Burling enters uncharted waters

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Star New Zealand sailor Peter Burling hopes to bring all his experience in pushing yachts to the limit as he makes his debut on the offshore Volvo Ocean race, which starts on Sunday.

Featuring seven yachts, the race lasts a gruelling eight months, covering a whopping 83 340km (45 000 nautical miles) between 11 stages around the world – a vast difference from Burling’s largely in-shore based racing background which has seen him win the America’s Cup and a gold in the 49er class at the Rio Olympics over the last year.

“It’s always been something I have really been interested in doing, a bit more offshore sailing and now’s a great way to get a bit more experience,” said the 26-year-old dubbed the “golden boy” by his boat’s skipper Bouwe Bekking.

“I feel I was doing really well with the other things I was doing with the America’s Cup stuff and the Olympics, and it seemed like a great opportunity to go with Team Brunel.

“I’m learning the different skills about the offshore side of it, but you know also bringing a lot of skills to the table with just trying to make the boat go fast.”

Burling denied that his participation was linked to winning a third high-profile yachting competition in quick succession.

“Well, everyone talks about it, but for myself as I was brought up always sailing dinghies, the Olympics was the pinnacle of that,” he said, adding: “Obviously the America’s Cup has a special place back home.

“We’re in this race to try and win it, but it’s not really the motivation….if we get there, we get there, but it’s nothing to do with the Triple Crown.”

Burling, who has offshore racing experience having done the Sydney-Hobart, Auckland-Fiji and Fastnet races, said he was particularly looking forward to stages six and seven, in and out of Auckland in his native New Zealand.

“Sailing into your home port and then sailing out of your home port into the Southern Ocean around Cape Horn… as a kid, when you watch footage of offshore racing, it’s always about the Southern Ocean – it’s about being out in the cold, wrapped up warm, so I’m really looking forward to that,” he said.

RACING TUKE, LIKE DAYS OF OLD

In a bizarre twist of fate, Burling’s Rio teammate Blair Tuke, with whom he was also New Zealand’s flag bearer at the 2016 Games, will be racing with the fancied Mapfre team, who won last week’s in-port race, the first competitive action of the Volvo.

“We always raced against each other as kids!” Burling said of the prospect of lining up against Tuke.

“You could definitely say Mapfre are the pre-race favourites.

“(But) it’s a long race, it goes for eight months, and we’re here for the long haul to obviously try and win it, but you don’t win it in the first in-port race. It’s all about improving the crew and the manoeuvres and how we sail the boat at the moment.”

Briton Dee Caffari is the only female skipper and the sole one to choose a 50-50 males/female crew onboard Turn the Tide on Plastic.

“To step up and be a skipper for the first time in this arena is a huge responsibility,” said Caffari, the first woman to sail solo, non-stop around the world in both directions.

“Everyone talks about Turn the Tide on Plastic as inexperienced. A lot of my sailors are first timers but they are very skilled sailors and they can make a boat go fast,” Caffari said.

“We just need to make sure we don’t make any mistakes, and that we sail to the right place.”

Caffari’s United Nations-backed yacht will be up against not only Team Brunel and Mapfre, but also Team AkzoNobel, skippered by Kiwi Brad Jackson, a three-time winner in his six previous participations.

Dongfeng Race Team will represent China, while Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag turn out for Hong Kong, the field filled out by US/Danish yacht Vestas 11th Hour Racing.