Meet the Crew | David 'Freddie' Carr

Known to all as ‘Freddie’, the experienced sailor is one of the powerhouses of the British challenge

"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 when you are trying to win a big trophy. And the America’s Cup is the biggest trophy."

David 'Freddie' Carr
© HARRY KH_

Q&A

Who inspired you to start sailing? 
I got into sailing through my family, mainly through my father [former Chief Executive of the Royal Yachting Association and Sport England, Rod Carr]. As a youngster I loved capsizing and splashing around more than keeping the boat upright and sailing! 
First boat? 
An electric blue Oppie called ‘Happy Days’ as I loved Fonzy. 
First sailing club? 
Spinnaker Sailing Club in the winter and Hayling Island Sailing Club (HISC) in the summer. 
Childhood hero? 
Tony Adams, 670 games and 10 major trophies; ‘Mr. Arsenal’. 
When did you know you wanted sailing to be a career rather than a hobby? 
It still feels like my hobby. I’m just very lucky to have made my career out of something I love.
What do you love most about sailing? 
Working with such a great group of guys every day. 
What has sailing taught you? 
It has taught me everything I know. I can’t think of a major life lesson that doesn’t relate to my sailing life. 
Favourite ever sailing race? 
The hype and excitement that surrounds the America’s Cup is class, but I love Federation Week at Hayling Island Sailing Club. 
How do you know when you have good form? 
When you are thinking ahead of the brains at the back of the boat and are a couple of steps ahead going into all race situations.

How do you keep going when you're on the limit? 
You know the more watts you put through the pumps the faster the boat will go. 
Career highlight? 
There’s a few, I loved every one of my Challenger Series Cup races over the years. Happy to be the current America’s Cup World Series Champions and winning the 2009 Extreme Sailing Series with such a close group of mates. 
If you weren't a sailor, what would you be? 
A box-to-box midfielder for Arsenal Football Club. 
Best advice? 
Think practice and training is hard? 
Try losing. 
What other sports do you play now? 
I cycle, swim and run a lot. I also spend a bit too much time on the grinder (how sad!). 
How do you spend your time when you are not sailing? 
I spend a lot of time watching sports. I will watch anything sporty on TV. 
Do you support any particular charities? 
I have run two London Marathons for Cancer Research UK as my family has been greatly affected by cancer. I am for sure going to be putting in some sporting efforts for the Andrew Simpson Sailing Foundation very soon. I am also an ambassador for the 1851 Trust, Official Charity of INEOS TEAM UK.
Favourite quote? 
'I'm very important. I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany.' - Ron Burgundy

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Known to all as ‘Freddie’, the experienced sailor is one of the powerhouses of the British challenge; during the last campaign he spent over 15 hours a week in the gym on top of the team’s intense sailing and racing programme. Outside of the sport he also likes to challenge himself, he’s competed in four marathons and finished the 2015 British Rowing Indoor Championships 9th overall, the highest placed competitor outside of the GB Rowing Team. It’s not been easy, as the boats have evolved during each Cup cycle the physical demands on the sailors have also increased.

Freddie is one of the powerhouses of the British challenge
© HARRY KH_

He undertook a gruelling fitness and weight loss programme which saw Freddie shed over 10kgs for his most recent role as a Grinder with Britain’s America’s Cup Challenger for the 35th America’s Cup, a period which he described himself as ‘being in the best shape of my life’. With five America’s Cup campaigns under his belt; GBR Challenge in 2003, Sweden’s Victory Challenge in 2007, as a grinder for Luna Rossa and most recently the AC35 in Bermuda, he’s experienced first-hand how the sport and Cup has transitioned and with it, grown as a sailor and athlete.

Sailing is a sport which runs in his family. His father is Rod Carr CBE; who started out as a coach at the National Sailing Centre and went on to become Olympic Manager and CEO of the Royal Yachting Association (RYA) and Chair of UK Sport, before retiring in 2017. “Sailing has taught me so much, I can’t think of a major life lesson that doesn’t relate to my sailing life. Myself, my older sister and my Mum would go to some of the Olympic regattas with my Dad and I have very, very early memories from the ages of four and five, being around the GB sailors and occasionally sitting in RIBs 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 British America’s Cup Challenge; racing for your country has been the mainstay of my life ever since I can remember.”

A young Freddie with his sister and father Rod Carr

Freddie was born on the Isle of Wight, 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 interest in sailing 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, Double Olympic silver medallist Ian Walker and UK Businessman 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.

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 INEOS TEAM UK. It seemed like at 25 I had landed the dream job. It was a great Cup team, with Ben (Ainslie), Iain [Percy] and Bart [Andrew Simpson]. It was all great until unfortunately 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.

Freddie was a member of Team Origin with Ben Ainslie at the helm

Fortunately, there were other opportunities, and Carr 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.

Freddie twice won the Extreme Sailing Series

“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.

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 tragically lost his life 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 a new team he had set up, 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.”

Freddie signed there and then, joining the team for their 35thAmerica’s Cup campaign. The team were based just down the road from home in a purpose-built HQ in Old Portsmouth. We achieved a huge amount throughout the campaign and had success together. Winning the 2015/16 America’s Cup World Series was a real highlight for the team. Once we got out to Bermuda though it became quite obvious that we weren’t as fast as we thought we were going to be and that the opposition were in good shape. That was a real check in moment for us, but the best thing to come out of it was that we all knuckled down and made some big decisions, sacrificing time on the boat to make changes to our package trying to become more competitive. When it came down to it, we gave it 110% but we just weren’t fast enough and were knocked out in the semi-finals, to Emirates Team New Zealand, who went on to win the Cup.  

“Jono [Macbeth, Sailing Team Manager] said to me when I first signed with the team back in 2014, whether you win or got knocked out you should judge your America’s Cup campaign by how you feel the morning after and ask yourself if there’s anything you would have done differently. The day after we lost in Bermuda, I woke up feeling absolutely gutted and exhausted from the amount of energy that the whole team put into getting us that far. I learnt a lot of lessons from it all, my approach this time is quite different.

“I took some time off from everything and it was really good for me to go and sail on other boats and circuits and shift back into more traditional and ‘normal’ sailing, getting back to the bread and butter. The sailing world has really evolved, and the standard of racing out there was impressive. It was also good to step away from the gym, going from being in there 15 hours a week - alongside the sailing - eventually wears you down a little, so I reset myself which has ultimately set me up to go again. I think if I had tried to train all the way through I would be on my knees by now.

Freddie pushing himself in the gym
© HARRY KH_

“I was really lucky to start my career sailing in the IACC Class boats in 2001 and went on to do that for 10 years. The classic mono-hulls were brilliant match racing boats that handled well, I also feel really privileged to have raced on the AC72s in San Francisco followed by the foiling ACC’s in Bermuda. There’s a good chance this next class of boat, the AC75, could truly reflect the journey of the Cup over the last 20 years. It’s a cumulation of the two sides of the sport; we are going to have a boat that sailors can relate to so it will keep the likes of myself, who want to me more hands on onboard happy and then for the extreme fanatics, the foiling and the speed we are going to reach will make it spectacular to watch.” 

The 36thAmerica’s Cup in Auckland marks Freddie’s sixth Cup campaign, does he see himself as a mentor to the young guys coming through? ” I’m up there with the more experienced and older sailors in the team that’s for sure and it’s good to see the young guys, including the new Rebel sailors, Ben [Cornish] and Oli [Greber], coming through. The America’s Cup environment is intense and can be a real shock when the going gets going.

“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.”

Freddie is a big fan of yoga
© HARRY KH