NAME: Sir Russell Coutts
BORN IN: Wellington, New Zealand
RESIDES IN: San Francisco, California
JOB DESCRIPTION: CEO of Oracle Team USA, the American sailing team defending the America’s Cup trophy in September 2013. Coutts has won the prestigious yacht race four times.
TIME SPENT ON THE ROAD: Two to three weeks a month
PLACES VISITED IN THE LAST YEAR: China, England, France, Italy, New Zealand, Oman, Portugal, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom
Q. You have been sailing since you were a young boy. Was the sport your gateway to travel?
A. I grew up in a family of modest means in New Zealand. Travel consisted of road trips or camping trips. It was about being out in nature. As a boy, I learned to sail on Otago Harbor in the far south of New Zealand and immediately fell in love with the water. I wasn’t much for sitting in the classroom. I remember a teacher asking me what I wanted to do when I grew up, and I said, “Sail yachts.” The entire class laughed at me. But sailing has allowed me to see the world. And travel is a fantastic way of learning, experiencing, and opening your mind.
Throughout history, before the advent of modern transportation systems, sailors were the ultimate travelers. What is unique about seeing a place from the water?
A boat provides a completely different perspective on the world. There’s a certain calm to being out on the water and being in touch with the wind. It’s a very special feeling, and for me, there is nothing like being able to do what you enjoy most while being surrounded by nature. I love seeing cities like San Francisco, New York, and Sydney from the water at night. It provides a serene experience in otherwise energetic, sometimes chaotic, places.
What country has surprised you the most in your recent travels?
I recently got back from a race in Oman [on the coast of the Arabian Peninsula]. The people were worldly, highly educated, and tremendously friendly. The country was unexpectedly hilly and beautiful. The capital, Muscat, is a harbor city framed by a mountain range. It seems like a wonderful holiday destination.
Of the 23 members of Oracle Team USA, only two are from the United States. You have teammates from Antigua, Australia, Canada, England, Italy, the Netherlands, and New Zealand. What do you learn from working alongside people from different cultures and backgrounds?
The one thing I’ve learned over the years is that all people view things differently. Provided you are prepared to keep your ears and mind open, you can learn a lot. I think the world could learn a great deal from the Italians. They put so much value on family and friendship. The rest of the world doesn’t make enough time for that. The Italians have this amazing balance to life.
How do you stay in shape when you’re on the road so often?
Travel is the lazy man’s excuse for falling out of shape. We travel with a team trainer, but when I’m traveling on my own, I’m creative. I don’t even need a gym. As soon as I get to my hotel room, even if it’s late, I try to go through a series of exercises that use my own body weight, such as lunges, crunches, push-ups, or triceps dips off the end of a couch or chair.
How do you unwind after a day of sailing?
The first thing I like to do is go back through the day and analyze the boat and team performance on the water. It’s a good wrap-up to sailing. It also allows me to start recovering from the physical exercise and shift to a relaxed mode, which is followed by drinking a nice glass of Penfolds Shiraz wine, one of my favorites.
Being on the road so often, you must spend a lot of time in hotels. What are some of your favorites and what do you value most in a hotel?
The Capri Palace Hotel & Spa in Naples and the Four Seasons Milan are two of my favorites. They both have impeccable service and are beautifully appointed with artwork and great architectural details. They perfectly complement their geographic settings. But, at the end of day, I place more value on the staff than the amenities. A smile goes a lot further than fluffy pillows.
In recent years you’ve made it your mission to change the image of sailing and make it more fan friendly. Why is this important to you?
People perceive sailing as an activity exclusively for the wealthy. They also think it’s easy, which is far from the truth. Sailors are just as athletic as rugby or football players. The sport requires extreme strength, agility, and endurance, not to mention brains. We can be going nearly 50 miles per hour out on the water.
What steps have you taken to make the America’s Cup more accessible?
I knew the race needed to look more attractive on TV and also be more exciting to watch live. So we’ve moved the Cup’s racecourse much closer to shore in San Francisco Bay and shortened the race times. We’ve also designed boats that are faster than ever before. For the America’s Cup, we’re racing 72-foot catamarans with wing sails. These boats are fast and huge. You will be able to spot them from any vantage point in San Francisco this September. A
Photo by Jake Stangel. This appeared in the June/July 2013 issue.