By Mark Chisnell
It’s not easy to step out from the shadow of your father when the parent concerned is Rod Carr CBE; starting out as a coach at the National Sailing Centre, he’s now Chair of UK Sport, and a former Olympic Manager and CEO of the Royal Yachting Association (RYA). David ‘Freddie’ Carr has a bit on to eclipse all that, but being part of the crew to finally bring the America’s Cup home to Britain after 166 years would probably do it. Either way, it’s fair to say that Carr grew up in a household soaked – often literally – in the highest levels of the sport of sailing.
“Myself, my older sister and my mum would go to some of the Olympic regattas with my Dad. So I have very, very early memories from the ages of four and five, being around the GB sailors and occasionally sitting in RIBs [Rigid Inflatable Boats] all day, watching 470s and Finns race. I’ve always been immersed in the sport. I think that’s probably one of the main reasons why I feel so attached to the Land Rover BAR project; racing for your country has been the mainstay of my life ever since I can remember.”
David Carr was born in Newport on the Isle of Wight, right by the Solent, where the America’s Cup was first contested in 1851. “Dad was so involved in sailing that he didn’t want to push me into it, and I was given every opportunity not to sail. It was just one of five sports that I did, and I really loved it, but I didn’t love it as much as basketball and hockey and cricket and football. It wasn’t until I was about 13 or 14 that I started doing well at club racing and open meetings in my Laser and my Topper [sailing dinghies] and started to focus on it.
“My increased sailing success coincided with Ben [Ainslie] going to the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 as a 19-year-old and getting a silver medal. I remember watching his final race, seeing him go downwind in his Laser when I was just beginning to sail a Laser Radial, and just thinking, ‘Oh my goodness. This is a different sport.’ That lit a bit of a fire in my belly, I guess. From then, I dropped everything else, and by the time I got to A levels, all I did was sail, and that’s all I wanted to do.
“I got into the RYA’s youth squad in a Laser, but I realised that I was never going to be good enough to go to the Olympics as a helm. That’s when the youth match racing came on my radar, and I just loved sailing in a team as soon as I did it. I’d been a single-handed sailor my whole life, and as soon as I stepped on a boat with four other guys, the penny dropped for me. I’d always loved team sports, and sailing was the only individual sport I ever did.”
By 2000, Carr was on his way to the Youth Match Racing World Championships in Auckland and there, for the first time, he was exposed to the America’s Cup. “It blew me away. Landing in Auckland and getting in taxis where the drivers were talking to you about gybes and tack gybe sets rather than football, and then walking around the team bases in the viaduct I was just like, ‘Holy smokes. This is unbelievable,’ and that was it. I love following the Olympic sailing, but for me it’s all been about the America’s Cup since about the age of 17.
“We won the match racing worlds and the following summer we won the student match racing worlds. Whenever I get asked ‘How did you get into professional sailing?’ I look back at those three months in my life where I won those two events. On the back of that, I got a sports scholarship to Exeter University to go and do sports science. Between A levels and university, Ian Walker and Peter Harrison announced GBR Challenge for the 2003 America’s Cup. I got hold of Ian’s home phone number, and I rang him up. I said, ‘I will come and do whatever you want me to do. I’ll come and sweep the yard every day. I don’t even want to go sailing. I just want to experience it, before I go to university."
Carr spent the rest of the summer with the British team in Cowes. “It was amazing, but Mum and Dad just said, ‘This isn’t going to last. So, you go to university and get a degree.’” But he cut a deal with Ian Walker, spending all the subsequent university breaks with the team training in Auckland. “I didn’t get paid a penny. I think they gave me a rucksack at the end of my two-and-a-half years with the team, but it was the grounding that I got in the sport, learning off those guys – that group of British guys – that I took forward. Guys like Chris Mason, George Skuodos, Ado Stead and Jules Salter. Those guys were at the forefront of professional, British sailing at that time, and very matter of fact and very structured in the way they went about things; observing and learning from them was brilliant.”
The 31st America’s Cup ended early in 2003, and Carr completed his degree at Exeter, before beginning a campaign for selection in the Star Dinghy for the 2008 Olympic Games with Andy Beadsworth. “We set ourselves pretty strict targets; to be top five at the World Championships in 2006, and top Brit. But Iain Percy and Stevie Mitchell won the worlds, and we were tenth. We were pretty honest and said, ‘We’re not going to get selected,’ and pulled the pin.”
Meanwhile, Peter Harrison had tried and failed to keep his British team going for the 2007 America’s Cup in Valencia. “Just as we were winding up the Olympic sailing, Magnus Holmberg, the skipper of Sweden’s Victory Challenge, got hold of me to go and join their squad. I’d match raced against him a fair bit and he said to me, ‘We’re looking for another mid-bowman,’ and I was like, ‘Yes. I’m a mid-bowman.’
“I’m not a mid-bowman at all. So, I showed up to the event in Trapani, and my first day was massive, within two hours I was doing mid-bow on a Cup boat and trying to figure out all the systems and work with a Swedish-speaking team. I stayed with them to do the 2007 Cup, which was great, living down in Valencia. I wasn’t the nipper. I was on the race crew. I sailed in every race in that Cup, as the main grinder.
“I think that was the moment I realised that it was going alright, Mum and Dad believed that it was the start of a career. At that point, my academic sports science training did get pushed to one side, but it’s been relevant occasionally as the sport has become increasingly physical.
“In Valencia, as well as being a key member of the crew, I was very much the joker of the team. I once organised a fancy dress party at the roof bar at Victory, and I got dressed up as Superman. The boats backed up against the base, and I got the DJ to play the Superman theme tune music as I got the grinders to wind me up the mast. So, everyone was at the party on the top deck, and I came up past them doing the Superman flying-thing... I thought I was the absolute... like, the talk of the town. But then the guys just left me up there, and went to the bar. I was up there for 45 minutes!”
By the end of the 32nd America’s Cup in the summer of 2007, Sir Keith Mills was putting together Team Origin, a British challenger for the 33rd America’s Cup. “I signed for them straight away, at the drop of a hat, for the same reasons that I signed for Land Rover BAR. It seemed like at 25 I had landed the dream job. It was a great Cup team, with Ben, Iain [Percy] and Bart [Andrew Simpson]. It was all great until it went to court and it ground to a halt.”
The 33rd America’s Cup suffered from a raging argument over the format and boats, which was only settled through a one-on-one match under the rules of the original Deed of Gift between Switzerland and the USA in February 2010. The Americans won and later that year announced that the next Cup would be in 2013 and in multihulls. “I think we were going to do great things with Team Origin, but Keith – perfectly within his rights – saw it all go bad, get dragged through the courts, and decided to pull Team Origin’s campaign.
“Mason, my first son was a year old. My wife Bianca and I had just bought our first house, when you’re a dad and paying a mortgage you’re very aware of your responsibilities. I was effectively made redundant from what was my main income. That was probably the lowest I think I’ve ever been in my sailing career. I’m very aware that I’m extremely lucky to do what I do, but it’s got a lifespan. That was my first real exposure to a knock-down. I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, what am I going to do now?’
“I was really angry at the America’s Cup. I was just furious, and I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. I was in my prime athletic years, and I’m twiddling my thumbs, because the Cup’s finished in 2007, and we didn’t do the next Cup until 2013.”
Fortunately, there were other opportunities, and Carr had joined the Extreme Sailing Series (ESS). “I’d just come out of this really intense period, and I was like, ‘Well, catamaran sailing, that looks like a new innovative series. yes, I’ll do that.’ It was probably the most fun sailing I’ve ever done in my life. It was brilliant.” Carr went on to race for the next two seasons, winning the title in 2009 with a team from Oman Sail.
“The series was in its third year, and all the Cup teams were beginning to do it. It was just beginning to get some gravitas, so for me it was another one of those seminal moments, like winning the Youth Match Racing. I was really lucky that the skipper of Luna Rossa was Paul Campbell-James, sailing with Max Sirena [Skipper of Luna Rossa for the 34th America's Cup]. Paul had won the Extreme Sailing Series the year before, with Oman Sail, and got poached by Luna Rossa. He said to Max that myself and Nick [Hutton] would be really good guys to get involved in the 2013 Cup cycle. So, we sat with Max over an ice cream, as you do, and we were on.
“Bianca and Mason came with me on that Cup journey, and she was a big fan of the Italian vibe and the amazing family atmosphere. We went on to win the America’s Cup World Series 2012 - 2013. That was huge for us. Absolutely massive... and winning with Nick for the first time. We first sailed together in 2007, so I guess on and off, we’ve been sailing together for ten years now. We just don’t talk to each other on the boat. Like, whenever we come out of manoeuvres, I know exactly when he’s going to appear, and what he’s going to do. It’s like we just move around each other, knowing what the next person’s going to do the whole time, it’s a relationship I’m really lucky to have with Nick.”
The World Series win was a bright moment in the campaign, which was altered forever on one awful day. “The whole 34th America’s Cup experience was massively marred by Bart’s tragic death. I never really felt the same about it again after that. It was just the worst day ever.” British Olympic gold medallist, Andrew ‘Bart’ Simpson was killed in a sailing accident while training with the Artemis Racing team in May 2013. Later that summer, Luna Rossa was beaten in the Louis Vuitton Cup Final by Emirates Team New Zealand, and Carr and his family flew back to Britain.
“I got the phone call from Ben [Ainslie] in late November 2013 about the new team, but I’d signed a pre-contract with Luna Rossa. I went for a pint with Dad and I said, ‘Is it worth the gamble? I’m on to this sure thing with Luna Rossa.’ He said to me, ‘Imagine how you would feel, having had the opportunity to race with Ben, watching a British team win the America’s Cup.’ That was it, it’s all he had to say, and that was me.”
“I love racing and the competition. Sailing is my way of going and doing that, racing against the very best in the world. I live and breathe for the four minutes before the start of the final race to try and win a big trophy. And the America’s Cup is the biggest trophy. I think if you start thinking about the magnitude of how it would change everybody’s life... to win the last major sporting trophy for the country. It’s beyond comprehension.”