“When I was younger I loved that you could just get in a boat and go. It was the only thing you could drive without a licence – you could go where you wanted and all by yourself. Now it’s more about the winning and the competition. I’m very competitive, it’s just how I’m wired.
Who inspired you to start sailing
My parents, they were both into sailing and we had a little folk boat so used to do family trips together.
My first boat was an Optimist, I sailed if from aged five – eight but didn’t race. After the Oppie I crewed in the Cadet and started to race.
First sailing club
The Royal Dart, South Devon
F1’s Ayrton Senna
When did you know you wanted sailing to be a career rather than a hobby
Aged 12, my mum said what are you going to do when you’re older and I said get paid to go sailing.
What do you love most about sailing
I just love it all, being outdoors, the physical element and the challenge. I love the racing; everything is a race to me.
What has sailing taught you
Team work, communication and commitment. Plus it gives me a healthy active lifestyle.
Favourite ever sailing race
The race against Sweden’s Artemis Racing, maybe race two or three of the 2013 Louis Vuitton Cup in San Francesco. The racing in San Fran was awesome.
How do you know when you have good form
When you’re prepared, you feel good and race well.
How do you keep going when you're on the limit
You just think that there’s another thousand people that want my job, so I need to go harder than everyone else.
Racing at our first America’s Cup World Series event back in 2015, here in Portsmouth, was out of this world. I will never forget that feeling when we sailed out of the Dockyard and looked at just how many people were there watching and supporting and we went on to win the event.
If you weren't a sailor, what would you be
Farming or riding dirt bikes.
One life, live it
What other sports do you play now
Kitesurfing, skiing, mountain biking, Enduro dirt bike.
How do you spend your time when you are not sailing
Hanging out in the beautiful Devonshire countryside, but generally it’s all about the sports.
Do you support any particular charities
The Andrew Simpson Sailing Foundation and the 1851 Trust, the official charity of INEOS TEAM UK.
Favourite – quote
"Being second is to be the first of the ones who lose" Senna
Over 30 years ago, Nick Hutton started sailing on the River Dart. He still lives close by but his love for extreme sports alongside an international sailing career has taken him all over the world; there’s been stints on Richard Branson’s Necker Island and most recently, Bermuda for seven months with the British Challenger for the 35th America’s Cup. He made his Cup debut in 2012, with the Italian entry, ‘Prada Luna Rossa Challenge’ and despite two consecutive America’s Cup World Series wins (2011/12 and 2015/16) there is still unfinished business; in winning the Cup.
It takes some people half a lifetime to find what they want to do, while others never quite figure it out. Nick was fortunate, he knew from an early age. “One day, when I was twelve, my mum asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up. Apparently, without hesitation, I replied, ‘I want to get paid to go sailing.’ I’m sure if you ask any twelve year old the same question, their answer is bound to involve what they enjoy doing the most; I count myself lucky that I’ve managed to turn my childhood dream into reality. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not been without its challenges and there’ve been times when I’ve thought, I’m never going to make it – time to get a ‘proper’ job – but somehow, here we are and I wouldn’t change a thing.”
If Nick was so clear about it so young, it’s probably because he started even younger. “My first outing on a boat was when I was six months old. My parents had a Folkboat and they used to put me in a hammock below deck. In the evening when they went ashore, they’d just leave me in that hammock – sleeping soundly, I’ve always been a good sleeper – they'd go out for dinner and come back to find me still rocking away. A world away from how you’d be allowed to do things now, but it was fine.”
Nick is another of those on the sailing team for whom the sport runs deep in the family. “I grew up in Kingswear in South Devon and my parents used to run a rigging business called Atlantic Spars, based in Dartmouth. They built masts for race boats including the former BT Global Challenge. Our family hadn’t always been in the area – my mum and dad grew up in Hampshire – but they sailed into Dartmouth by accident one day and liked it so much that they never left.
“I started sailing single-handedly when I six, out of the Royal Dart Yacht Club in Kingswear. My parents had to persuade them to let me start two years early on the youth programme, I was so desperate to get out there. I was really fortunate that the Royal Dart has a very good junior sailing programme that’s important to the club. They had a fleet of brand new Opitimists and so I adopted one of them, which was called Blue Cloud and maintained it myself. I’d get stuff from Dad’s workshop to go and put on it and I continued to sail it until I was around ten or eleven.”
“I was also swimming and competing for my local swimming club until I was around twelve. I used to train before and after school every day and then, come Friday, I’d get into the car with mum and leave to go sailing. Mum and dad drove me miles for my sport and I can’t thank them enough for that – it was relentless. We’d get home from the training weekends or regattas on a Sunday night and I’d be straight back in the pool for 6am on the Monday, before heading to class for the inevitable lecture from the teacher because I hadn’t done my homework. Eventually something had to give and I had to make the choice between swimming or sailing.”
Hutton chose sailing. He graduated to the Cadet class [two-person junior training boats] and headed, as crew, to his first world championships in Tasmania at the age of twelve. By the age of fourteen, he was winning national championships and his ambition in the sport was firmly established. He moved up into the bigger youth class, racing the 420 as crew for Paul ‘CJ’ Campbell-James and was soon selected for the RYA’s National Youth Squad.
After two years at Bicton College in Devon, in 2000 Hutton moved to Southampton to start a course at Southampton Solent University. “The whole goal of going to university was to be in the right place to progress what I wanted to do – and that was still sailing. In Southampton, it was all about meeting the right people and getting the opportunities to go and sail big boats. Of course, that was nothing to do with what I was doing on the degree course!
While he was at university, Hutton raced the Olympic Tornado class for a year. “And then one day I had a phone call from Mark Campbell-James [Paul’s brother] asking whether I’d go and sail with them on the Bear 52 [a 52 foot racing boat]. It was then that I really had to make the choice between the dinghies and the race yachts – basically meaning Olympic campaign or no Olympic campaign. I went for the latter; it was a great opportunity to get into big boat sailing proper, with a group of guys that I knew really well and on a really good boat. That summer of sailing the 52 – 2001 I think it was – was epic. We lived in Cowes on the Isle of Wight in a crew house and helped to look after the boat. That’s where I started learning how to prepare and maintain a race yacht – a skill that saw me through the winters in later years, when there was no sailing to be had. I loved it and it was a great boat to sail.”
The following year, Hutton finished university and went to work at a local sail loft, racing dinghies as part of the role but looking for a move back into big boats. He stayed in Hampshire and spent the next few years doing his apprenticeship out of the south coast village of Hamble, racing on whatever boats he could and doing what he needed to do to get by. Meanwhile, the America’s Cup – Hutton’s ultimate goal – had been engulfed by a row about rules, boats and format that excluded all but two teams from the event in 2010. “I almost gave up on it; it was massive in Valencia [in 2007], hundreds of people and lots of teams. And that’s the dream; you can see it, it’s not far off, you’ve just got to keep doing what you’re doing and be good at it.”
In 2006, Hutton had spent the first of several winters in the Caribbean, working for Sir Richard Branson, teaching watersports at his luxury resort, Necker Island. It was after he came home that he started on the path that would eventually lead to the America’s Cup. The Extreme Sailing Series (ESS) was about to launch, and double-Olympic gold medallist Shirley Robertson had got a boat and had asked Hutton to sail with her.
“I did three years with Shirley, it must have been 2007, 2008, 2009. And then CJ called me and asked me to join him on his Extreme 40 team, called The Wave, as part of the Oman Sail team.” The Wave won the Extreme Sailing Series in 2010, and subsequently Campbell-James was quickly hired by the Italian America’s Cup team, Luna Rossa. It had just been announced that the America’s Cup would move into multihulls.
Now things were moving in the right direction, and suddenly all those people racing in the ESS were in the right kind of boats at the right time; Hutton’s fortunes had turned. He started another season with The Wave before also joining Luna Rossa. The Italian team had done a technology share deal with Emirates Team New Zealand, and the Kiwis were the first to develop the foiling AC72. The Italian team got in on the ground floor, but only with the first generation equipment. They were eventually beaten by the Kiwis in the Louis Vuitton Challenger Final.
“It had its highs and lows, as everything does when you’re training for something massive and putting in 100% all the time. But it was a fantastic experience, I learnt a lot, made some awesome friends and the memories of our time in New Zealand and San Fran are ones that I’ll always treasure. Ultimately, the time sailing for Luna Rossa was the perfect launchpad for what I’m doing now; if I hadn’t done that America’s Cup, then the likelihood of getting into this one in a key role would’ve been pretty low. If you miss a cycle, it’s very hard to get back in, because you’ve missed all that learning.”
When Ben [Ainslie] announced his British team for the 35th America’s Cup, Nick was one of the first recruits. “It was amazing to be asked by Ben to join the team and to be involved in the first British Challenger for a good few years. Especially as we felt that we had real potential to win. It was an intense period from the get-go - we didn’t stop, but I like that. During my career I’m used to being based anywhere for the job, so it was nice to be based back in the UK but there’s a lot more pressure when you’re sailing for your own country – there’s a lot of expectation.
“Racing at our first ACWS event back in 2015, which was here in Portsmouth, was out of this world. I will never forget that feeling when we sailed out of the Dockyard and looked at just how many people were there watching and supporting. I just thought to myself, we cannot mess this up!” The team went on to win the home event – and again the next year– as well as the series overall. Despite the highs, the team also felt the lows.
“The lowest point I’ve ever felt in my whole sailing career was at the end of the final race in Bermuda, after we got knocked out. It was four years of solid hard work that came to an abrupt end. When we got back to the dock I remember sitting on the bow of the boat and I just had a moment by myself, I was quite dark. In my eyes, we failed."
"There was never any doubt I would go again though, I didn’t take a break as such, I continued to train - up to four times a week - and sailed on some different circuits, the Maxi 72s, TP52, GC32s. There was no real ‘rest’ or downtime, because you basically can’t stop, it takes too long to get it back.”
It’s my third campaign, I know what to expect – both on and off the water and we have some great young guys coming through which helps keep things fresh. I try and look after them and we push each other – Neil [Hunter] and I partner up in the gym and train together."
It’s two years until the 36th America’s Cup takes place in Auckland, there’s a huge amount of work to get to the team to start line but the design and build of the AC75, The sailing ‘machine of the future’ is driving the team. “I’m super excited about the new boat; if we can make a mono-hull that looks like a more traditional boat on the dock but get it out on the water, up on the foils and tearing about at 60+ knots it’s just going to be awesome.”
Describe the AC75 in three words? “Super bad ass.”