An offer from Sir Peter Blake – to help with the potentially back-breaking lift of a fridge freezer – was the start of an America’s Cup career that now spans 21 years for Jono Macbeth, Land Rover BAR’s Sailing Team Manager.
“At the time I met Peter, Team New Zealand (TNZ) was just back from their win in San Diego and looking for young grinders. While I was competing at a national level in endurance sports, my sailing experience was very limited; basically a little bit of dinghy sailing mixed with being around boats and launches all my life.”
Macbeth spent four months over the summer sailing with TNZ, then a year working hard in the gym to build up strength and power needed as a grinder and increasing his weight from 79kg to 100kg, whilst learning as much as he could from people like Russell Coutts, Brad Butterworth, Andrew ‘Meat’ Taylor and Joey Allen. He then received a phone call from Coutts asking him to join the team for the defence of the 30th America’s Cup in 2000.
“The university degree got put on hold, it was a hugely exciting time. I was part of one of the great teams in the history of the America’s Cup. If you look at that group of people, where they are and what they have done and what they do now, there aren’t many who aren’t still involved at the very top end of our sport. It was an incredible opportunity and I grabbed it with both hands.”
Macbeth spent over a decade with TNZ, both winning (2000) and losing the Cup (2003 and 2007). “A lot of hard lessons were learnt from the defeats. It was tough. But these are the lessons you take forward in your career.”
After a decade with TNZ, it was time for a change. “It was a difficult decision, leaving your national team is not something you do lightly. You sit there and think long and hard about it. But in the end for me, it was the right thing to do and I was reunited with a number of former team mates.”
Jono Macbeth was with Oracle Team USA (OTUSA) for two Cup cycles, winning the Deed of Gift match in Valencia in the giant trimaran in 2010 and their defence in the AC72 catamaran in San Francisco in 2013. It was here that he was reunited with Ben Ainslie, having sailed with him previously in the 2007 TNZ campaign.
“One of my earliest memories of Ben (Ainslie) was from a day when we were doing a fit out on the Kiwi race boat in Valencia in 2007. He was going through the bilge, the very bottom of the boat with a rubbish bag, cleaning it out at the end of the day. I’ll never forget thinking here is a helmsman who is willing to get down and get amongst it with everyone else. He is incredibly focused and hardworking.”
The story of OTUSA’s comeback defence in 2013 has now gone down as the stuff of legend. “Being 8-1 down to come back 9-8 was incredible. But it’s a testament to believing it’s never over until it’s over and just going out every day, sticking to your routine and not letting the white noise around you get you down.”
After the victory, Jono Macbeth and his wife headed back to Europe. They were home for only a few weeks when the phone rang – it was Ben Ainslie. He was putting together a British team for the 35th America’s Cup. “Ben was offering me a chance to be involved in a start up team and to be part of the management, with the onset of the faster more physical foiling boats, I knew this would be my last campaign as a sailor; and so felt it was important to step up to a management role.”
Macbeth wanted to come on board and pass on his sailing experience but also contribute to the set up and help establish the culture of the team. It was agreed that his skill set would be best suited to the role of Sailing Team Manager.
Between Ainslie and Macbeth they took their time to lay the foundations of success with their careful hiring of the other sailing team members. “We have come a long way since the inception of Land Rover BAR. We have built a team from the ground up and had great results. A strong showing in the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series events has been a great build up for us here in Bermuda. A long way to go of course, but we’ve done all the hard work.”
Macbeth is particularly proud of his part in setting up and mentoring the Land Rover BAR Academy, whose mission is to find and support talented young British sailors, creating a career pathway for British sailors into the America’s Cup, and building a British team that can win the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup.
“We’ve already had some great results with the Academy, with Neil Hunter [former Academy skipper] being promoted to the senior team, and the recent result at the Extreme Sailing Series event in China where they were second against a professional fleet. I owe my America’s Cup career to a chance encounter with Sir Peter Blake, and I’m very proud to have helped ensure that today’s young British sailors don’t have to leave it to that kind of random luck.”
Macbeth’s racing chapter will come to a close at the end of the 35th America’s Cup, he is looking forward to competing in his final Cup as a sailor before focusing on the next generation and giving others the opportunity Peter Blake vested in him.