: If you had to choose one current team you would LEAST like to race in a final who would it be?

A: The team I would least like to have to duke it out with in a final would have to be Oman Air. You can’t steer away from the fact that Phil Robertson is a man on fire at the moment. He’s winning everything. And a man on a roll is a hard man to beat, it seems like everything goes their way when it needs to, they just keep putting the boat in the right place, it’s actually impressive to watch. Defiantly something to admire as I’ve watched Phil over the last couple years being a fellow kiwi and RNZYS Youth Training Programme graduate, and it hasn’t all been easy for him which I can relate to, so it’s all a lot of hard work over the years which is now really paying off big time for him.

Q: Coming from New Zealand – do you think there is a great respect for Kiwi sailors overseas?

A: Absolutely there is a great respect for kiwi sailors. Already in this fleet it seems like we are taking over! Kiwis are everywhere. Obviously off the back end of ETNZ winning the America’s Cup, it’s been pretty cool to be a kiwi racing in the sport. People coming up to us, congratulating us on winning the cup, it’s rather odd because we didn’t really have anything to do with it but I think that goes to show how strong of a nation we are. It makes me very proud to be a kiwi for what those Boys (ETNZ) did in Bermuda that’s for sure!

Q: What is your ultimate goal in sailing?

A: My ultimate goal in sailing is to win the America’s Cup. Just trying to work out how to be involved in it has been very difficult over the last few years. Obviously the change to multi hulls really shook things up when I was developing myself as a match racer in the mono hulls, climbing the rankings into the top 10 in just 4 years from starting, it’s been like been chasing a moving goal post.

The World Match Racing Tour finally got back on track to the America’s Cup with the change to multi hulls last year, and now we wait to see if we are somewhat relevant to the cup again or not. Time will tell. That’s where the Extreme Sailing Series has been massive for me and the guys. Foiling multi hulls are exactly where yachting is going at the moment. It’s fast, it’s exciting, and it’s fresh. We are all learning so much every time we go yachting.

Q: Anyone need thanking?

A: We’re super lucky to have the financial support from Mike and Tracy Mahoney, as well as Nautica Shipping & Logistics to make this all possible. It’s not everyday somebody gives you the keys to a boat like this and lets you campaign it around the world. Also the RNZYS and the Youth Training Programme, it is crazy how many of our graduates are killing it on the world stage.

– NZ Extreme Sailing Team in action in Madeira earlier this year – 

Q: ETNZ’s Josh Junior is joining the team for this week’s event in Hamburg. What will he bring to the team?

A: Josh Junior brings a lot to the table obviously coming from an Olympic background he’s pretty handy, not to mention fresh off the America’s Cup win where I believed he was the cyclor that produced the most power on the boat.

He’s clearly a fast learner, and someone who we are all going to learn a lot from in this regatta and the next. That’s the aim, I’m stoked to have him on-board! The other two inclusions are Irishman Shane Diviney who is a beast, and knows these boats very well and lastly our hugely experienced coach Rob Salthouse who brings a wealth of experience, on and off the water. He’s been really good with helping us get the boat setup, as well as running the management side of the team. Timings, uniforms, all of that side. He keeps us in check! Another YTP graduate Dave Hazard is here with us this week too, helping us with the shore crew – what a legend!

– Rob Salthouse sailing for Team Vestas in the 2014-15 Volvo Ocean Race- 

Q: Sounds like you’re all ready for this week/weekend’s racing then?!

A: Fizzing for the event, things have come together well. Goal is to step it up and get on that podium. Stay tuned!

You can follow all the teams’ progress in this week’s Extreme Sailing Series Act 5 in Hamburg, Germany via:

Extreme Sailing Series Facebook HERE

Extreme Sailing Series Website HERE

& make sure you follow the NZ Extreme Team on Facebook HERE 

RNZYS Facebook Page HERE

Andrew Delves | RNZYS

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