Simon van Velthooven calls himself an “enthusiastic weekend warrior” these days as he continues his transformation from Olympic cyclist to bona fide sailor.
The 29-year-old former Olympic track cycling medallist became an integral member of Emirates Team New Zealand’s success at last year’s America’s Cup when they utilised cyclors. He could normally be found at the front of the high-speed AC50 with his head down as he relentlessly turned his pedals to feed the hydraulics for the speed machine.
Grinders will replace cyclors for the next America’s Cup in 2021 but van Velthooven is eager to earn a spot on the boat for his sailing skills.
His development will take another step next week when he climbs on the 52-footer Kia Kaha for the Bay of Islands Sailing Week, which is the biggest keelboat regatta in the country.
He will join Team New Zealand chase boat driver and Kia Kaha skipper Chris Hornell, who has enjoyed success at Bay Week before. There's plenty of America's Cup flavour throughout the rest of the fleet with Joe Sullivan, Guy Endean and former Team New Zealand and Alinghi tactician Brad Butterworth competing.
“It’s good to team up with mates from Team New Zealand and also take on the other weekend warriors,” van Velthooven said. “I would consider myself an enthusiastic weekend warrior who is looking to learn as much as I can.
“As soon as I came back [from the America’s Cup], I wanted to find out about the grassroots of the sport. I signed up to as many crews as I could – whoever wanted to take me.
“I’ve done a lot of Young 88 and TP52 sailing. Everyone was happy to help because they needed people to sail the boats.”
Van Velthooven said his role on Kia Kaha next week would be to “tell people to relax when they start yelling and turn some handles”.
As many as seven TP52s have entered in the A division for Bay Week and nine will line up in the B division, which promises to be one of the most competitive among the 13 divisions racing in the three-day regatta.
There’s also interest in the battle of the trimarans between Frank Racing and Beau Geste, who slugged it out for line honours in last year’s Coastal Classic.
Van Velthooven was also aboard Kia Kaha for the Coastal Classic, a race from Auckland to the Bay of Islands, describing it as “one of the cooler things I have done on a boat”.
His interest in sailing existed long before competing in the America’s Cup but he never thought it was something that was realistic.
“Being in the America’s Cup made me realise that sailing is really accessible to anyone in Auckland and New Zealand,” he said. “It has been good fun learning and good being out on the water.
“I want to learn as much as I can and get as fit and strong as I can for the defence [of the America’s Cup] in Auckland. This is my way of becoming a better sailor and getting experience on the handles as well. It’s killing two birds with one stone. I really enjoy racing in any sport so it’s good to get out there and competing.”
More than 100 boats are expected to line up when racing at the Bay of Islands Sailing Week gets underway on Wednesday. It's still possible to enter online.