America's Cup: Optimist World Champion helms AC45 + Video

Chris Steele (18) helming the prototype AC45
We may have seen a glimpse into the future of sailing today on board the AC 45.

Chris Steele, 18, of Auckland is a Laser and Moth sailor (and a former Optimist World Champion) with his eye on the America’s Cup. And today he got his first taste of it.

Steele was welcomed on board the AC 45 today and before he knew it, four-time Cup winner Russell Coutts offered the young sailor the helm.

'I was really lucky to get on the boat but I didn’t think I would get to steer it,' Steele said. 'It was awesome and really fun. It’s a really nice boat to sail … I didn’t even realize how fast we were going.'

The AC 45 is a boat designed with youth in mind to provide younger sailors with a path to the America’s Cup. Steele makes no secret of his aspirations.

01/02/2011 - Auckaldn (NZL) - Oracle Racing - 34th America's Cup - AC45 sea trials - Trial N°9

'I want to make a living at sailing. I enjoy match racing so that’s a big factor at looking at the America’s Cup. Since I was 14 I wanted to go down the America’s Cup path.'

Steele found his way onto the path through New Zealand top international sailor Mike 'Moose' Sanderson. Steele was recruited by Sanderson to coach him in his new Moth. And Sanderson returned the favor by introducing him to Coutts.

'It’s really good for the youth guys,' Steele said. 'Up until now, it was a real process to get into the Cup. With this it seems like they’re trying to develop the youth guys.'

Although this wasn't a tryout for the team, more an opportunity to give a young sailor a big day out, a perhaps Steele will end up catching on with a team for the Youth America's Cup?

01/02/2011 - Auckaldn (NZL) - Oracle Racing - 34th America's Cup - AC45 sea trials - Trial N°9

But, nothing in this life comes for free. After relinquishing the helm, Steele was given the task of grinding for wingsail trimmer Dirk de Ridder on the long sail back to base and no doubt found muscles he usually doesn't need on the Moth.

Also on board today and getting a few minutes on the helm was team design director Mike Drummond.

And Joe Newton, an integral member of the 'crash test dummies' - the test pilots for the AC45 - found himself in an interesting new 'box seat' at the back of the boat. Peanut gallery? Cheap seats? Owner's box? You decide.