Meet the fleet: Glenn Bourke

GBHe’s a sailing legend, who has competed at the very highest levels and describes the SB20 as “far and away the best small one design keelboat on the market”. Fresh from his victory in the Australian Nationals, we catch up with Glenn Bourke.

Glenn Bourke has won three Laser World Championship titles, represented Australia at the Olympic Games (in 1992), campaigned for two America’s Cup (1987 and 1995), and was formerly CEO of the Volvo Ocean Race.

Glenn is a previous SB20 European Champion, and has also won the class at Cowes Week and the UK Nationals, but has yet to take the Worlds title. Earlier this month he won the Tasmanian State and Australian National SB20 titles at Derwent, sailing with Rob Jeffreys and Australian Sailing Squad member Jake Lilley, and has his eyes on the 2015 worlds – to be held in Torbole, Italy, from July 4-10.

Name: Glenn Bourke

SB20 Fleet: Melbourne

Boat Name: ‘Red’

Sail Number: 3030

Crew: Robert Jeffreys, Jake Lilley

What drew you to sail in the SB20 fleet? My first impression when I saw the class for the first time back in about 2003-04 was that they were everything I could have asked for in a one design, simple, fast, fun, easy to trailer to regattas, not too many crew, one design sails, good in light airs and a breeze, tactical downwind because of the asymmetric spinnaker. I’ve never really gone away from them either.

I think they are far and away the best small one design keelboat on the market. At time work has taken my attention. I live in a pretty remote place these days without much competition in any form of sailing, but I enjoy travelling to regattas and competing and it gets me off this tiny island, which is healthy!

How many years have you sailed in the class? Basically since its second year of existence – I can’t recall exactly but probably the summer of 2004. Jerry Hill had been in a year and I had been sailing 1720s out of Hamble. The SBs came along and I made the switch pretty soon thereafter.

What is your and your crew’s experience in one design racing? Well basically I have been a one design freak for the last 40 years. I started in Moths way back when, but discovered I liked the intensity of one design more. When I got big enough I swapped to Lasers and had some good years in that fleet, eventually winning three world championships in a row.

It never left me after that, I always thought it was the purest test and even though I sailed in the America’s Cup and on yachts professionally around the world, I did that for money. I sailed one design for love!

Rob Jeffreys who sails with me and is the owner of our boats is the dealer in Melbourne and has a real passion for the class. He is working hard to get momentum in the class and I applaud him for that. They are truly great for Australian conditions and I think if we can just get a bit of critical mass going the class will really take off.

Jake Lilley who sails with us on the bow is a young Finn sailor and is attempting to get selected for Rio. He is a monster, big and strong with great prowess and feel too. He’s on this amazingly fast learning curve and is just like a sponge – adapting to the SB20 took him literally 20 seconds. It felt like sailing with myself, we didn’t even have to speak we just knew what we wanted to do nearly all the time. He will be one of the next big things I’m sure.

Which events are you planning to compete in during 2015? Just three. We did the Tasmanian State Championships and the Australian Champs immediately after that, which we managed to win, and now we go to the Worlds in Garda. I have no illusions though, we are a bit undercooked on the training side, well I am anyway, but I love Garda and I love to race, so we will do our best.

Do you have a favourite SB20 sailing memory? Yes absolutely, we had a massive battle with Ben Ainslie in the Round the Island [Wight] Race, at times we led, at times he did, but eventually as we got towards the end of that very, very long race, we started to give him the slip. I can remember thinking, “Jeez, you must be going alright old boy to be hanging in with this legend!”

We had about 200 metres to a turning mark and the wind was building, we had the spinnaker up and we were really pressed up, I remember thinking if we can just get to this mark we can bear off and it’s just a run to the finish. At exactly that second the rudder sheared off and we lost control, eventually the bottom half of the rudder just broke off. Ben sailed up to us and said, “What’s going on?” We told him and he graciously said, “That’s bad luck fellas, I thought you had it in the bag.”

The race was obviously another one that Ben added to his long list of victories, but I felt like we had sailed well and he was a real gentlemen of the sport.

Where is your favourite sailing location? Probably Garda, but I loved Hawaii in the Kenwood Cup days of rolling swell and trade winds, The Ijsselmeer is a beast when it blows, fresh water short chop and really hard work if you like to flog yourself, which I sometimes do, Sydney Harbour cause it’s tricky and home, and there’s nothing prettier than the Swedish Archipelago in the four days of summer! Where you win the big ones is always the best fun and holds the most memories.

If you could change one thing about the SB20, what would it be? The towel rails, they really hurt your bum and if you are tall they also destroy your knees. I think if we could sneak the cheek of our ass over the gunwale, but not hiking, just like in an Etchells, the boats would be amazing. They are hamstrung by the towel rail, in my opinion.

When you’re not sailing, what do you do? I run Hamilton Island, we are like a small town, have our own marina and airport and hotels and restaurants. We have about 1,200 staff and it’s very complicated and a lot of fun.

Anything else we need to know about you? My real pastime these days is spearfishing, it’s pretty primal and testing, but just like SB20 racing it’s rewarding.