SAN DIEGO — Together, Peter Burling and Blair Tuke of New Zealand won Olympic silver and gold medals, and then the America’s Cup.
Separately, they will try to win the Volvo Ocean Race, the round-the-world race that starts Sunday from Alicante, Spain.
Burling is a helmsman and trimmer with Team Brunel, a Dutch-backed squad led by VOR veteran skipper Bouwe Bekking.
Tuke is a trimmer and helmsman with the Spanish team MAPFRE, the pre-race favorite based on its victory in the non-counting Leg Zero, a series of races during the summer, and last Saturday’s in-port race in Alicante.
Burling, 26, or Tuke, 28, could become the first sailor to win the so-called Triple Crown of sailing’s greatest accomplishments: the America’s Cup, the VOR and an Olympic gold medal.
American John Kostecki has come the closest, skipping the winning illbruck Challenge in the 2001-02 Volvo Ocean Race, winning the America’s Cup in 2010 and 2013 with Oracle Team USA and taking a silver medal in the 1988 Olympics.
Burling and Tuke are downplaying talk of the so-called Triple Crown, preferring to focus on helping their teams win the bluewater classic, which will cover 45,000 nautical miles in 11 legs, including long stretches through the inhospitable Southern Ocean.
“If we were to win, it would be quite an achievement for everyone who put in so much hard work, not only this time around but so many guys have been together for previous races,” Tuke said. “They’ve put a lot into it. Now I’m part of that team and hopefully I’ll do my part and help out and win the race and we’ll celebrate as a team first and foremost.”
Tuke said he became smitten with sailing in the VOR after reading a book about the 2001-02 race, “Ocean Warriors,” by Australian author Rob Mundle. That was around the time Tuke began sailing dinghies.
Winning the Triple Crown “is not my motivation at all,” he said. “My motivation is to do the race. That’s where my passion comes from, not the accolades.”
Burling, the youngest helmsman to win the America’s Cup, is of the same mindset.
“We both put a hell of a lot of hard work in the Olympic class to win the gold medal and then win the America’s Cup,” Burling said. “I jumped into this somewhat late and we’ve got a lot to learn as a team. Our goal is to win this thing. I’m not too worried about what’s associated with it.”
Kostecki thinks one of the Kiwis has a great chance to finish the Triple Crown.
“Well yeah, absolutely. They’re good,” Kostecki said.
“The VOR “is a totally different kind of sailing and experience,” Kostecki added. “It definitely makes you a better all-around sailor. It’s great that they’re taking it on. They’ve both been on an incredible roll lately.”
In June, Burling helmed Emirates Team New Zealand to a rout of two-time defending champion Oracle Team USA in the 35th America’s Cup in Bermuda. Tuke was one of the crewmen, trimming the 50-foot catamaran’s foils while also serving as one of the “cyclors” who pedaled stationairy bikes to produce hydraulic power for the foils and wing sail.
Less than a year before that, they won the gold medal in the 49er class at the Rio Olympics with two races to spare, upgrading the silver they won at the London Games.
Now they face a grueling offshore test.
“It’s going to be an amazing experience,” Burling said. “Not many people get to try to take on an endurance race where you keep pushing for such a long period of time. It’s going to be pretty cool to see that side of it. I’m looking forward to it, obviously getting into the watch system and different sleeping patterns. I’ve done a fair bit of offshore racing, but nothing like this. There’s no way of getting experience without taking on a race like this.”
Jumping to a bigger boat is a natural progression for the two sailors after mastering the 49er and the America’s Cup catamarans (which will be replaced by monohulls in the next edition).
“It’s a different challenge with some different skills, but a lot of things transfer,” Burling said. “You’ve got to sail the boat fast. That’s something I bring to the team.”
Said Tuke: “They’re different, aren’t they, but I guess a lot of the same principles cross over all three, which is why we’re able to do them. You put the sails up and that sort of thing. The Volvo is another challenge for the mind and body, the endurance factor.”
The race, featuring seven teams, will visit Auckland early next year.
“It will be pretty special to sail in and out of your home country,” Burling said.
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