In the blood

PROFILE: ADAM BEASHEL

In sailing terms, the name Beashel goes back three generations, reports Di Pearson.

Like his grandfather, father and old brother before him, Adam Beashel has excelled in the sport he grew up with and loves. Here, he talks to Australian Yachting on his 2007 America’s Cup campaign and sailing in general.

To give a bit of background, Adam’s (or Beasho as both he and his older brother are known) grandfather Alf was a revered 18ft skiff sailor, so famous that he had a racing mark named after him, the “Beashel Buoy”, situated 100 metres north of the Sow and Pigs on Sydney Harbour. It is still used as an 18 footer rounding mark in a nor-easterly breeze, which is most of summer.

Alf’s son Ken followed in his father’s sailing footsteps, winning many 16 and 18ft titles and started the family boat-building business, simply called Beashels, on Pittwater, where Adam and older brother Colin grew up. It is still going today, but with Ken retired, is run by son Colin.

Up until a few years ago Adam also worked in the family business. Ken’s skiffs were in high demand and he built and restored many other boats too, with a passion for anything wood, a tradition that still exists today.

With a nine-year age gap between the brothers, most people are more familiar with Colin’s stellar sailing career: Farr 40 One-Design, Solings, Admiral’s Cups, America’s Cups and more, including trimming the mainsheet aboard Australia II when it won the America’s Cup in 1983.

Colin’s Australian representation at six Olympic Games in the Star class from 1988-2004, which reaped a bronze medal at Savannah in 1996, was an Australian Olympic record (which he holds with Equestrian’s Robert Hoy) and led to his selection as Australian Olympic Team flag bearer at the 2004 Athens Olympics – an honour never before bestowed on a sailor.

One of Australia’s most prolific sailors, the 47-year-old never trod the 18ft skiff circuit like those before him, but Adam, who a few years back sailed some Admiral’s Cups with his brother, says: “I am playing with the idea of sailing an 18ft skiff, if I can make it fit with my other plans.

“I’d love to sail with Colin; one of us steering and the other calling tactics. We know what the other is thinking all the time, so the combination works well. Our sailing paths have been a bit different over the last few years, so the opportunity hasn’t been there.”

In 2003, Adam married Lanee Butler, the top US woman’s board sailor who contested four Olympic Games from 1992-2004, with best places of fifth in Savannah and fourth at Sydney 2000. Lanee gave up competitive sailing to support Adam’s America’s Cup aspirations and to mother their 18-month-old son Trent.

The two recently returned home from his America’s Cup role as strategist/traveller trimmer with Emirates New Zealand, and despite his rise to the top, Adam is clear about one thing: “Sailing to me isn’t about all the fame and the money; you have to go out and enjoy your sailing. It’s important to me to just enjoy sailing with family and friends.”

The 38-year-old landed in New Zealand in 2000 following two failed Australian Olympic bids, the first in 1996 when he missed selection by one point in the Laser class.

Not deterred, he tried again for Sydney 2000 in the 49er. Leading the points tally for selection, he missed out under controversial circumstances. Devastated and disillusioned with what he calls “the 2000 Olympic debacle”, he wanted to try other things.

Moving to New Zealand, the Narrabeen resident hooked up with Team New Zealand for their 2003 America’s Cup Defence after Coutts and Butterworth defected to Alinghi. “I knew Dean Barker (skipper/helmsman) who had taken over. He rang me and I joined. We’d all rather forget that one though,” he says of their lacklustre performance.

Having New Zealand residency by that time, Beashel tried another Olympic campaign, this time for New Zealand, but it did not come to fruition. “Yachting Australia set up the trials while I was tied up in the 2003 Cup defence, so I couldn’t campaign for Australia.”

2007 America's Cup
Emirates Team New Zealand in 2006-07 was a completely different story, as we all know now. Grant Dalton resurrected the Kiwi challenge for the Cup; Beashel was asked to rejoin them and accepted, filling the role of strategist/traveller trimmer.

“We weren’t one bit surprised to make the Louis Vuitton Challenger finals and I thought we had a 50/50 chance of making the America’s Cup final.

“We knew our potential early, because we had our boats ready early, so we were on top of getting our rig and sails right. We spent a lot of time on the water too, so honed our skills well. That’s what got us through to the final.

“There wasn’t much between Luna Rossa and us. It may have looked like it, but it was mostly only a couple of lengths and two seconds – even though it felt like two minutes, but I really didn’t expect we’d beat them 5-0. The score didn’t reflect the closeness of the competition. They were brilliant.”

BMW Oracle, touted as an early favourite, was a different story. “They started their campaign well, but towards the end they slipped, and we’ve all seen the end result (CEO and skipper Chris Dickson resigned). They were not a happy boat by then, so we didn’t consider them a threat anymore.”

Onboard Team NZ, Beashel was involved in picking the breeze, “trying to keep our tactician in front of the others, trying to keep things simple. I also trimmed the traveller upwind and got involved with the weather each day prior to going racing and strategising on that”, he remarks.

The lone Australian crewmember (Aussie Roger “Clouds” Badham did weather for the team), he still felt very much at home. “I knew a few people involved from the 2003 defence.”

In the final Act 13 in April, Beashel nearly lost his finger in Race 1. “We were gybing before the start and I put my hand in an uncommonly risky place and lost the top half of my left index finger,” he says. “I felt safer up the mast than on the deck.” It kept him off the race track until their Challenge semi-final against Desafio Espanol.

“Clouds later said to me: ‘Of the 17 on board, you are the last person I thought would do something like that.’ Three surgeries later, I have my finger. It’s sort of fixed, but it’s still a bit numb, I don’t think it’ll ever function fully again.”

On their last tantalising race against Alinghi in the final of the Cup, which the Swiss won 5-2, Beasho says: “I heard how close and thrilling it had been to watch. I didn’t really know that at the time; there was so much going on during the race that I was just focusing on the job.

“We were surprised to be flagged and penalised, but we fought tooth and nail all the way. The breeze shifted in our favour, but it wasn’t enough to get us over the line first. Being aboard as 25 tons stops short of the line in light air isn’t much fun. It’s easier in a dinghy where you can give it a bit of a push over the line.”

Of their final match loss: “It doesn’t sound it, but one second is a long time when you lose by that much – Alinghi had a little more boatspeed, but we thought we could win the Cup right up to the end.

“Dalts (Grant Dalton) is what Team New Zealand needed after 2003. He’s a very black and white sort of person and was great throughout our campaign,” Beashel says of their syndicate head.

“He is a good, hard, leader and knew how to run things off the water. He was good on the boat, too. Dalts is smart. He left us to take care of things onboard because he knew we knew better, but he participated when it was needed. He’s not a person to back off; he’s very determined, brilliant really.”

Since returning from the Cup, Beasho says: “We are back in Narrabeen trying to make some very difficult decisions. It’s very hard, but it’s great being home.” He and Lanee are basing themselves in Sydney for now.

“I’ve hugely missed living in Australia. You don’t think about it so much while you’re away, because it’s not so in your face, and that’s a good thing really. But every time we come home we say, “This is so good, why do we bother going away?

“You can be anywhere in Australia within two or three hours. We need to grow our regattas bigger and better and entice the Americans and Europeans here, then Aussies could stay at home more.”

While agreeing that the America’s Cup is the pinnacle of sailing, Beashel says he will wait and see before committing to another. “With all the politics going on, there might not be a next Cup if the guys at BMW Oracle get their way – you never really know what’s going on at the top.”

The future
“I’ve done three America’s Cups. It’s tempting to have another go, but you have to do it for the right reasons, and because you enjoy it. You have to have the right people involved and the campaign has to be well put together.

“I chose well in joining New Zealand, because you will excel in a well-prepared team with good people and you can’t put a price on that.

“It’s an unrealistic sort of life and a big chunk out of your life. You need to ask yourself ‘when is enough, enough?’ The money is inviting, but I think a few people do it because they’re greedy for money, not because they want to be there. Others are very competitive and want to go back and win.

“The Cup is a very big thing, but there are other sailing things to do. As a young boy growing up, I just wanted to go sailing, I still feel the same.

“They are big, heavy boats, so when you see guys racing the big canting keelers, like Wild Joe, they look so good and interesting…

“I just wanted to come home and re-look at my options, which is why I was at Hamilton Island Race Week. I like to dabble in a few different classes. I’m open to offers. I wouldn’t mind doing some Farr 40 stuff. I enjoy one-design racing, as you know how good you are when you finish – that’s your finish time. It’s about how good the crew is and how you put the boat together.”

Prior to returning to Australia, Steven David asked Beashel to join the 60 foot Wild Joe crew as helmsman at Hamilton Island. They finished third overall and he is likely to do more with Wild Joe. “Beasho could drive a Big Mac through the narrowest gap, and he did here, he’s so focused,” David told me on the island.

Asked if another Olympic campaign might fit into his plans, Beashel ponders: “I’d say 95 per cent no. I’ve left a little window open, but it’s not a priority. I was disappointed when politics got in the way, as I see it, in 2004. It’s always been a lifetime dream to win an Olympic medal for Australia. We’ll see…

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