Last week, on the other side of the world, in New Zealand, Carlo Huisman and the Emirates Team New Zealand won the American Cup for the second time in a row – a sailing trophy that has been competing for 170 years and it is the most prestigious prize in the sailing sport. This 36th edition was even more special, once that the spectacular race happened in front of their own home audience, in Waitemata Harbour in Auckland, City of Sails.
Past January, we had the amazing opportunity to ask Carlo some questions, and now you can get to know more about this incredible talented sailor, the sailing sport and about New Zealand itself.
Carlo Huisman started sailing when he was around 6 years old on the Friese Meren (lakes in the north of The Netherlands). His dad used to take him and his older brother for sailing trips on platbodems (flat bottom sailing boat), which in combination with the sailing camps during the summer period made him develop outstanding sailing skills. When Carlo was eleven years old, he started to get more competitive and by the time he turned 16, him and his brother were training in a 470 (double-handed monohull) and competing on a national level. It ended as quickly as it started, until he got invited to join a short offshore race, the Lighthouse Race – that was a turning point and when he really started to enjoy sailing on another level and began to sail exclusively sailing yachts.
Today, Carlo Huisman has been a professional sailor for about six years, but he already has a trophy cabinet that only a few can match. He is known as one of the most gifted sailors in the world and together with his Emirates Team New Zealand he won not once but twice, one of the oldest and legendary regattas in the world of sailing – the 35th and the 36th edition of the America Cup – but he also won the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race with record holder Super Maxi Wild Oats; the Med on a Maxi 72; and he participated in the notorious Volvo Ocean Race with Team Brunel.
Where does the passion and love for sailing come from?
I started sailing at a young age and loved being out on the water. Sailing is a challenging sport which I really enjoy. I have played many different sport’s, but none give me as many challenges as sailing. I think this is the main reason I’ve always come back to sailing, I really believe it’s the most complete and ultimate challenge.
You live in the beautiful country of New Zealand, full of exceptional environments. Did you already picked a favourite place to find tranquillity?
New Zealand is fantastic and without a doubt one of the best places in the world. I would say my favourite place is the Hauraki Gulf where we train daily with Emirates Team New Zealand. The sailing conditions are perfect, and the scenery is as well.
Three years ago, you won the 35th edition of the prestige America Cup, directly after you got selected by Bouwe Bekking for Team Brunel to sail the most challenging race in the world, The Volvo Ocean Race. How was that experience?
I was extremely happy to get the opportunity to be part of a Volvo campaign. I never thought I would accomplish this same as the America’s Cup, but it was always a dream of mine. To be able to do both of these amazing sailing challenges back-to-back was unbelievable. Also, the quality of the campaigns I was joining could not be better. First the AC with Emirates Team New Zealand, which is an extremely experienced and well organized team. Then to join Bouwe Bekking for a Volvo, I learned so much from him and he is a fantastic skipper.
It was pretty full on. The Volvo was a completely different challenge from the AC. During the AC you work extremely hard, but you still have your moments where you relax and can put your attention and mind to other things. The Volvo I found completely takes over your life and there is nothing else. You put your personal life on hold and focus completely on the race. It’s an extreme challenge and without a doubt the hardest thing I have ever done.
We had some pretty bad weather during our lap, to my surprise I never got seasick. The biggest struggle was probably managing sleep. I got better at it after the first few legs but in the beginning I struggled with the lack of sleep a lot. From the start of Cape Town, I really started to enjoy the race a lot more and get comfortable in my role. The Southern Ocean legs and Transat were my favourite, and I liked the equator legs the least. In the end every leg had something special and the highs and lows often follow each other closely.
Obviously, I was pretty green when I joined, I had done some offshore races but nothing like the Volvo. It’s quite intimidating but I like a challenge and tried to learn as much as I could from my teammates. It was nice to be part of Team Brunel with some others coming straight out of the AC like me, Peter Burling and Kyle Langford. Seeing them struggle in the beginning made me accept my own mistakes better as well. The way we developed as a team was something pretty special and I have a lot of respect for Bouwe that he kept us together even though the first legs weren't very good.
You sailed the famous Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race with a record holder Wild Oats Maxi Yacht - how did you experience this in comparison with sailing a VO65?
When they asked me to become bowman for Wild Oats, I was very happy but also intimidated by the role. I knew that it was going to be different from the VO65 and that I would join a very experienced and close team. The guys on the boat sailed together for many years and are all like family. In the beginning it was a bit difficult to mix in and also to learn all the aspects of the boat only a few weeks before the race started. The boat is pretty technical, and you have to communicate very well with the other crew to avoid mistakes. Things can go bad pretty quickly if you make a small mistake or get the timing wrong. After sailing a practice race, we made some significant changes to the boat and sail wardrobe that made it both perform better and also a lot easier to manage the work on the bow. I was impressed that the team and skipper were happy to listen to my feedback. Before there were some peels that were an absolute nightmare. The boat is extremely skinny on the bow and you literally don’t have enough room for the sails, so you have to manage this very carefully. The few days practice we had and changes we made proved crucial because it was a very close race. To sail my first Hobart with Wild Oats and win the Line Honours was unreal, the team did a great job. I feel very fortunate to get all these opportunities and always try to do the very best that I can.
What is your favourite highlight so far?
I have so many great moments that it would be hard to pick one. Winning the Cup, winning the Southern Ocean Leg with Brunel, becoming world champion with Maxi72 Momo. I just want to keep going and keep improving as a sailor.
The world is in the grasp of COVID-19, but gradually there is some light at the end of the tunnel. What is next for you?
I have several pretty exciting things lined up for after the Cup but some of it depends on how Covid develops. If the situation becomes better, I’m sure I will be doing a lot of sailing during the European summer. I look forward to the defence of this Cup first and that has my full attention.