AUCKLAND, NZL – Blair Tuke has landed a high-profile, post-America’s Cup gig, one that will give him the chance to make history.
The key member of Emirates Team New Zealand has joined MAPFRE for the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race.
If the Spanish-based MAPFRE wins the classic bluewater race, Tuke would become the first sailor to win the so-called Triple Crown of an Olympic gold medal, the America’s Cup and the VOR.
The only other sailor who has come close is San Francisco's John Kostecki, who won the AC and VOR along with an Olympic silver medal (1988, Korea, Soling Class).
Only age 27, Tuke already is one of the world’s most decorated sailors. He joins MAPFRE as a trimmer and helmsman less than three weeks after helping the Kiwis rout Oracle Team USA in the 35th America’s Cup in Bermuda. He was one of the Kiwis’ “cyclors” and controlled the foils with a tablet on one of his wrists.
Tuke teamed up with ETNZ helmsman Peter Burling to win the gold medal in the 49er class at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics last summer. They won the silver medal at the 2012 London Games.
“The idea of doing the Volvo Ocean Race is something I’ve been very excited about ever since I was a little kid,’’ Tuke said. “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.’’
Tuke will get the thrill of sailing into Auckland for one of the stopovers next March.
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.
Fernandez, who also owns an Olympic gold and silver medal, has spent the last decade chasing victory in the Volvo Ocean Race.
“Blair is a really exciting sailor for the team,” Fernández said. “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.”
While it will be Tuke’s first competitive foray into offshore racing, it won’t be his first experience with MAPFRE. During the VOR’s stopover in Auckland in the 2014-15 edition, Tuke sailed with MAPFRE during the in-port race and then served as the guest “jumper” at the start of the next leg.
“He told us then that he wanted to one day take part in the Volvo Ocean Race,’’ Fernandez said.
The guest jumper sails with the race crew around the buoys at the start of a leg but then must jump overboard after the boat rounds the last buoy.
“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,” Tuke said.
“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.’’
In other VOR news, Vestas 11th Hour Racing announced its mixed crew of 10, including eight men and two women.
The 10 combined have competed in the VOR more than 20 times, including six race wins. The crew includes Danish Olympic medalist Jena Mai Hansen and former Team Vestas Wind and America’s Cup sailor Tom Johnson (AUS).
The rest of the crew includes skipper Charlie Enright (USA), team director Mark Towill (USA), boat captain Nick Dana (USA), Hannah Diamond (GBR), navigator Simon Fisher (GBR), Damian Foxall (IRE), Phil Harmer (AUS) and Tony Mutter (NZL).
The VOR starts from Alicante, Spain, on Oct. 22, and SAILING ILLUSTRATED is planning extensive coverage.