Bold Protocol a series published exclusively on www.INEOSBritannia.com to dig deeper into the Protocol that defines the competition for the 37th America’s Cup.
In this fifth episode we are joined by INEOS Britannia Cyclor Neil Hunter, a sailor whose America’s Cup journey started via the Youth America’s Cup selection trails in 2016 for the BAR Academy team [Ben Ainslie Racing’s AC35 Youth America’s Cup team ]. The recent announcement in the Protocol of a Youth and Women’s America’s Cup for this 37th event is hugely important to the wider sailing industry.
Neil explains how the Youth America’s Cup helped shape his career, and what role the newly launched Athena Pathway will play.
“The Youth America’s Cup has been instrumental in my development as a sailor, as the fitness and skill that I showed through the BAR Academy opened up doors for me to be invited onto the senior sailing squad for the 35th America’s Cup. Since then, I have had the opportunity to race in New Zealand for the 36th America’s Cup, and more recently, I re-signed for Barcelona and the 37th America’s Cup as a cyclor.”
Nick Hunter training for his Cyclor role onboard the AC75 for the 37th Campaign.
© C.GREGORY/INEOS BRITANNIA
Neil was sailing the 49er with the British Olympic Development Squad in 2016 when the Youth America’s was announced. Neil was one of the first people to get his application to the BAR [Ben Ainslie Racing] Academy team. Neil was quickly invited to a few trials and then headed to Oman for an Extreme Sailing Series event. “It was an epic event as it was my first time sailing anything bigger than a 49er, as well as my first-time foiling. It was quite eye opening and quite the experience especially with some of the senior sailors on-board.” Neil added, “It was a rapid learning process, you either sink or swim. I had to learn, otherwise I wasn’t going to be part of the team.”
After Oman, Neil was selected for the BAR Academy, where he continued to compete in the Extreme Sailing Series during 2016 and 2017. “It was great racing on tiny racecourses in cities around the world.
“I think a lot of our success goes down to the help that we had from the sailors in the senior team and the access to the America’s Cup team. At 21 years old, we were learning from these sailors that had been doing it for as long as we’d been alive. It was fantastic.”
After Neil and the BAR Academy won the Youth America’s Cup in 2017, Neil got a call from Ben Ainslie asking if he wanted to join the senior sailing team and come out to Bermuda to compete in the 35th Cup.
“ The Youth America’s Cup has been instrumental in my development as a sailor. There’s not many 21-year-olds that get the opportunity to compete in the Youth America’s Cup and then to double up to compete in the America’s Cup as well. It was a huge opportunity that kickstarted my professional sailing career.”
Neil Hunter onboard Land Rover BAR Academy’s GC32 in Maderia.
© Mark Lloyd
The Youth and Women’s America’s Cup in the Protocol
For the 37th America’s Cup, the Protocol has mandated that there will be a Youth and Women’s America’s Cup to take place in Barcelona, in October 2024.
“It is not easy to get into the America’s Cup so having the Youth America’s Cup reintroduced, and the Women’s America’s Cup introduced for the 37th campaign is essential and both needed to be in the Protocol as far as I was concerned.”
This is not the first time there has been a Youth America’s Cup, but it is the first time that there has been a Women’s America’s Cup. “Having the Women’s America’s Cup takes racing to another level, and ensures that more women are getting the opportunity to race that wouldn’t otherwise have had a pathway into the Cup.”
The Protocol for the 37th America’s Cup also adds that you don’t have to have an America’s Cup Team to enter the Youth America’s Cup. As this was also in place for the 35th America’s Cup, “it opens up opportunities for people that aren’t associated with America’s Cup teams to get an entry and be part of the same pathway, and compete in Barcelona in 2024.”
Neil Hunter grinding during the AC36 Campaign.
© C.GREGORY / INEOS TEAM UK
“For the teams that aren’t associated with an America’s Cup team, it’s a massive opportunity for them to showcase their talent to the Cup teams that will be watching. Everybody’s going to be all eyes on the Youth America’s Cup in Barcelona 2024.”
50:50 Female Split
INEOS Britannia have stated that their Youth AC Team will be 50:50 split, male and female. “The way sailing, and other sports, are progressing, everything is going to be gender equal before long. It is an obvious choice to split the crew 50:50. It is our policy,” said Neil. “And it’s a massive opportunity for the Cup teams to go talent spotting, and to find talent for the future.
The Protocol decrees that all Youth and Women’s America’s Cup Teams will race on the AC40, a one-design designed by Team New Zealand. These boats are currently in production and are beginning to be used by the Youth and Women’s Teams.
“It is a terrific opportunity that these youth and female sailors are going to be getting a brand-new boat to sail. As one of the most exciting boats on the market right now, and essentially a scaled down AC75. It is going to be all on for those sailors on the AC40, as there’s not many people get the opportunity to sail one.”
Female athletes on-board the Athena Pathway, ETF26, training in Weymouth Harbour.
Athena Pathway, the British Women’s and Youth America’s Cup team, is looking to receive its AC40 before the end of 2022. Giving the women and youth trialists for the team a large window of opportunity to train and get to grips with the handling and tuneing of the AC40. “For the athletes involved in this campaign, it will be a brand-new type of sailing and nothing like they’ve ever experienced before. A lot of the skills are going to be transferable from the fast-paced sailing they have done in their Olympic classes, or with the ETF, the training boat for Athena Pathway, which is going to be a useful tool certainly to get those guys up to speed and yeah, get them foiling on Weymouth Harbour.”
Athena Pathway Programme
The Athena Pathway Programme was launched this past August, 2022, as the official British Youth and Women’s America’s Cup Team, headed up by Olympic sailors Hannah Mills and Ben Ainslie.
“The Athena pathway program is an epic opportunity for women sailors; something like this has been needed for a long time. And because the youth program from the 35th Campaign was such a massive opportunity for me personally, I think that it needs to be carried out into the female sailing sector. It’s going to be great for those sailors coming through that they have a clear pathway to professional sailing.”
Neil continued, “In the 1989/90 Whitbread Round the World Race, my mum was part of the first all women team to sail around the world on Yacht Maiden, which was ground-breaking at the time. Nobody believed that women could sail around the world. It’s quite unbelievable that it’s taken this long to actually get a Women’s America’s Cup off the ground. It’s great that INEOS Britannia, and Team New Zealand had it at the top of the agenda to have the [Youth] and Women’s America’s Cup as part of the Protocol.”
The Athena Pathway team (L:R, Hannah Diamond, Nicki Boniface, Hattie Rogers, Ross Banham) that competed at the most recent ETF26 Regatta in La Rochelle, France.
Neil’s advice for those wanting to come through the Youth and Women’s America’s Cup was “You’ve just got to ltake all the learnings you can from the senior sailors, as some of them have been sailing for longer than you’ve been alive! Don’t be afraid to put the work in. You’ve got to dig in and make sure you get on with the jobs and don’t complain because it will all pay off.”
The Youth and Women’s America’s Cup will take place in the first two weeks of October in Barcelona, Spain, 2024. We hope to see you all there.