Blackman’s main focus still on water but not cup

Ross Blackman on Sojourn II at the Otago Yacht Club marina yesterday. PHOTOS: PETER MCINTOSH
Ross Blackman on Sojourn II at the Otago Yacht Club marina yesterday. PHOTOS: PETER MCINTOSH
For the first time in more than 30 years, Ross Blackman will not be at an America’s Cup regatta.

He will be watching closely, although his main focus will be on water much closer at hand.

The former Otago Boys’ High School pupil is sailing around New Zealand on his boat, Sojourn II, and doing something he and wife Jo have had on the bucket list for many years.

Blackman (67) became a sailing fan when friend Evan Marks introduced him to the sport when both were in form 1 [year 7] at Dunedin North Intermediate.

Blackman, who has just been appointed the president of Yachting New Zealand, said ever since then he had been hooked on the sport.

Sojourn II at the Otago Yacht Club marina yesterday.
Sojourn II at the Otago Yacht Club marina yesterday.

"I just love sailing. I love cruising, love being on the boat, away from land. It’s always been a passion of mine," he said.

"And I’m almost embarrassed to say it coming from Dunedin but I have never been to Stewart Island.

"But every person I meet always tells me what an amazing place it is. So I can find out now."

Sailing on their 47-foot Beneteau French-designed ocean cruiser, Blackman is looking forward to the trip south which will continue up the west coast of the South Island and through Cook Strait as the yacht takes a figure-eight trip around New Zealand.

Blackman said he was not too upset he was not involved in the America’s Cup this year, as the priority was this trip.

He first became involved in the America’s Cup in 1988 with the big-boat challenge.

He was working in sail making with Tom Schnackenberg who was developing the big boat.

"I rang Tom up one day and congratulated him on how the big boat looked. They said, ‘well actually, we were talking about you, do you want to come and give us a hand?’ And that is how it started."

He helped form Team New Zealand in 1995 and has been in and around America’s Cup campaigns ever since, mainly concerned with fundraising and business management.

It it an itch he could not leave alone.

"It is just unbelievably hard ... really, really difficult to win. We were very fortunate to win it in 1995. Once you do that you want to do it all the time. It is the best feeling in the world.

"It just grips you. You’ve got three years of being together, working hard every day to get better. You are all doing the same thing, pursuing the same goal. You have to push the limits, all with the same aim."

He completely rejected it was a sport drowning in money and full of rich people playing around.

"There is hardly any wealthy people involved. They are just all regular blokes.

"There are big funders and sponsors of teams.

"You often have a team of 100 to 150 people and yes they get more than the minimum wage. But you are talking about guys who work seven days a week for three years. Work incredibly hard."

The sport was always going to be expensive as there were big teams of people involved, cutting-edge technology and expensive components to make the boats.

Blackman is picking Team New Zealand to win the cup in March but the challenger — whichever syndicate is is — will be tough.

He based his prediction for the TNZ win on the performance of the black boat so far and the good understanding of the design and the way the boat moves in the water.

"We’ve also got good local knowledge. But it is not going to be easy.

" There are only three teams challenging and they are all good. When they used to have 10 teams challenging, really four or five of them had no chance."

The fastest boat always won and that was the decider in the end.

He had no issue with the foil design. The America’s Cup was always a development class and it was about pushing the limits.

His term as the president of Yachting NZ only began in November and he immediately took off on his trip round New Zealand.

Yachting was in good heart, he said, and interest always picked up when the America’s Cup was being raced.

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