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West Orange Times & Observer Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021 1 week ago

On the chase: Mark Austin lives for the American Dream

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Winter Garden resident Mark Austin, a team medic for the New York Yacht Club’s American Magic race team, is currently helping keep his team safe during the Prada Cup and America’s Cup.
by: Troy Herring Sports Editor

A world away in Auckland, New Zealand, Mark Austin is gliding along the water on a boat referred to simply as Chase 2.

It’s Sunday, Jan. 10, for folks here in the United States — though the 18-hour time difference means it’s Monday for Austin — and he’s riding behind the crew of the New York Yacht Club’s American Magic.

The club is preparing for the Prada Cup, which runs Jan. 15 to Feb. 22, and just like the team manning American Magic, the Winter Garden resident — who serves as safety and team medic — also has to be prepared for the upcoming races. The practice days are not quite the same as an actual race day, but they are vital to success, Austin said.

“It’s the same excitement without the spectators,” Austin said. “It’s very regimented — whenever we go into race mode there are absolute rules that take place, and we can only be in certain areas during race time, whereas when we’re just training on the water, we can chase the boat all over the place.

“But once the course is set and the yacht is on the course, only one of our chase boats can stay within a certain amount of distance of the yacht, and the other boats are on a standby location around the perimeter of the course until they’re needed,” he said.

Austin and the American Magic team completed the Christmas Cup regatta — part of the America’s Cup World Series — but now they are readying for the round-robin-style Prada Cup tournament to decide who takes on the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron in the prestigious 36th America’s Cup in March.
 

Photo courtesy of Will Ricketson

A QUICK HISTORY

In the Prada Cup, American Magic will compete against two other clubs from across the world — INEOS Team UK from the United Kingdom and Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team from Italy.

It’s a big race in the world of sailing yachts, because the winner takes on the title of “challenger” as they compete against the “ defender” — the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron — in the America’s Cup.

The America’s Cup is steeped in tradition, with the first race taking place in 1851 — making it the oldest trophy in international sport. The race was first started by a group of businessmen from New York who sailed the schooner America across the Atlantic Ocean for the World’s Fair in England. Those men won a race around the Isle of Wight against a fleet of British yachts to claim the £100 Cup.

The last race, held in 2017 in Bermuda, saw the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron beat the Golden Gate Yacht Club. Along with the trophy, the winner of the race gets to decide where the next will be held, hence why Austin and many on the team are currently in New Zealand, where they — as well as Austin’s wife, Lesley — have been since July 2020.
 

FIGHTING FOR THE AULD MUG

Austin himself has been a part of the organization for going on three years, and it was his job background that drew the attention of the New York Yacht Club.

“I’m retired from the fire service — I was with Orlando Fire Department for my career and then from there retired and went to Cocoa Beach Fire Department,” Austin said. “But during my career, I did safety/medical for offshore powerboat racing — that’s where my beginning was for the racing stuff.

“It was an interest,” he said. “I had some buddies that I worked with in the fire service (who) were doing it, and I was able to join them with what they were doing.”

The New York Yacht Club connected with Austin and brought him to Rhode Island where they were working. There, he saw the technology and boats being used. These boats were hitting speeds — up to 40 knots — he had never seen before.

Photo courtesy of Will Ricketson

In the years since Austin became a member of the team, he has been the man on Chase 2 — there are three chase boats — and luckily, he hasn’t had to deal with any significant injuries. The biggest concern is always a boat colliding with another, but that’s never happened under Austin’s watch. 

So far, the most important part of Austin’s job is always in the beginning when the safety team goes over water safety with sailors. Outside of helping the team, Austin serves as a liaison between the team and local jurisdictions to determine what resources they have in the event of an emergency.

Austin said he enjoys the thrill of overseeing these important responsibilities in a historic race on the other side of the world, as well as the international flavor that comes with being a part of the New York Yacht Club.

“Our team is made up of members from all over the world, and making those relationships has been the best thing for me,” he said. “Now I have friends everywhere, and leading up to this — I’m a Florida boy — so I’ve been able to experience the different cultures, and it’s been wonderful.”

Troy Herring is the sports editor at the West Orange Times and Windermere Observer. He is a graduate of the University of Mount Olive (BS '12) and the University of Alabama (MA '16)....

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