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America's Cup: The Voice of the America's Cup calls Edition 13

by Suzanne McFadden 15 Mar 00:56 NZDT 15 March 2021
Peter Montgomery interviews Peter Blake with Russell Coutts after the 1995 America's Cup win in San Diego. © Montgomery archives

Peter (PJ) Montgomery is thriving in his 13th America’s Cup - 41 years after covering his first Cup regatta in Newport, Rhode Island, when Dennis Conner's Freedom defeated James Hardy's Australia in 1980.

Next week, Montgomery will be inducted into the America’s Cup Hall of Fame, which has its physical address in the Herreshoff Marine Museum in Rhode Island. He’s only the sixth ‘chronicler’ to join the hallowed hall, usually reserved for Cup sailors, designers, boat builders and syndicate bosses.

It’s not only for his services to broadcasting, and making the America’s Cup understandable for millions of land-lubber fans around the globe. He also helped convince Sir Michael Fay to enter the first New Zealand campaign in Fremantle in 1987. “He still says to this day, ‘You cost me a whole lot of money PJ’,” Montgomery laughs.

Although he retired eight years ago from his regular radio gigs hosting weekend sports shows and roaming the rugby sidelines with a microphone at Eden Park, he keeps getting called back to call the America’s Cup.

“It’s a bit like riding a bike, you remember what to do,” says Montgomery, now in his late 70s.

Anchoring the radio commentary for Gold AM, Newstalk ZB and iHeart Radio, Montgomery’s studio isn’t big, but it’s welcoming. The glass doors are flung open so anyone can stop and listen, and watch the racing on a TV screen out front. Policemen, St John’s staff and ‘city skipper’ volunteers stand under the pohutukawa trees watching Montgomery, wearing colourful spotted socks, in full flight.

It's fascinating witnessing Montgomery at work. He’s very animated - pointing at the bank of screens even though the listeners can’t see - and a master at getting the most out of the sailing experts he surrounds himself with. He never sits down.

His producer, Louis Herman-Watt, says in this America’s Cup, Montgomery has been “reinvigorated by his millennial sidekick”, Kiwi international match racer Chris Steele.

Montgomery invites Steele to give his expert opinion with a quick tap on his shoulder, then asks him to explain to “the little old lady in Riverton” why Team NZ have tacked away from Luna Rossa.

He calls in guest commentators like American Magic helmsman Dean Barker and round-the-world sailor Bianca Cook, and phones old friends out on the racecourse, like former Team NZ sailor Dan Slater and wind guru Jon Bilger, to recount what they’re seeing.

Over the years he’s had some of the Cup’s great sailors as his wing men – winning helmsmen Buddy Melges and Ed Baird (who’ll also be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Friday), Sir Russell Coutts and Spithill. If it wasn’t for Covid-19, he would have had American sailing legend Gary Jobson doing expert analysis this time, “but this is the first Cup he’s missed since 1964”, Montgomery explains.

“But I’ve really enjoyed working with younger people this time.” A voracious reader, he knows it’s critical to stay current as sailing evolves, especially when you’re trying to paint a picture of never-seen-before foiling monohulls.

“This Cup has been interesting with these incredible flying machines,” he says. “But I’ve been frustrated that with the lockdowns and the whole Covid pandemic we haven’t had the international flavour."

He’s also disappointed by “people who make a sport out of knocking the America’s Cup.” As we sit on the edge of the Viaduct, watching kids leaping into the water, he points out “this was a cesspit in the early '90s, and thanks to the America’s Cup in 1995 and Blake’s vision, Auckland finally has a front door we can be proud of.”

He’s impressed by the AC75s - “when the breeze is up and they’re going, they are spectacular” – but he misses the 12m and IACC Cup boats where you could see the crews at work, particularly the bow and pit men like Team NZ's Joey Allen and Matt Mason.

“Now all you see is the helmets of the guys in the afterguard. What are the rest of them doing?” he says. “The grinders are as aerobically fit as any of the martial arts guys, and all they generate through their grinding is somehow stored. You can see a bunch of TV sets behind Burling, does that allow him to see what’s happening down to leeward?

"There are a lot of secrets that we’re missing out on. That’s the shame to me.”

For the full story click here

A look back at 41 years of America's Cup and sports broadcasting

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