“I’m really excited for this next edition and it’s good to be back home, competing for a British team means that little bit more.”
Chris Brittle has campaigned for three America’s Cups, competed on the Olympic circuit and been the training partner for two gold medal winning Olympic campaigns.
As part of the British Sailing Team’s Olympic programme from 1999 to 2005, he was Iain Percy’s Finn training partner for the Sydney Olympics and Ben Ainslie’s for the 2004 Olympics where both won gold.
His first America’s Cup Challenge was in 2007 for the AC32 when he joined +39 Challenge as a grinder, then alongside Iain Percy and Ben Ainslie joined Britain’s Team Origin. Brittle was onboard Team Korea’s AC45 in the inaugural America’s Cup World Series in 2011 before joining Artemis Racing for two consecutive Cup campaigns, AC34 in San Francisco and AC35 in Bermuda.
He now joins INEOS TEAM UK as a grinder.
- Who inspired you to start sailing? My father
- First boat? Mirror Dingy
- First sailing club? Round Hill Sailing Club, Leicester
- When did you know you wanted sailing to be a career rather than a hobby? Watching Ben Ainslie at the 1996 Olympics in Savannah inspired me to take sailing further and train to go to the Olympics.
- What do you love most about sailing? I love the depth of all the disciplines involved in winning a yacht race and doing it alongside your mates.
- What has sailing taught you? It has taught me about perseverance and how hard you have to push to achieve your goals.
- Favourite ever sailing race? Louis Vuitton Pacific Series in 2009. I was racing for Team Origin against Prada in V5 AC yachts. It was a tight race in 25 knots and at the last windward mark we pulled off a tack-gybe set, and an early gybe to get past Prada to win the race. Boat handling took a lot more orchestration with 17 sailors onboard in those days.
- How do you keep going when you're on the limit? In a race, I concentrate on what I need to do in the moment instead of the pain and when I’m on the limit I find strong motivation in not wanting to let my teammates down.
- Career highlight? Would be the last America’s Cup [AC35] working alongside a close-knit sailing and systems group.
- If you weren't a sailor, what would you be? I would have attempted to be an Olympic rower or followed my degree as a civil engineer.
- Best advice? Learn as much as you can from as many people as you can.
- What other sports do you play now? Squash and cycling
- Funniest team-mate? I have known him a long time and he hasn’t changed – David Carr
At six foot five, over 110 kilos and bench pressing 160+kg, Chris Brittle is a powerhouse, known for his unparalleled strength and endurance.
What’s most surprising is that the grinder grew up in land-locked Leicestershire and first started sailing at Roundhill Sailing Club, a small, family friendly club on Roundhill reservoir. “I loved it from the first time I actually got in the boat on my own and sailed. I remember it was a Topper dinghy and for me it was having the freedom to go where you want; pulling the sail in, getting the power and letting it off to slow down. I got the hang of it fairly quickly.
“My Dad first inspired me to start sailing and every Sunday we would go down to the lake but it was just for fun. At around 12 I started to take it more seriously - and started to beat the other kids in the races we did - but my club wasn’t competitive at all, it was a real family friendly environment.
Between the ages of 16 to 24, Chris was part of the British Sailing Team, joining the likes of Ben Ainslie, Iain Percy, Andrew ‘Bart’ Simpson and Shirley Robinson, it was before the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games and the team had big medal potential. “The first training camp I did with the BST I was already quite heavy for the Laser [dinghy], I would do really well in the windy races, but struggle in the light. Then I moved into the Finn [dinghy], it was a little earlier than perhaps I should have but that’s because I was quite heavy.”
After school, aged 17, he took a year out to tour Europe and sail in the Finn with a friend. When they returned, Chris flew straight out to Sydney as training partner to Iain [Percy] ahead of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games and Percy went on to win gold. Once back in the UK Chris returned to studying, doing a degree in Civil Engineering at Southampton University.
At the time his goal was still to try and make it to the Olympics, but after graduating an opportunity came along to join the Italian America’s Cup team, +39, whose skipper was Iain Percy. The team competed in the Louis Vuitton Cup 2007, the Challenger Series held prior to the 32nd America's Cup in 2007. “From that moment I never look backed. But I also knew if I needed to I could fall back on my engineering. At the time the thought of working in an office-based job - over sailing - wasn’t quite as enticing for me.”
After AC32, Brittle moved onto the Audi Med Cup with a Portuguese TP52 Team. It was then a natural progression to join the British America’s Cup Challenger, Team Origin, representing the Royal Thames Yacht Club. The syndicate was founded by Sir Keith Mills, Charles Dunstone was a partner and investor and INEOS TEAM UK CEO, Grant Simmer, Team Director. The team were based in Valencia and included a number of British sailing greats including Ben Ainslie as helmsman, with Iain Percy as tactician. INEOS TEAM UK teammate, David ‘Freddie’ Carr was another of the grinders.
“I knew a lot of the guys, I also trained with Ben in the Finn ahead of the 2004 Athens Olympics, so we knew each other really well. For me at the time it was the perfect team to be part of. Plus Iain and Ben are both good friends. One thing that always stood out with me is that they are both unbelievably driven, when I compare them to other people I’ve worked with, these two are always pushing as hard as they can and always pushing other people as hard as they can. It encourages you to be the best you can be.”
Sir Keith Mills decided not to progress Team Origin’s challenge after the announcement of the AC72 class in 2010, and Chris joined Team Korea’s AC45 in the inaugural America’s Cup World Series in 2011. He then re-joined team mates and friends, Iain Percy and Andrew ‘Bart’ Simpson at Sweden’s Artemis Racing where he stayed for two consecutive Cup campaigns; the AC34 in San Francisco and the AC35 in Bermuda.
The 36th America’s Cup in Auckland will be Chris’ fifth campaign as a grinder. Onshore he helps to develop the ‘drive train’, the connection between the grinding pedestals and the multitude of tasks that the crew must power. “On the boat we are literally going to be the power, the engine if you like. Right now, for the AC75, we are currently working out when and where the power is needed and how to get it there as efficiently as we can.
“For me there is a big rush from sailing these boats in training, then when you’ve got to actually race them around a course in anger it adds another level to it. It’s an impressive boat, but the best thing about my job would be working within a team environment. It’s a good vibe with the guys and it’s great to come to work every day.”
Outside of the team he’s a father to his 18 month old son. He’s also a football fan, supporting hometown Leicester and he cycles for both fitness and fun. On his physique, he agrees it’s a difficult balance to be strong and fit, “It’s a real balance; you could focus on just being fit and your strength would suffer, or you can be strong but you need more rest, so your fitness would ultimately suffer. The guys we work with like Ben Williams are very good at putting our programmes together and I’ve got a lot of experience combining the weight training with all the endurance and aerobic work, it’s just a balance that we have done for so long it’s down to an art now. I’m really excited for this next edition and it’s good to be back home.”