There is a media feeding frenzy going on across the Ditch, with the country's biggest newspaper, The New Zealand Herald, reporting that ETNZ helmsman Dean Barker had been dumped in favour of world Moth and 49er champion, 24-year-old Peter Burling. However, ETNZ is denying the report.
Team NZ chairman Keith Turner said last night that no decision on Barker's future had been made, but said the organisation were reviewing "all operations with the view to decreasing costs and increasing competitiveness".
"The fact is there's been no decision made about helmsmen in the future," he told the Herald.
I believe this is a classic case of "no smoke without fire". I predicted over a year ago that Burling would have the helm in 2017 as Barker has lost the public, his teammates - and three America's Cup finals.
The New Zealand public, so fiercly behind their team when it looked likely that ETNZ would win back the Auld Mug, has defected in droves and public opinion polls have shown most are against any further government funding for the team. Kiwis don't like to lose and they come down heavily on the individuals concerned.
It was only his error-free final race in San Francisco that saved Barker from public stoning - it was obvious he was beaten by a faster boat. Had he messed up the start, I doubt he could ever have lived in New Zealand again.
At the 2014 World A Class championship at Takapuna Beach in Auckland, it was obvious that Barker wasn't popular with the other sailors in his team. When Barker drove the ETNZ rib to the race area to watch the action, there was usually only one other person on board. When he wasn't there, the rib was packed. There COULD be another explanation - everyone just happened to be busy on the three days Barker was seen all alone - but that's the unlikely explanation.
However, while I don't think Barker is capable of winning the America's Cup after the mental savaging he endured at the hands of Jimmy Spithill in 2013, I do believe he has a lot to offer to ETNZ. As a mentor for the hugely talented but relatively inexperienced Burling, he would be invaluable.
Burling is a likable bloke but I have heard rumblings among the 49er fleet that he sometimes pushes the boundaries a bit too hard and is in danger of losing his nice-guy image. Barker could be useful in guiding him both on the water and off.
There have been rumours that if he is not wanted on the helm at ETNZ Barker will defect to Luna Rossa, who were the Kiwis training partners before the 34th Match from their base in Auckland. I doubt that will happen.
Barker likes living in New Zealand and likes working at ETNZ. He would have to take a huge salary cut to stay on as a coach and/or advisor but he's an extremely wealthy man - he doesn't need the multi-million dollar salary.
Appointing him to such a role would tick lots of boxes. It would show loyalty from ETNZ to a man who has served it for many years to the best of his ability. It would provide access to his wealth of America's Cup knowledge and it would possibly allow Barker to finally retire as part of a winning team - if Burling can get them across the line first in Bermuda.
- Roger McMillan, Editor
Read the Herald article here.