x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Yesterday's rivals will be sailing for Appleton

The accomplished New Zealand sailor was engaged in fierce battles with the Swedish team in the RC44s, and now he leads them.

Emirates Team New Zealand practices in an Americas Cup Class boat off the coast of Dubai.
Emirates Team New Zealand practices in an Americas Cup Class boat off the coast of Dubai.

DUBAI // The last time Cameron Appleton was at the helm of a racing yacht in Gulf waters was in the helter-skelter world of RC44s, when he led the UAE-backed Team Aqua challenge at last year's regatta hosted by Dubai International Marine Club.

The accomplished New Zealand sailor was engaged in fierce battles with the Swedish team of Artemis during that series of races. Now he finds himself in command of that Artemis crew for the concluding regatta in the Louis Vuitton Trophy, which starts at the same venue today.

Appleton, who enjoyed looking after the interests of the Dubai-based businessman Chris Bake in the colours of Team Aqua, said one of the fascinations of sailing is the variety of the classes available to leading yachtsmen.

"I got involved with Artemis when they were preparing for the start of the current LVT series in Auckland at the end of last year," he said. "I was available at the time to help them out on a part-time basis, to coach and give them advice. It worked out that I was able to join them at the start of a year as a strategist and it's built up from there.

"We have just been experimenting with the depth and the structure of the team and it will be my responsibility over the next two weeks for skippering the boat."

Appleton emphasised, however, that the Artemis hierarchy remains unchanged with Paul Cayard, their American chief executive, in overall charge and Terry Hutchinson retaining his helmsman's role.

"Occasionally, we branch off for events like this, and they've put me in command of the other 16 guys we will have on the boat," Appleton said.

He is relishing locking horns again with old foes like Dean Barker, skipper of the in-form Emirates Team New Zealand crew, and James Spithill, who leads the victorious BMW Oracle America's Cup winning camp on a mission for a double triumph. However, he believes all six teams doing battle in the next two weeks have their eyes on becoming the last winners of the Louis Vuitton Trophy in its current form.

"I think all six skippers are quietly yearning to win this event because it is the last of its kind," Appleton said. "It is a high-class line-up. We are all good friends because we see so much of each other around the world, but once we set sail there is an intense rivalry because we are all so desperate to beat each other."

Appleton believes the opportunity to train against Oracle for three days leading up to today's opening races against Synergy will prove invaluable.

"It is difficult to say who held the upper hand over those three days but I suppose Oracle will claim the edge," Appleton said.

"They are a great team and we had a lot to learn. We are really pleased with how it worked out. It was beneficial to race against them. We have learned more every day. And if we are not learning every day we won't improve to the level we need to be at to reach the final."

As he sets out on the quest to qualify for the final showdown on November 27, Appleton is delighted that he is not the only newcomer on board Artemis, and welcomed the recruitment of Iain Percy, the experienced British yachtsman, as tactician.

"He brings a great amount of talent on board," the skipper said. "Iain is a fantastic sailor. He has had so much success in the sport, with gold medals and various championships. His presence and the overall strength of the crew enables us to rate our chances of success highly. I have a really good group of guys around me. The depth of experience on board gives you a lot of confidence."

wjohnson@thenational.ae