by Richard Crockett.
I had the privilege of interviewing two great yachties who are amongst the hottest property in the sailing world minutes before they embarked on leg 3.
Of course they are Blair Tuke and Peter Burling, Olympic Gold medalists in 2016, winners of the America’s Cup earlier this year, and now competing on different boats in the Volvo Ocean Race.
Regrettably I had very little time with them and I had many more pressing questions to ask, but the few minutes I had with each just prior to them boarding for the 3rd Leg to Melbourne, confirmed my view that these are two salt of the earth humble guys despite their rapid rise and fame in the sailing world.
Congratulations on your America’s Cup victory. We rooted for you guys down here in South Africa and were hoping for a good Kiwi win. However the Volvo Ocean Race is far more important right now as is your transition from dinghy sailing to the America’s cup and now racing around the world in the toughest of ocean races. How are you managing?
There are different aspects with each different event, but the fundamentals are the same and can be transferred right through. In each of them you learn and adapt to the new class of boat that you sail – obviously this leg through the southern ocean is going to be very different than anything we have done before, so there is going to be a lot of learning, but I am excited and that is why I am here, to learn and get better.
And the change from day sailing – from warm beds at night to being on board and working constantly 24/7. How tough has that been?
Of course it has been a little challenging at times. I have previously done some offshore sailing, so that side of it is not too new. Obviously this boat is new to me and pushing to levels we do with Volvo Ocean Races is also new. I have had to step up a little bit, and I knew I would be outside my comfort zone, but that is what I wanted from this race.
At the start of Leg 3 Xabi Fernandez and Blair Tuke on board MAPFRE.
Photo by Jen Edney/Volvo Ocean Race.
In terms of this leg through the Southern Ocean, what are your and the teams thoughts in terms of routing and how long you may take?
Obviously we are going to push very hard as it is a double points leg. It is the first Southern Ocean leg, and in saying that we have to make sure the boat gets there in one piece, we have to look after the crew and we will be pushing very hard. So it is going to be an exciting one
And your timing for the race – how long to get there?
14 , 15, 16 days
That is quick – that is very quick?
Yea – somewhere there.
And how far south do you think you guys might go?
Well, we have got the ice gates which are 300 miles north of the Kerguelen islands – so not so far south, although it looks as if there will be some really big breezes – so it is going to be intense.
Fantastic. The rivalry between you and Peter. You are obviously good mates and have done well together, but are in opposite teams now. Has this affected anything or are you guys still in tune with each other?
We are still very good mates and we push each other very well on this race. We want to beat each other for our teams, but we will share a beer at the end of this leg. We have got a lot of sailing planned in the future together, so it is all good.
In terms of the ‘triple’ that everyone is talking about, is that on your mind or is it something that you let other people talk about?
I definitely let other people talk about that right now. We have got the Southern Ocean and we have never been there, so these are new challenges for which we will both have to step up a notch. For myself, if we get to the end of it and we are still in first place, then the ‘triple crown’ will be a good little win.
So you reckon it is doable for you guys on Mapfre to win this race?
Of course – the only reason we are in this race is to try and win.
It has been a good year for you with the America’s Cup win. Your decision to do the Volvo Ocean Race – was it an easy one?
Oh yea – I think it was a pretty easy one. It is always something I have wanted to do but never really had the opportunity until now. I have really enjoyed it so far despite the fact that we struggled a bit in the first two legs. As a team we entered pretty late, but right now we are just looking forward to getting down to the Southern Ocean and seeing what we have got down there, and whether we can improve our results so far.
Is the southern ocean something you are looking forward to or something of which you are a little bit wary?
I think a bit of both. I am definitely looking forward to some aspects of it. Obviously for me I think that this is what this race is all about. All the footage you see is people down in the Southern Ocean battling it out, but at the same time you never really know what to expect. I have plenty of warm gear tucked away so hopefully I will be alright on that front.
Changing from a day sailing kind of guy with a hot bed at night – the transition to 24/7 balls to the wall racing, have you managed?
Yeah, it is certainly different and I really enjoy it at the same time. I am starting to get used to so many things, especially in this kind of environment. It’s now just having to make the boat go faster day after day and beat some other guys across the finish line. That’s what we have got to try and do on this leg.
And the rivalry between you and Blair in this race, especially to score that ‘triple’. Is that something you two talk about or is that happening quietly in the background?
Yeah, for me the triple crown is something other people talk about. I just feel I have got a lot to learn on this side of the sport and hopefully it will be cool at some stage to get another Kiwi entry back in the race. But the triple is possible, although actually the end goal is to try and win the race first. It’s a very long race and we have a lot of work to do and a lot of things to do before I start worrying about that.
Absolutely. Your thoughts on the wind on this leg. What are you expecting?
We are expecting plenty of breeze especially once we clear the lull of Table Mountain. Currently the wind is building and getting stronger until we round the Cape and charge down to the ice gates. It’s going to be pretty cold, the wind is going to be pretty strong and we think it will be a pretty quick leg.
And your timing on this leg?
We are expecting to finish around Christmas Day or Boxing Day.