Competitors in Bermuda - collaborators in the America's Cup

Dickson and Cutler talk to John Roberson

Tuesday October 24th 2000, Author: John Roberson, Location: United Kingdom
Transplanted New Zealanders Chris Dickson and John Cutler first sailed against each other when they were young teenagers at Auckland's Westlake Boys High School. Yesterday, as unseeded contestants in the Colorcraft Gold Cup, the final regatta on the Swedish Match Grand Prix Sailing Tour, they prepared again to face-off under sail.

Over the intervening 23 years they have sailed against each other, and with each other, in a wide variety of boats. Today, though, they are both on the same team. They live in San Francisco, where Dickson is the skipper of Larry Ellison's Oracle Racing Challenge and Cutler is the Sailing Team Manager.

As Oracle teammates they both arrived in Bermuda early, and they and their crews practiced together to master the delicate tuning and timing needed to get the most out of the International One-Design sailboats used for the regatta.
The practice paid off for Dickson, who with three more races to sail in the elimination series, has a 3-1 record and a good chance to make it through to the main competition. Cutler was less fortunate. He started today saddled with only one win and two losses from yesterday, then won only one more race today, finishing 2-5 and out of contention for further racing.

"It's very frustrating," said Cutler, shaking his head. "We had good boat speed and good starts but we managed to get on the wrong side of a lot of wind shifts." Strong north-easterly winds, gusting near gale force, forced a long delay in racing this afternoon, and Dickson's future in the Colorcraft Gold Cup will be decided in the morning. He is one of the favorites to make it through, having won the event twice before this, in 1987 and 1989.

Today, with racing on hold, the two Kiwis reminisced about their long sailing history. "We were students together at Westlake Boys High School," said Dickson. "We sailed in P Class dinghies, the classic training boat for New Zealand kids. At the first National Championships we all raced in, I was first, Russell Coutts (the last winner of the America's Cup) was second, and John was fourth."

After high school, their paths diverged for a few years. Cutler focussed on single-handed dinghies, winning an Olympic bronze medal in Finn dinghies at Seoul, Korea, in 1988. A year earlier, Dickson had steered New Zealand's 12-meter contender for the America's Cup in Australia, losing to eventual Cup winner Dennis Conner in the Louis Vuitton Cup challenger finals.

Dickson recalled that the first time they sailed together - "the first time that John ever sailed with anyone other than himself!" - was at a match racing championship event in Fremantle, Western Australia. Cutler had never sailed a boat bigger than a singled-handed dinghy and remembered that occasion as his introduction to the topping lift, the line that supports the spinnaker pole on big boats.

"Simon Daubney told me to 'go for the topper' when we set the spinnaker," Cutler said with a grin. "I said, 'OK, I'm ready. What is it? Where is it? And what does it do?'" Just over a year later Dickson was drafted to Japan to skipper that country's first entry in the America's Cup. One of the three Kiwis he took with him was Cutler, who became the Nippon Challenge's navigator. Three years after that, Dickson was skippering his own Tag Heuer challenger for the America's Cup, while Cutler was skippering the Japanese boat.

For the current campaign, Cutler was the first crew Dickson recruited. "To hire someone one day, and then give them the job of going out and hiring the rest of the crew on the next day, is a big responsibility," Dickson said. "It says a lot of what we think of John." Cutler was equally complimentary, "Chris has got the most skill of anyone I've sailed with, or against," Cutler said. "I like his style, I like his skill; he drives the boat really well. It is going to be a good campaign."

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