HONG KONG – Team Brunel is adding reinforcements for the next real leg of the Volvo Ocean Race, a boost it desperately needs after its underwhelming performance so far. Not only is World Sailor of the Year Peter Burling (NZL) rejoining the crew for Leg 6 after sitting out Leg 4, but Annie Lush (GBR) is back after injuries forced her to sit out the last leg, from Melbourne to Hong Kong.
(Notice how we jump from Leg 4 to Leg 6. In another one of its many nods to sponsors, the VOR fleet will leave Hong Kong on Feb. 1 and sail a whopping 100 nautical miles to Guangzhou for a full stopover. Then there will be a scoring in-port race before the yachts sail back to Hong Kong to prepare for the start of Leg 6, which will cover 6100nm to Auckland, on Feb. 7.)
Sailing into Auckland in first place would be a dream come true for Burling, who said his absence from the crew for the last leg was planned after a hectic last two years in which he won a gold medal at the Rio Olympics and helped lead Emirates Team New Zealand to a rousing rout of Oracle Team USA in the 35th America’s Cup in Bermuda.
"I've watched the Volvo come into Auckland a few times and it's absolutely amazing to see how many get down there and how many people follow the boats in and get out on the water," Burling recently told Newshub. "I've seen the photos of when the Whitbread came to town a few years ago and heard some pretty good stories.
"It will be an absolutely amazing experience sailing into the home port."
Team Brunel will have to pick up its game if it wants to make Burling’s dream come true. Team Brunel finished fifth in Leg 4 and sits fifth overall, well off the leading pace of MAPFRE. There are Kiwi sailors on six of the seven VOR teams, and all would love to sail first into the City of Sails. Among them is Blair Tuke, Burling’s mate from the Olympics and America’s Cup. Tuke holds the inside track at becoming the first sailor to win the true* Triple Crown of an Olympic gold medal, America’s Cup and VOR.
Lush, meanwhile, will rejoin the team Hong Kong. She broke two bones in her foot and one in her back last month when a wave hit the boat, slamming her into the rear guard.
The team says the expectation is that after an intensive recovery program in Hong Kong, she will be ready in time to join the team for Leg 6.
After arriving in Melbourne on Dec. 25, Lush stayed another week in Australia. Since a long flight back to Europe was out of the question due to her physical condition, she flew to New Zealand the first week of January for the next stage of her recovery. Last Friday, Lush consulted one of the top sports physicians and physiotherapists in New Zealand. After a second set of scans, she was told the fractures are healing well and that she’ll be strong enough to race on Leg 6.
In order to give the bones more recovery time, Lush probably will not be with the crew for the various sailing activities before the Leg 6 start. Lush will be working with team physiotherapist Ricardo Meijer in the gym and swimming pool to regain strength and finish her recovery.
“I’m really excited to get the result last week that the recovery has gone well and so I can join the team for the next leg,’’ Lush said. “It’s been a nervous week waiting for the scan results. Next to that I was also watching the team and shouting at the tracker, willing them into Hong Kong. I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of the team, and hearing what we can learn from this leg, to get the result we’re aiming for in the next one.’’
*For years your Ed. and and others have touted John Kostecki (USA, St Francis YC) as the first and so far only winner of sailing's "Triple Crown." Indeed John has won the AC, the Volvo – as skipper no less – and an Olympic medal, albeit silver (1988 Korea, Soling, skipper), whereas Messers Burling and Tuke have won gold medals (2016 Rio, 49er). If either wins this edition of the Volvo, it will be as crew not skipper. Toss up? Or does skippering not matter, and a Olympic gold medal makes it the true Triple Crown? Does any of this matter at all? With thanks to Betsy Barrett for raising this issue today. –TFE
Annie Lush sailing on Team Brunel at the start of Leg 3. Photo: Ugo Fonolla / Volvo Ocean Race