Sitting down with Jono Macbeth
Published on January 19th, 2022
In this edition of Shirley Robertson’s Sailing Podcast, the double Olympic gold medalist Robertson talks to a man that has sailed in a remarkable six America’s Cup campaigns, as she sits down to chat with New Zealand grinder Jono Macbeth.
As the pair discuss, Macbeth’s career in sailing was in no way scheduled, starting after a chance encounter with the legendary Sir Peter Blake. Team New Zealand had just won the 1995 America’s Cup in San Diego when Blake invited a young Macbeth to join an exciting new venture in Auckland. The pair first met after a random encounter at an Auckland kayak shop….:
“I was down in a squat position and I was about to try and pick up this fridge all by myself and I hear this big booming voice behind me…’Do you need a hand?’ And without turning around I said ‘Yeah, that’d be good mate’, and glanced over my shoulder and low and behold there was (Sir Peter) Blake, standing over me, arms folded.”
What followed is one of the most exhaustive Cup careers in the sport. Blake invited Macbeth to join the team, and since that first Team New Zealand defense of the Cup in 2000, Macbeth has been a regular feature competing for the illusive trophy, and has lived through some of the modern era’s most fascinating campaigns.
Macbeth stayed on at Team New Zealand as Russell Coutts and Brad Butterworth left the team to sail with ultimate 2003 Cup winners Alinghi, and then again sailed in the Cup match after New Zealand won through the exhausting 2007 Louis Vuitton Challenger Series in Valencia.
As the future of the Cup went through the courts, and a Deed of Gift match looked likely, Macbeth joined Russell Coutts at BMW Oracle, and began sailing the monster 90-foot trimaran that would ultimately win the two team Deed of Gift battle in Valencia. It was a fascinating period, as designers, sailing teams and shore crew all came to grips with the introduction of the wing sail.
From 90-feet, the Cup yachts dropped to 72-feet for the 2013 edition in San Francisco, by which time Macbeth was a regular fixture in the world of the Cup, and an integral part of the sailing team at Oracle, desperate to develop the foiling capabilities of the exciting new multi-hulls. It was a development period that didn’t always go to plan…:
“I remember Jimmy (Spithill) clear as day over comms ‘Watch out boys, look out for all your mates here’, and I was thinking ‘what is he talking about’, and then BANG, the bows go under and I was second cockpit back with Rome Kirby and Joey Newton and we just went underwater….the boat just kept on driving down!”
The team ultimately of course went on to overturn a huge deficit against Team New Zealand, winning the 2013 Cup in dramatic fashion, a moment that Macbeth reveals to be the highlight of his multiple Cup winning career.
From San Francisco, Macbeth joined the newly formed Land Rover BAR, running the British sailing team for Sir Ben Ainslie, exiting the Cup at the Challenger Series phase in Bermuda in 2017.
Now working in a sustainability role at North Sails, Macbeth is one of the most experienced grinders in the game, and his behind the scenes revelations of life at the very heart of the fight for the oldest trophy in world sport is truly fascinating.
Shirley Robertson OBE made history by becoming the first British woman to win Olympic Gold Medals at two consecutive Olympic Games. Shirley Robertson’s Sailing Podcast, produced and edited by Tim Butt of Vertigo Films, is available to listen on her website or via most popular podcast outlets, including iTunes, Spotify, Google Podcast, and aCast.