by Richard Crockett
At the age of just 27 Blair Tuke has achieved more in sailing than most people have achieved in a lifetime – yet he still wants to fulfill a childhood dream and compete in the world’s toughest ocean race.
In just 10 month Tuke has won a gold medal in the Rio Olympics and the America’s Cup.
If he and his team win the VOR, he will become the first person ever to win sailing’s ‘Triple Crown’ – an Olympic Gold medal, the America’s Cup and the Volvo Ocean Race.
Tuke has joined MAPFRE for the VOR, and continues a strong New Zealand tradition in this race.
Tuke, who has also won four consecutive 49er World Championships and was named ISAF Sailor of the Year in 2015, links up with MAPFRE skipper Xabi Fernández to take on the ultimate test of a team in professional sport – a 45,000 nautical mile race around the planet.
“The idea of doing the Volvo Ocean Race is something I’ve been very excited about ever since I was a little kid. Everyone closest to me has known I’ve wanted to do this race for so long, even before I did the America’s Cup and the Olympics. I’m so happy to finally have the opportunity – and to do it with MAPFRE is something I’m really looking forward to,” said Tuke.
“I’ve raced with Xabi a lot in the 49ers and when the race came to Auckland in the 2014-15 edition, I went onboard MAPFRE for the In-Port Race and the start, so I’ve seen them in action close up. The team has a lot of really good guys on the boat and I think it’s a great opportunity for me. I’m really happy to be teaming up with MAPFRE.”
The race will be Tuke’s first competitive foray offshore, and with the One Design Volvo Ocean 65 boats set to race three times more Southern Ocean miles than in recent editions, it promises to be a steep learning curve.
“I’m under no illusions as to the learning curve I’ve got in front of me – I know what it’s like to be out there and offshore, but to do it at this high level of a race is going to be new to me,” continued Tuke.
“The thought of racing into Auckland, and then leaving again for the Southern Ocean, is pretty exciting, but before I get there I have to do a lot of learning, and gain more experience in how to make these boats go fast.
“I’m excited for the challenge – I’ve loved being challenged in the past, and having to learn fast, and I’m really looking forward to this one.”
Securing his spot in the Volvo Ocean Race caps an unforgettable 12 months for Tuke, who scooped an Olympic gold in the 49er class at Rio 2016 alongside his long-term sailing partner Peter Burling.
The pair took first place with two races to spare, boasting a 43-point margin over their nearest challengers – the biggest gap in any sailing class since modern scoring began – to add to a silver medal achieved at London 2012.
Burling and Tuke then played an integral part in Emirates Team New Zealand successful America’s Cup campaign, winning them a second major trophy in less than a year.
Since 1973, winning the Volvo Ocean Race has been an obsession for the world’s best sailors, desperate to prove that they have what it takes to claim glory in the pinnacle of offshore sailing.
MAPFRE skipper Xabi, who also boasts an Olympic gold and silver medal, has spent the last decade chasing victory in the Volvo Ocean Race – and has packed his squad with highly-experienced and decorated sailors ahead of the 2017-18 edition.
“Blair is a really exciting sailor for the team,” explained Fernández. “Nobody can doubt his talent, and I am absolutely convinced that he will be a really strong addition to the team as trimmer and helmsman.”
“We first met Blair in 2010, when we raced against Peter Burling and Blair in the last World Championships we participated in. Then, in 2012, when we were in Auckland with the Volvo Ocean Race, we trained with them in a 49er on our rest days preparing for the London Olympic Games,” explained Fernández.