America’s Cup - Sport

Toughest test ahead for talented ‘Iceman’

  • Pressure cooker: can Peter Burling finish the job? (Photograph by Giles Martin-Raget/©ACEA 2017)

Two days from now the world will see just what Peter Burling and his Kiwi mates are made of as the next round of racing resumes on the Great Sound. It is the ultimate weekend for the 35th America’s Cup, presented by Louis Vuitton. The New Zealand bunch would like to make it a clean sweep.

Helmsman Peter Burling has been called “Iceman”. Commentators say when he is at the helm of Emirates Team New Zealand’s AC50, he looks like he is out for a cruise, a Sunday drive, just driving Miss Daisy.

But it is no accident that he is at the helm of the America’s Cup challenger. His talent is no secret. He is an incredibly good helmsman who fits well into the Kiwi chain of command on board. Burling has his head out of the boat and his job is to drive, to pick out the shifts and puffs, and to take the shortest, fastest route around the course.

The Kiwi team apparently have three full-time bikers, one biker who seems to be tasked also with foil and rudder trim, and a wing trimmer-tactician who operates a secret Nintendo-like box with buttons to push that grind the wing in and out, and adjusts its camber for optimum power and speed, and one full-time driver.

Burling, winner of the inaugural Louis Vuitton Red Bull Youth America’s Cup in 2013, helmed Emirates Team New Zealand to the lead after the first three World Series events. He and his 49er and AC35 crew Blair Tuke were named World Sailors of the Year.

In an America’s Cup interview during the 2016 World Series, Burling’s talent and skill received rave reviews. Time has only improved his stature.

Oracle Team USA skipper Jimmy Spithill said: “I don’t really know Pete that well. Obviously we’re mates, but we haven’t done that much racing. He raced on the previous World Series for Korea [White Tiger Challenge]. Peter and Blair Tuke are some of the best talent in the world today. You only have to look at their Olympic sailing and results.”

Nathan Outteridge, of Artemis Racing, said, “Pete’s pretty vague most of the time. He’s the type of guy who often acts like he really doesn’t know what’s going on, but he’s pretty switched on. Training with his America’s Cup team [World Series team] has put him in a good position. That’s what racing with your competition is like. It’s knowing your strengths and weaknesses, and playing to them. His strength is that he just doesn’t get flustered. He never seems stressed about anything.”

Sir Ben Ainslie, from Land Rover BAR, said: “He was pretty young when I was sailing with Team New Zealand and he was sailing with the youth team. He was identified then as a huge talent. That’s shown through. His performances with Blaire Tuke in dominating the 49ers have been absolutely astounding.”

“He’s a very talented guy,” Spithill concluded. “He’s got a great team around him. They’ll be tough.”

Ainslie added: “He’s obviously got a huge amount of talent. He’s a good competitor.”

Outteridge commented on the pressure of sailing for the America’s Cup. “Probably one of [Burling’s] big weaknesses is that he is quite young and still the pressure could hit him quite hard. Under pressure we’re going to see if there are weakness going to develop.”

But Burling has handled the pressure quite well. Arriving late in March, he and his mates took to the Great Sound within a week to begin practice on the course. Throughout the informal race periods, he matched up against Artemis, BAR and Team France. New Zealand did not practise against Oracle, nor against their stablemates SoftBank Team Japan. New Zealand were keeping their cards close.

Burling led his team through the Qualifiers with eight wins and only two losses. Both those losses were to Oracle, who in turn lost twice to Artemis. Burling led his team through tough play-off matches against an improved BAR and pre-race favourites Artemis.

He and the team suffered a damaged hull and a catastrophic, pitch-pole capsize only to come back stronger each time. Burling has been cool and tough under pressure, with the proof being in his performance.

Burling said this about himself: “I just want to keep it fun and really enjoy the yachting. I’m trying to be the best sailor I can with my skill set.

“It’s been a long-term goal to try to get as good as I can at sailing, to keep improving and keep learning. Now I’m up against the best yachties in the world and that is what every yachtie’s dream is: to go up against the best in the world.”