In Depth

Omega and the America's Cup

As Emirates Team New Zealand head into the final, we speak to skipper Glenn Ashby and team boss Grant Dalton about technology and timing

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Glenn Ashby, Skipper, Emirates Team New Zealand

So, Glenn, what does it take to win the America's Cup today?

Nothing's really changed in the whole history of the cup – a good team and a fast boat. It's really that simple. These days, obviously, the technology side of things is just going ahead in leaps and bounds. It's such a rapid climb rate with the technology coming on, we have to absolutely stay at the front of the wave of that, particularly with these types of boats that are so electronically and hydraulically advanced compared to where the boats were last time and the time before that.

Have they really shifted that much since you last raced the Americans in the final in 2013?

It's been an absolutely incredible transformation from the boats that we sailed in San Francisco to the ones we sail now. When you lift the hatches up, there is a myriad of computers and PLC [programmable logic controller] systems running all the hydraulic systems on board the yacht; the complexity in that is just mind-blowing. And for us as yachtsmen, we have to have an understanding of how the systems all work – not to the level of the engineers, but we need to understand how it all works from a user's perspective. We need to be able to give them feedback like a driver would do if his breaks weren't right; they need to know if improvements are required. These days, the relationship between the sailors on board and the engineers has had to become even more intertwined than it was previously.

So, are you giving them feedback to help the design?

Every single day. We are asking how do we make the boat faster? How do we get more out of the wind? How do we get more out of the foils? How do we load the boat? How do we get the daggerboards up and down more efficiently? Just continually working on a number of different things and components that will give you a better performance.

It's not good enough to just be an athlete, then?

No, no, for sure not. You need to put about ten different hats on over the period of the campaign. We do obviously have some fantastic athletes – guys coming on board for whom the primary focus is putting power into the boat – but they are involved with a whole lot of different jobs. They are involved in getting the yacht set up on a daily basis: maintenance, repairs, all of that side of things, and breakdown and recoveries. Everyone has roles on board and even the big guys spend three to four hours training in the gym every day, but they also will spend seven, eight, nine hours with the boat builders and the shore team making sure that we understand the yacht. As we do not have the luxury of having just a sailing team or just a shore team we are all very much intermixed. But I think that's one of our strengths – in the culture of our team – compared to some of the others: that everyone really is on a very level playing field. We all get stuck in to it. And I think everybody enjoys it.

Grant Dalton, Team Boss, Emirates Team New Zealand

This is a very technologically advanced race and I'm struck by the fact Glenn is actually wearing and using a wristwatch by your partners Omega on the boat. Surely that's not normally the case with a watch partnership?

No, it's not. Normally they would show us what they would like to do with the Seamaster model for an America's Cup edition and then produce it to celebrate the event. But this time, as well as that type of watch [the Seamaster Planet Ocean ETNZ Deep Black], there's another with a digital and analogue combination that is the direct result of a collaboration between Omega and, effectively, Glenn. He said we want these functionalities for sailing, and then they sent prototypes. We made comments, then they sent another prototype. So, the new one, the Speedmaster X-33 [Speedmaster X-33 Regatta ETNZ Limited Edition] is a collaboration watch. Absolutely. For the first time.

So normally they send you a watch and say, "Here's one we designed for you. Wear it and make it look good"?

Well, yes and no. With any Seamaster, it has a stopwatch on it. But an analogue stopwatch is impossible to use, as a stopwatch with a sweep hand isn't any good in the sun because you can't see it. And anyway, you can't look down and say, "Oh, you have a 1/4 of a second left," because you can't read the sweep fast enough. Whereas with a digital watch you can. And so, the new watch is a direct result of the input from the team.

Omega do the timing at the Olympics, so they have experience of sports timing. In this case, did you ask them to rethink their role as partners, or did they come to you?

They came to us, it was that way round. They said that they wanted to design a functional timepiece that could be physically used on board. The thing is, we don't use their watch when we leave the dock normally because it doesn't have digital. The guys run a digital print-out, it's all they care about: how long until the race starts. So, Omega came to us and said that they wanted to change that.

And Omega has been a partner of the team for a number of years?

Twenty-two years. A long time. Amazing.

And as team boss, how long have you been working with them?

Well, I took over the New Zealand team from Sir Peter Blake in 2003, but my relationship with Omega goes back much further. I had Omega as a partner on my round-the-world boat in 1992 and I was one of their first ambassadors in the early 90s. So then when I reintroduced myself when I took over the team, it was to people I already knew well, so that was fantastic.

Omega Speedmaster X-33 Regatta ETNZ Limited Edition, £3,920, Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean ETNZ Deep Black, £8,320; omegawatches.com

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