Stu Bannatyne – King of the Southern Ocean

Article courtesy of Michael Brown, Yachting New Zealand – Dated 28th June 2018.

Stu Bannatyne is known as a few things, including king of the Southern Ocean, but can now add the title as the most successful sailor in Volvo Ocean Race history. Not that he’s likely to go around crowing about that because he’s one of the most understated yet highly-rated offshore sailors in the world. In fact, he’s probably the most successful New Zealand sailors of all time.

Most offshore sailors go through their life without winning the Volvo Ocean Race. Take Bouwe Bekking, the 55-year-old Dutch skipper of Brunel who has twice finished runner up in eight attempts over the last 30 years and was third in the latest edition. Bannatyne has also competed in eight editions of the Volvo Ocean Race and in 2018 the then 47-year-old Kiwi won his fourth title when his Dongfeng Race Team edged Mapfre and Brunel in a nail biting finish. The victory came 25 years after his first when he sailed on Grant Dalton’s maxi New Zealand Endeavour and he also tasted success with Illbruck Challenge (2001–02) and Ericsson 4 (2008–09).

“It’s pretty satisfying,” Bannatyne says of winning a record fourth title. “I count myself lucky to be part of four winning teams. It’s a total team effort to be able to win this race, from the shore team and sailing team to the families as well. It’s a tough race to win and takes all the pieces of the puzzle to come together. I just played my part and I’m very happy to make a positive contribution.”

Bannatyne does a little more than that, and it’s why he’s known as the king of the Southern Ocean. He’s regarded as one of the world’s best heavy-weather helmsmen and is in his element in the Roaring Forties, Furious Fifties and Screaming Sixties where boats confront waves the size of apartment blocks and strong, cold winds blow for days on end. Fast downwind sailing with no bottom marks to worry about is what he loves best. And dreads the most.

“Out in the ocean is where you get the best and most enjoyable sailing you can do,” he says. “It is also the worst but the human brain seems to be wired a bit strangely because you tend to forget the bad times pretty quickly and you’re left with only the good memories. So I keep coming back for more.”

It would be scary to work out how many sailing miles Bannatyne has on the clock because, on top of his eight round-the-world races, he’s also completed nine Fastnet Races, eight Transpacific races from California to Hawaii and 14 Sydney to Hobart races. He’s also just as likely to be seen racing in local regattas like Bay Week or the Coastal Classic.

Bannatyne’s initial ambition was to make it as an Olympic-class sailor. He was a youth world champion in the Laser and sailed the Finn in an era when Olympic campaigns were largely self-funded and both John Cutler (1988) and Craig Monk (1992) won bronze medals for New Zealand.

Dalton gave Bannatyne a chance in the 1993 Whitbread Round the World Race, as it was known then, despite his lack of offshore sailing experience. It came during a transition period as sailors evolved from amateurs to professionals and when teams started picking the best sailors and worried about things like cooking and sail making later. It was all about making the boat go fast all of the time.

Stu Bannatyne has been with Doyle Sails since 2016 and spends the majority of his time sailing professionally, if he isn’t sailing he is based out of Doyle Sails New Zealand’s office in Auckland, New Zealand. Stu spends a great deal of time and energy investing his unmatched knowledge and experience into the sail programs and sailors that he works with.

“I’ve been working with the team here for a long time, most of which I have known for many years before that sailing. They all command a lot of respect within the industry; sailing is ultimately a people business and you have to have the right people on your team,” says Bannatyne. “It’s a dynamic company and I am particularly excited about the team’s flexibility to work on new ideas and ability to adapt to and create new technologies. I believe that Doyle Sails New Zealand is cutting edge in terms of technology and offers top level service for clients.”

With a background in engineering coupled with his huge wealth of experience on the water Stu works alongside the worldwide Grand Prix team and CEO Mike Sanderson to provide expert rounded advice and support to Doyle Sails’ customer base.

“We’ve been steadily gaining more and more market share over the last few years, and this is because of having the likes of Stu onboard – he supports our work in continuing to grow our presence in the Grand Prix racing sector,” says Sanderson. “Sailmaking has become more of a science than an art and Stu’s engineering qualifications together with his sailing experience provide the perfect blend of expertise for our clients.”

“Building world class sails is one thing, but we want to offer more than that and help the teams with the full package, complete integration between all major facets of the game ,” says Sanderson. “The way the sport has evolved means you need to look at the whole  picture including sails, rigs, boat design, crew selection and rating optimisation, in order to help clients to get the best return on their investments. That is where the experience of our team, all those years and ocean racing miles on the water as part of professional programmes is so important. This rounded approach is the direction we want the company to move in and our team members like Stu help make that happen.”

ABOUT DOYLE SAILS GRAND PRIX // Pushing boundaries and winning all over the world. 

Doyle Sails has become a leading force worldwide in Grand Prix race sails, from foiling Moths all the way through to the most high-profile Super Maxi’s. One of Doyle’s biggest strengths in the Grand Prix sector has been the team of experienced, passionate sailors that see the projects through from concept to competition.

In fact, many of Doyle’s innovations from a conceptual standpoint come from their in-house team of Grand Prix sailors such as, Richard Bouzaid, Mike Sanderson, Robbie Doyle, Stu Bannatyne, Justin Ferris, Luke Molloy, Chris Nicholson and Guillermo Altadill. The group is constantly competing at the highest level to ensure Doyle stays at the forefront of sail development.

Extensive testing on the water of the final product, coupled with cutting edge CFD and FEA software and design tools, have allowed us to develop sail shapes and crossovers perfected for the individual custom Grand Prix yacht. This, combined with our in-house SailPack design program and an incredibly detailed production process, offers unrivalled performance for our customers.

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