Kiwi Olympic medallist Peter Burling is on living an adrenalin rush, as the youngest skipper on the startline of the America's Cup World Series in San Francisco is forced to come to grips with mastering an AC45 in a matter of days.
Burling, silver medallist at last month's London Olympics in the 49er skiff, has been called in to helm Team Korea's catamaran, replacing Australian Nathan Outteridge as skipper for next week's ACWS regatta. Outteridge, who pipped Burling for gold in the 49er off Weymouth, has now joined the Swedish Artemis camp.
"The last two helmsmen for Team Korea [Outteridge and Englishman Chris Draper] were 49er sailors. Maybe they felt I was the next best off the rank," the 21-year-old from Tauranga says.
After three days training on San Francisco Bay with the Team Korea sailing crew, locking horns with the other 10 ACWS crews in practice racing, Burling admits the AC45 is a lot more demanding than the skiff he sails with Blair Tuke.
"It's a pretty physical boat. My job is not so physically demanding, but forward of me, the other four guys are all pretty tired with a good sweat up at the end of a day's racing. She's certainly pretty different to a 49er," he says.
The difference? "The AC45 is a fair bit quicker - we're doing 15 knots upwind compared to a top speed of 11 knots on the 49er. And downwind, we can get up to 30 knots max, where in the 49er we can do around 25. It's obviously a lot bigger too and a lot more hands are needed to work it."
Right now, the adrenalin rush is far greater for Burling too. "I'm not as comfortable in the boat yet, but it will all settle down once I get the hang of it," he says.
Three of his crew have built up experience on the boat. "They're a really good fun bunch of guys, easy going, and they know the boat pretty well," he says. The other new sailor in the crew is also a Kiwi - headsail trimmer Andrew McLean, who's just completed the Volvo Ocean Race on board Camper.
"It's pretty hard for us to have a goal for this regatta, because we don't know how good we will be. I guess it's to do as well as we can, with minimum mistakes," Burling says.
Burling is hoping his tenure will continue through the rest of the ACWS - two more events in Venice and Naples next year.
But the likelihood of Burling getting to helm an AC72 in the America's Cup proper is looking less and less, as Team Korea struggle to raise the funds needed to build a boat for next year's Louis Vuitton Cup. "The programme is looking pretty doubtful right now. But if I had the opportunity to sail one of those boats, it would be amazing," he says.
There's also a chance for Burling to head up the New Zealand team in the Youth America's Cup, which will be raced on these same AC45s between the Louis Vuitton Cup and the America's Cup next year.
"Yeah, I'd be interested in that. The more racing the better for me at the moment," he says.
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