The Multihull Magician: Glenn Ashby

Meet the skipper/wing trimmer for Emirates Team New Zealand.

Glenn Ashby, America's Cup
Glenn Ashby is one of the world’s best multihull sailors. AC35 will be his first time serving as skipper of an America’s Cup yacht.Ricardo Pinto

When it comes to multihull mastery, few are as accomplished as Glenn Ashby, an Olympic silver medalist, nine-time World Champion in the International A-Division Catamaran and skipper/wing trimmer for Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ). “A-Cats” are one-person, 18-foot development-class catamarans (think Formula 1) that embrace cutting-edge technologies and attract elite- and Cup-level sailors, making that circuit’s fastest gun — Ashby — a walking weapon.

In 2010, Ashby served as ­Oracle Team USA’s multihull guru, and Jimmy Spithill, ­OTUSA’s skipper, has publicly recognized the Cup-winning lift that ­Ashby’s coaching provided. Ashby was ETNZ’s wing trimmer for AC34, which the Kiwis narrowly lost, and is now sailing team director, skipper and wing trimmer for AC35.

Q:

How did your background prepare you for Cup sailing?

A:

I started sailing 14-foot Paper Tiger catamarans at age 13, weighing 37 kilograms [82 pounds]. Although the boat was much too big for me, I learned quickly, and enjoyed the speed and flying one hull out of the water. This was the beginning of my love of multihulls.

Q:

How was your transition to skipper?

A:

The role of skipper/sailing director is just an overseeing of the campaign, representing the sailing side as a sort of customer. As per previous campaigns, I focus much of my time on the development of the boat and ­systems with the designers. I’ve had to assist and be involved in more of the decision-making processes and organizational side of [this] campaign, [but] I have many great guys around me, which has enabled some good go-forward [plans] in a short time.

"I learned quickly, and enjoyed the speed and flying one hull out of the water."

Q:

What about onboard duties?

A:

I trim the wing and front sails on board, as well as steering on the exit of some maneuvers. As ­skipper, ultimately, I’m also responsible for the guys and the yacht while we’re underway.

Q:

How do you sharpen your mental skills?

A:

Scaring myself from time to time and pushing the boundaries helps me keep in check to what [I] can and cannot get away with. I enjoy motorcycling both on- and off-road, as well as wave sailing on a windsurfer. Both give a great sense of achievement in [an] environment where you’re competing against yourself for satisfaction [and where] you have to be 100 percent focused. It helps me mentally, [and it’s] good for hand-eye coordination for my sailing.

Q:

What about staying fit?

A:

I mix up a little bit of running with gym work, and as my role is different [than] others on the boat, I focus more on agility and speed.

Q:

What do you think is more important: physical fitness or mental sharpness?

A:

It depends. My role is much more mentally demanding than physical. However, you still need to be very fit, fast and able to maintain maximum concentration. For the grinders, they need to [be] extremely fit, strong and agile and have good awareness under pressure.

Q:

Do the Team New Zealand boys give you grief about your Aussie accent?

A:

I very much still [wear] my green-and-gold undies, but [I’m] very proud to be part of this largely nationalistic team. I look at myself as more of an ANZAC, but [I’m] happy if people refer to me as an honorary Kiwi. ¶ It’s the people, ultimately, that make [New ­Zealand] a great environment. My wife and I love living here, and our kids have spent more time in New Zealand than anywhere else. We’re lucky.