Grinder Chris Ward is one of the longer serving members of Emirates Team New Zealand.
He never set out to be a professional yachtsman, but after 22 years with the team he’s happy with the way his life has turned out.
After finishing high school he went to university and completed a science degree. He also joined the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron’s youth training programme.
It’s a pretty tough programme that requires promising young sailors to dedicate almost every weekend learning how to sail well.
Combining university studies with sailing, he went “with what interested me the most” and got a break with the team in 1991 when he was sent to San Diego to sail on the second boat.
He’s been with the team ever since. He knows what it’s like to win the Cup – and knows the crushing disappointment of losing.
“It’s a fantastic job and every day sailing is just fantastic. It’s just one of things that you’re so lucky to be doing it – I think to myself every day how lucky I am.
“I never expected to be doing it and it’s a pretty nice career but not a normal job by any stretch of the imagination.”
Chris knew all there was to know about the IACC monohulls. He sailed in the V1 design at San Diego in 1992; he sailed the V5 at Valencia 15 years later and at subsequent Louis Vuitton trophy regattas, the last at Dubai in 2010.
How does he find the AC72 catamaran?
“It’s pretty exciting – few boats are as quick and as exciting to sail. It’s hard work – there’s plenty of grinding and you’d never have a race where you’re not absolutely knackered at the end.”
How is the AC72 going?
“It’s always hard to know. It’s the same in the build-up to every America’s Cup. There’s a level of anxiety because you’re going into the unknown and you’re in a position where you don’t know how good the opposition will be.
“We were the same in 1995 before we left for San Diego (the year Team New Zealand beat Stars and Stripes). We were anxious not knowing how fast our boat was and how we were going to go.
“We discovered we had a brilliant boat then but we didn’t know it until we actually started racing.
“I don’t think this challenge is any different in that respect. We have what we think is a very good boat we don’t know exactly what the opposition’s got, and don’t know how good they are going to be. That always leads to a certain level of anxiety.”