With the start of the 36th America’s Cup presented by Prada just over a year away, New York Yacht Club American Magic is currently testing, tuning and training at their winter base in Pensacola, FL. We caught up with Rob Ouellette, the American challenger’s COO.
WindCheck: Where did you grow up, and how old were you when you started sailing?
Rob Ouellette: I grew up in Marblehead, Massachusetts and really started sailing at summer camp when I was 9 or 10. My dinghy sailing was recreational, and I really started racing when I was able to sail on one-design keelboats and then in the local PHRF fleet.
WC: Please tell us about your sailing at the University of Rhode Island.
RO: URI was an awesome experience for me, particularly because the team put its focus and resources towards keelboat sailing. That was critical. Dinghy sailing was not my passion, and it was awesome to have an opportunity to race at a high level in large boats during my first year at URI. I was voted the captain of the keelboat team for my sophomore year, and was tasked with putting together a team for the MacMillan Cup and the Kennedy Cup at the U.S. Naval Academy. We had a pool of great sailors that had some experience racing the Navy 44s, and we won the Kennedy Cup that year (1998 Keelboat National Championships). The next fall we were able to represent our country at the Keelboat World Championships in La Trinité, France. We placed third out of 24 teams. Two French teams beat us…and we should have won!
WC: Did you have any significant sailing mentors?
RO: No major sailing mentors. This is a passion that I found myself. My dad was a powerboater and got me on the water as an infant, but he is not a sailor!
WC: Please tell us about your roles as Project Manager and Grinder with Bella Mente Racing (including the construction of Hap Fauth’s newest boat in RI), and how they led to American Magic.
RO: I started sailing with Hap in 2006 on his first Bella Mente (Vrolijk 66). It was an interesting time in grand prix yachting as it was really the end of the IMS rule and the beginning of the IRC rule. I helped the campaign with deliveries and was a regular on the race crew which at the time was half amateur and half pro. Hap decided to build a custom boat in 2008 and that’s when the Bella Mente program really ramped up with lots of international events. I was his logistics manager and relief captain for a couple years, and then was asked to be his project manager for the build of the Judel Vrolijk Maxi 72 (Hap’s third Bella Mente).
WC: What are your responsibilities as New York Yacht Club American Magic’s Chief Operating Officer?
RO: Well, that is a complicated answer! I report to our board of directors on a wide variety of topics, including design progress, production, commercial deals, communications, logistics, budgets, and competitor progress just to name a few! There are a lot of balls in the air with 140 team members located in different states, countries, and time zones…not really your typical 9 to 5 job.
WC: Are you surprised by the variety and differences in the first four AC75s launched?
RO: Not really. The AC75 is a new class that has a pretty open rule with regard to hull shapes. We have seen each team produce interesting concepts, and I’m sure there are parts of all the boats that are right, and parts of all the boats that won’t work very well. I am also pretty sure there will be big changes throughout the fleet in the designs of the second boat that will actually compete in the Prada Cup and the America’s Cup.
WC: Please tell us about the importance of American Magic’s relationship with the state of Rhode Island, and your partnerships with US Sailing, Sail Newport, the IYRS School of Technology and Trades, Oakcliff Sailing, and the Herreshoff Marine Museum and America’s Cup Hall of Fame.
RO: Our team owners are committed not only to winning, but to making an impact on the sport of sailing in the U.S. Each of our sailing community partners helps us do that in real, tangible ways. US Sailing, through its Olympic program and Olympic Development Program, has produced or impacted ten members of our sailing team. Sail Newport has helped us build strong roots and connections locally in New England, and through them our team has interacted with many sailors who call Narragansett Bay home. We have hired ten IYRS School of Technology and Trades graduates to help build The Mule, Defiant and our second AC75, which is a pretty amazing story. Oakcliff has provided us with another sailing team member, and we have contributed coaching and expertise at their facility in New York. Finally, we will work with the Herreshoff Museum and America’s Cup Hall of Fame in Bristol to make sure that the unrivaled history of our sport is preserved for the future.
WC: What’s your advice for young sailors that aspire to race in the America’s Cup?
RO: Spend as much time in your boat as you can, and don’t just learn to tack on the headers. Broaden your understanding of all things that go into making a boat and team win. There is so much more to winning a boat race than the next shift, and it all matters.
WC: Thank you very much Rob. Here’s to those young sailors one day bringing their children’s children to the America’s Cup Hall of Fame to see the boat that brought the America’s Cup home! ■