He has campaigned four times for the America’s Cup - twice for his home country New Zealand - and competed in two editions of the global Volvo Ocean Race (VOR).
He competed in the AC34 with Artemis Racing both on-board as a grinder and part of the performance and instruments shore team and in 2015 went on to join the new British team for their AC35 campaign. He was one of only two people in the sailing team to combine the role with a job in the design team, heading up Systems Engineering. A vital role he continues to hold.
Who inspired you to start sailing
A Sunburst Dinghy
First sailing club
Kapiti Boating Club, New Zealand
I never really had a childhood hero, but there were plenty of good Kiwi sailors to look up to growing up
When did you know you wanted sailing to be a career rather than a hobby
While watching the yachts arrive in Auckland during the 1989 Whitbread
What do you love most about sailing
It is a sport that offers so much variety from intense competition and technical development to cruising the islands with friends
What has sailing taught you
It has taught me the benefits of hard work and patience
Favourite ever sailing race
The Volvo Ocean Race, the adventure of circumnavigating the planet
How do you know when you have good form
When the team is on good form and everyone is working well together manoeuvres happen effortlessly and almost in silence
How do you keep going when you're on the limit
There is always an underlying drive to be the best, as well as a fear of letting down your team mates both onboard and ashore
Louis Vuitton Cup win in 2007 with Emirates Team New Zealand
If you weren't a sailor, what would you be
A mechanical engineer
Work hard and never give up
What other sports do you play now
Surfing and stand-up-paddle (SUP) boarding
How do you spend your time when you are not sailing
We travel so much with sailing that I try and spend time at home… but never too far from the water
Do you support any particular charities
Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust
"I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. Twenty six times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordon
Although born in New Zealand, McLean spent the first decade of his life growing up in Brunei. “We left New Zealand when I was one and went to Brunei. I grew up there until I was nine. Dad went there as an engineer and Mum got a teaching job at the International School which we attended. My parents always sailed and that’s how I got into it. We sailed in Brunei quite a bit, it was pretty uncommon around there, but we did it, just cruising around the islands in a little 28 footer on the weekends.”
“When we moved back to New Zealand, we moved to Wellington and we sailed there. Dad owned a keelboat, a 30 footer. He’s always had a boat, some sort of boat, nothing flash, but always something to go sailing in – like most New Zealanders – and we raced them. We used to race in the winter series and I remember being terrified sometimes. Those were the biggest waves I had ever seen. And when I did my first around the world race, I remembered those waves. I was anticipating something bigger, more scary in the open ocean, but we saw nothing like it!”
Andrew McLean soon progressed to racing dinghies. “The dinghy scene’s pretty good in New Zealand. They're all homemade, plywood boats, slightly modified, slightly developed, but it’s cool. I saved up all my money and bought a Starling, like a plywood Laser Radial, and we did that up in the garage.
“At the time the top end keelboat racing was an Auckland scene, and it’s actually a little tough to get into if you're outside Auckland. I was just keelboat sailing with my old man and hanging around the yacht clubs in Wellington, but there were a couple of guys there that had quite good contacts and they asked me to join the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron Youth Training Programme.” This was a well-trodden route to a future in professional sailing.
“It was a match racing squad, run by Harold Bennett. It meant sailing all weekend and two, maybe three nights a week. We did six or seven regattas during the year against sailing clubs internationally and we used to have some good racing. It was intense.”
By then McLean was at university in Auckland. “I was originally going to do Naval Architecture at Southampton University (UK), but it was just so far away and in the end, I thought no. So, I went to university in Auckland and did engineering because their yacht research side was pretty strong. I learned a lot of computational techniques, engineering, science, and the composite engineering, it was pretty broad, but it was good fun.”
Andy wasn’t just a student though, he was also hard at work within Auckland’s world-renowned marine industry. “I did a lot of nightshift work with North Sails Group and Southern Spars. My original dream was to be a sailmaker. It was my dream, but mum wouldn’t let me. I'd always finish a year of school and get good marks and I’d think, ‘Oh, might as well do another year.’ So, I used to do a lot of nightshifts sailmaking. I also did some design and composite work at Southern Spars.
“And then I ended up designing and running the Twisted Flow Wind Tunnel at Auckland University. It was a good job in that I ran all the testing for Illbruck Challenge and that generation of Volvo Ocean Racers. Those guys would come down and spend a week or two in the tunnel, and then the next team would come down. I was getting my finger on the pulse of what was happening in sailing while I was at university, it was a good summer job.”
It was a rock-solid start to a career in professional sailing. McLean had connections with the world’s biggest sailmaker, one of its most sophisticated spar manufacturers, and was working on sail development for one of the top professional events. All this while still at university, and a place with the RNZYS’s youth programme. “I had a clear plan, I was pretty smart about it. I was focused on what I wanted to do and I made sure I took the right steps. It was a lot of hard work. There are so many good guys sailing in New Zealand, my philosophy was that when we went sailing we would do it at 100%, otherwise you're not going to go anywhere. And so, even evening racing I would take as seriously as anything else, it was amazing what opportunities I picked up on the way.”
The next place that those contacts led was to Team New Zealand, and the America’s Cup. In 2001, straight out of university, McLean was hired to write visualization tools for the weather team. “I did a couple of days sailing and I was about 75kg and physically not strong enough. I was blown away sailing those boats, sailing with the best in the world with the national flag on our gear was a big lift in intensity and something I really wanted to do more of!”
Unfortunately, 2003 wasn’t a great America’s Cup for the Kiwis. The boat failed in three races, two of which led to a retirement, and they lost 5-0 to the Swiss team, Alinghi. “Looking back that team was a very young group with very little sailor input into the design development which was a disaster, we learnt a lot of lessons but it was bad for the country that we lost the Cup.”
“After that I picked back up with Southern Spars and did a lot of R&D projects, as one of the world’s leading marine engineering groups it was a fascinating place to work, and satisfying being involved in the full development cycle from concept and design to testing on the water. I joined the next Team New Zealand campaign with Dalts [Grant Dalton, new CEO at Team New Zealand] very early. I got a job straight away doing reconnaissance, but when I had a meeting with him he said, ‘What do you want to be?’ I said, ‘I want to be a sailor.’ He said, ‘You won't get on the boat unless you're 100kgs.’ I said, ‘No problem.’ I went away and trained like hell. And I was putting on something like half a kilo a week. And I came back at 100kgs. Dalts had to give me a sailing role! That was a fun campaign doing a mix of serious sailing and engineering development work.”
It was the start of a pattern for Andrew McLean, of sailing and racing, while still working at the cutting edge of the technology and development. “I enjoy the engineering, the technology side. That’s probably the most exciting bit, certainly in this Cup on these boats.”
The 2007 America’s Cup was much more successful for the New Zealand team, losing a close-fought rematch with Alinghi 5-2. By now, McLean was well established, and signed again for the next Cup cycle. Except, the date and boats for the next Cup kept changing, first it was to be a 90ft monohull called the AC90. “We designed the AC90 and we were ready to start the build process when Dalts called, ‘They’ve cancelled it. The Cup has gone to court’.”
The row over format, rules and boats went on for three years, fought out in the courts and then eventually in a one-sided match between Switzerland and the USA under the original rules of the Deed of Gift. It was another three years before there was a Cup competition in which New Zealand could compete, and by then, McLean had had to move on. He raced on the Extreme Sailing Series, then moved across to fully-crewed ocean racing, with an Irish boat called Green Dragon in the Volvo Ocean Race (VOR) with Ian Walker.
“I'd always wanted to do ocean racing. I did a lot of distance racing out of Auckland. It was a lot of fun. I’d always done quite a bit of navigating, and I’d spent a lot of time with the weather teams [at Team New Zealand], so I had quite a good handle on that side of racing. I had experience running and maintaining complex systems and enjoyed working hard so the endurance racing was a perfect fit.”
McLean went back to Team New Zealand when they entered the next round the world race in a partnership with Spanish clothing brand Camper. “I went around again as a navigator, so that was quite different for me and that was rewarding. The class was still a development class so the bulk of the work was designing and building the boat so it was a really interesting project.”
By the time the project was finished it was the middle of 2012, the America’s Cup was a year away and he was picked up by the Swedish team, Artemis Racing to work on system control software. He joined late, and suffered with the team through the tragic sailing accident that cost the life of Andrew ‘Bart’ Simpson. The team had changed design direction to build foiling boats much later than the other teams, and never really put a competitive boat in the water.
By the end of the 34th Cup, McLean had another choice between carrying on to the next or going back to offshore racing. “I was really tempted by the VOR again especially with some exciting teams announcing, but I got a phone call and they said, ‘Do you want to do the Cup with Ben Ainslie Racing?’ I said yes. The thought of designing and building a new development class from scratch was attractive.”
“I signed as a sailor, but quickly got involved in the design side offering feedback and input from the sailing side, it got a bit out of hand from there, eventually leading the systems group. It’s not what I joined for and as a first time team, there were certainly some challenges.
“It’s still critical that there's a link between the technology side and the sailors and that continues to be my role now, with these AC75s. It’s the technical side of the sport I think that has always appealed to me. I saved up for that first dinghy and then worked on it with dad in the garage - we stripped it down and worked out how to make it better and faster, the whole process of developing and racing was fun. There is a whole other side to sailing, the adventure side and that’s what I enjoy the most.”