Burling says no decision made yet on helmsman

Burling at the helm of Emirates Team New Zealand, Day one of the Extreme Sailing Series at Nice. 2/10/2014
Chris Cameron/ETNZ

Burling at the helm of Emirates Team New Zealand, Day one of the Extreme Sailing Series at Nice. 2/10/2014

In the last week, rumours have been rife on social media that 24-year-old Peter Burling has replaced long-standing skipper Dean Barker as the helmsman for Emirates Team New Zealand. But in an interview with Boating NZ, a week before the sensational claims were dragged through mass media, Burling said the team is a long way from naming a helmsman.

Burling says that whoever can best master the AC62 will have the honour of steering, and that he has a lot of work to do if he is to steer the ETNZ boat in Bermuda in June of 2017.

When asked if he thought, given the opportunity, he would be ready to drive the boat in 2017, he replied, "Yeah, definitely. I think the main thing is that the best guy at driving the boat is going to drive it. At the moment there are no pre-agendas about that. Whoever they think is going to get it around the course better is going to drive. For myself, obviously I have got to improve a fair bit between now and then, and everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses. I have got to make sure that I will be ready."

Barker skippers Emirates Team New Zealand to victory at Act 6 of the Extreme Sailing Series in Istanbul, Turkey
Hamish Hooper/ETNZ

Barker skippers Emirates Team New Zealand to victory at Act 6 of the Extreme Sailing Series in Istanbul, Turkey

Burling may well drive the boat in the regatta, but the claims that Barker has already been given the chop, more than two years out from the event, are hard to believe.

Let's not forget that Peter and his 49er partner, Blair Tuke, are still very much committed to their Olympic 49er campaign, which will occupy much of their time until the end of 2016. Burling and Tuke, who is also part of ETNZ, have always maintained that not over-committing to yachting and taking time out to recharge is a key to their success. They attributed their win at the 2013 49er world champs to having had a good break after their Youth America's Cup win. Burling hints that they have a decent break scheduled after the Olympics as well, which will further impede on his time with ETNZ before the 35th America's Cup.

"As things begin to ramp up for both campaigns, it is going to be a bit of a juggling act between the Cup and the Olympics," says Burling. "The boats are launched pretty soon after we get back from Rio, so we will have to be careful not to burn out."

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Boating NZ

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ETNZ will need at least two helmsmen who are capable of driving to ensure the team can test and train to its maximum as soon as the boat is launched.

It would be foolish to discount Barker as a helmsman at this point. He has three years more experience at driving giant foiling multihulls than Burling. More importantly, there is still a long way to go before the boats are launched, and until the AC62 is in the water, no one can know who will be the fastest behind the wheel.

Choosing the person to helm right now would be like telling Steve Hanson he has to pick the starting All Black's first-five-eighths for a rugby world cup final more than two years out from kick-off.

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