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Ben Ainslie: Why Jono Macbeth is crucial to America’s Cup bid

Jono Macbeth was the first sailor I hired at Land Rover BAR. It was because of the history we’d had sailing together with Team New Zealand for the 32nd America’s Cup back in 2007, and then with Oracle Team USA for the 34th Cup. I was looking for someone with strength of character, a sailing team manager with integrity, someone to help lead. Jono is that person — as well as a talented, experienced sailor and campaigner to boot.

His sailing career had an interesting start: he was studying for a commerce degree in Auckland and working part-time in a kayak store run by Ian Ferguson, a four-time Olympic gold medal kayaker. One day Sir Peter Blake walked into the shop to buy a couple of boats; he was about to move back to Auckland from San Diego having led the Kiwis to America’s Cup victory in 1995.

At the time Jono was an endurance athlete, competing in kayaking and multi-sport events. Team New Zealand (TNZ) was looking for grinders and Blake took him on just on the basis of that meeting in the kayak shop. Jono was 22 with no sailing experience. He ended up sailing with them over the summer. He didn’t get paid but sailed more or less every day the team sailed.

He weighed 79kg when he started but six months of gym work put on about 15kg before he eventually got to 105kg — perfect for a grinder on the old International America’s Cup Class boats. Jono sailed with TNZ through its successful defence of the Cup in 2000 and its 2003 defeat to Alinghi. Then Jono and I were both with TNZ for the next campaign in 2007, in which we won the Louis Vuitton Cup but lost the America’s Cup match, again to Alinghi.

We parted company after that. I went to Team Origin, while Jono moved across to BMW Oracle Racing to campaign for the 33rd Cup in 2010, when he got his second win. He stayed with Oracle Team USA for the 2013 defence and, after I joined them, we reunited to win the 34th America’s Cup.

Jono always knew that I wanted to set up a British team and was supportive of that. He shared the philosophy of wanting to do something new and fresh, the chance to write our own chapter. So he was the right guy for the role of sailing team manager, mainly because of his personality.

He’s got all the right attributes for someone who is setting an example to the rest of the sailors: modest, incredibly hard working, with a huge amount of integrity and very down to earth. That’s what you want your sailing team to be like, frankly.

Sailing team manager is not an easy role. There are lots of tough choices to be made. First, we had to get together a group of 12 guys to sail our two boats against each other in the testing and development phase. There were plenty of people keen to join but we wanted to take it slowly and get the right people. We didn’t want to hire someone just because they were a name, or because we didn’t want them sailing (or designing for that matter) for anyone else.

We took our time to identify the people we wanted and then asked: “OK, they might be the most talented, but are they actually going to fit the group of people we’ve got and create a cohesive team?” If the answer was no, we found someone else. That’s why we got such a good group of people, a sailing team of 12 guys that I’m really proud of.

But a team of 12 means two people competing for each of the final positions on the race boat and, in some cases, more, because many of the guys are capable in more than one role. So together Jono and I, with input from our sailing team coach Rob Wilson, will have to decide who will race for the America’s Cup in Bermuda next year. And when you see the quality we have in the team you’ll see why that’s going to involve some tough decisions.

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