Face-to-face with Commodore Aaron Young of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron • Live Sail Die


Aaron Young is the Commodore of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron (RNZYS), which is currently home to the America’s Cup. If you haven’t been keeping up with the latest America’s Cup news, we’ll wrap it up for you – there’s a lot going on. In a recent announcement, RNZYS and RYS gave us an overview of the protocols for the upcoming America’s Cup. It describes the Youth America’s Cup and introduces a Women’s America’s Cup. Before the cancellation of the last Youth America’s Cup, RNZYS had high expectations for its young sailors in this event and has confidence in the next generation.

RNZYS is home to one of the world’s most recognized youth training programs and has just won the United States Grand Slam Series for the third time in a row. Aaron explains what makes the training program successful and how RNZYS continues to create pathways for their young and female seafarers.

LSD: The RNZYS Mastercard Youth Training Program (MCYTP) is one of the most successful programs for young seafarers in the world. How is the program structured to create great sailors?

Aaron: Created in 1987, it now has more than 1000 graduates. World-class workout, facilities and equipment are all part of what makes up the Mastercard Youth Education Program. The program offers exceptional value and scholarships are awarded annually to the 40-50 sailors in the MCYTP, which covers approximately 80% of the actual cost of running the program. Cost control is obviously aided by our main Mastercard sponsors, individual boat sponsors, the members themselves and also the RNZYS International Sailing Fund which raises funds every year at a corporate event. In addition to sailing, young people learn preparation, maintenance, fitness, discipline, table manners, sponsorship, sustainability and public speaking and are encouraged to race on the boats of the RNZYS members during their days off to work as a team and with the owners.

LSD: What sets sailors who have graduated from MCYTP apart?

Aaron: The MCYTP has been around for over 35 years now and has produced top level sailors from the very beginning. Arguably the most successful youth training program in the world. But it’s not just about training the best to be professionals, it’s about bridging the gap and creating a path for dinghy sailors or the younger group to learn and improve their sailing and sailing skills. keelboat. It’s also much more than sailing 40 weeks a year, with the club building networks and support for young people. We are working on a mantra that better people make better seafarers. Some MCYTP graduates are now also going through the RNZYS Performance Program (PP) (started with contributing members to the Foiling family) which was set up as a transition into the workplace.

Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron Youth Training Program – Andrew Delves

LSD: There was enough talent for two RNZYS Youth AC teams last year before the event was canceled, do you see the same level of talent for the next event?

Aaron: Absoutely. The MCYTP and the PP continued to grow and succeed despite the pandemic which prevented many members of the program from traveling. Last time around, selecting the team to sail the AC9F built by Yachting Developments for the later canceled 2021 YAC, we had a very difficult decision on who to select. We ended up selecting two teams because of the talent we had and even then we had some very unlucky people. We also felt that the two teams could help each other in training. A key area where I think Reuben Corbett as a head coach has been particularly successful is building depth – not just one or two rockstars, but great internal competition and camaraderie. And I might add, both among guys and girls.

LSD: There has been a lot of talk around including women in these high performance regattas – how does the MCYTP focus on that?

Aaron: In the early years we had a few females involved. Today we have about 30% women in the MCYTP and 30% also in the Performance program. We select mixed crews, female crews, male crews to compete in various regattas – it’s always different. It wasn’t that long ago that the first were chosen to sail at almost every event, but that doesn’t do anything for the growth of the sport or the group at large. Every weekend our group is sailing together and against each other in a mixed format and everyone has an equal chance.

AC9F - Andrew Delves

AC9F – Andrew Delves

LSD: What does having a Women’s America’s Cup mean for the future of women’s sailing and was that still the plan for the 37th?

Aaron: Thanks for the tricky question! So a warning – I’m not an expert here! This has long been a controversial discussion as the best way to encourage true diversity in our sport, not to mention involvement in the pinnacle of the America’s Cup. Frankly, I don’t see complete equality and diversity in the 37th America’s Cup, but I think it’s a significant step in the right direction. Some would say there should be a minimum number of women on an AC75 for an AC37 but I also know that as a boat owner myself with women on board the women involved don’t want to be there just to do the math. But in creating a women-only event alongside a Youth America’s Cup, there is a real intention to try to be much more inclusive.

I also have to reiterate that AC and AC Youth are both open to women and men and I wouldn’t be surprised to see some crews mixed up in the next event. With the proposed new AC40, we should see less physicality required on board, which might help remove some of that requirement for male “growl”. But what an opportunity for all sailors now – to sail the world’s fastest 40 feet, some of the world’s fastest yachts, and have these events as part of the next protocol.

LSD: What would you say to the sailors hoping to compete in the America’s Cup?

Aaron: If we take the sail, and in my case the RNZYS, we have seen (and are still seeing) a significant increase in female members and those who sail. Our Learn to Sail program numbered over 400 last summer, and about 30% were women. RNZYS membership currently has 973 female members and we have events such as a 50/50 where mixed crews are a prerequisite. As a club, we see women and families as very important to the future of our sport.

There is absolutely no reason why women cannot be selected to participate in the AC event at all. It could well happen in AC37, there are a lot of great sailors out there at the moment. We’ve had women who have sailed in past America’s Cups and while it’s unlikely that I have much to do with an event beyond AC37, you have to think we’ll see. of women navigate the next editions of the AC. I would say the same as I would say to anyone in business and sport – never give up, stop talking and start doing. The more we talk about it, the less we do.

Norman v Willison - NZWMRC Finals Day - Image (c) Andrew Delves RNZYS3

Norman v Willison – NZWMRC Finals Day – Image (c) Andrew Delves RNZYS3

LSD: If the America’s Cup isn’t a goal, what other skills do MCYTP sailors learn to achieve other sailing goals?

Aaron: International match racing has stood out over the years with a lot of time and training in this space, which has allowed a number of MCYTPs to become the best in the world. My personal point of view is that sport needs a little more clarity on the paths and goals to be shared with young people. In New Zealand for example, children may want to become an All Black, an All White or a Silver Fern or a Football Fern. The path is pretty well laid out and clear – school, club, region, country, world cup. Sailing has a lot of overlap and a lot of choice – be it the Olympics, Offshore, Sail GP, Maxi, Superyachts, TP 52, Etchells, World match racing and the America’s Cup. Each area requires different skill, practice, and time, and it’s hard to say one is better than the other. I’ve spoken to a lot of our YTP and PP groups myself and have a few to navigate with me – they just want to navigate like something they like and enjoy; they are always looking to improve and with this attitude they can make their dream come true. It is the sports administrators and leaders who must make the dream clearer by working together and creating a structured calendar and a defined range of events for our young people to pursue. That said, the sport continues to develop and evolve (eg foiling) and that in itself creates new opportunities.

LSD: Since we got you, there has been a lot of drama around the location of the Cup. A lot of speculation is going around … do you think this is a distraction / do these claims have any merit?

Aaron: You’re about a day or two early to ask me! AC has been and always will be full of drama, politics and money as much as veiling and in a way that’s what makes it so unique and so hard to win at the same time. I can assure you this is not an easy or straightforward event to attend. When the race begins, it’s actually a brief respite from the ongoing speculation!

We made no secret that our preference was to see the AC37 in Auckland. If it hadn’t been for Covid and this causing a lack of international visitors, superyachts and canceled events etc., the AC36 would have looked entirely different financially. And if that was the case, the most likely outcome would have seen Auckland welcome the AC37 again in a few years. We are working closely with our contracted TNZ team to finalize the few options for creating a successful defense and event. The really key date for us at RNZYS, with RYS as the Challenger of Record, is to announce the protocol on November 17, 2021, which has all the details for the next event. From there, we look forward to the opening of registrations for the America’s Cup. And as a sailor myself, I can’t wait to see the sail begin and the drama end!

Photo: RNZYS


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