Fast learning curve for young Kiwi skipper

OLYMPIC ACTION: 49er silver medalist Peter Burling at the 2012 Olympics.
OLYMPIC ACTION: 49er silver medalist Peter Burling at the 2012 Olympics.

It's perhaps not surprising that Olympic sailing medallist and new Team Korea skipper Peter Burling knows two of his America's Cup crew only by their nicknames - Animal and Catflap.

Little more than a week ago, the 21-year-old was still basking in the glow of his Olympic 49er class silver medal, attending public engagements, and taking some time out of competition as he contemplated knocking off some of his engineering degree, which was put on hold indefinitely while he focused on London.

But after an unexpected phone call, he was on a plane to San Francisco with less than a week to familiarise himself with Korea's AC45 wing-sailed catamaran for the second round of the world series, which starts tomorrow (NZ time), having been called in to replace Australian Nathan Outteridge, who signed with Swedish outfit Artemis. Outteridge was Burling's training partner in the leadup to the Olympics, and edged the Kiwi for the gold medal.

Burling lists Russell Coutts as one of his childhood idols - some sailing observers have even suggested he has similar talent - and all of a sudden he's now squaring off against the great sailing knight and other world class skippers, including Team New Zealand's Dean Barker.

There has been little time, however, for contemplation - Burling was immediately out on the water trying to come to grips with one of the fastest boats in the world and getting to know his teammates.

Thankfully, language is one barrier he does not need to overcome. The five-strong Team Korea crew is made up of three Kiwis - skipper Burling, wingsail trimmer Troy Tindall and headsail trimmer Andy McLean - and two Brits, former world Finn champion Giles Scott, the tactician, and bowman Matt Cornwell.

Unless he reads this story, Burling may still only know McLean as "Animal" and Cornwell as "Catflap". Getting to know the full names of his crew is understandably low on his priority list with such a short turnaround. There is a final official practice race today (NZ time) before the first competitive fleet races tomorrow.

The Tauranga sailor is easily the youngest skipper in the fleet but that's a position he's used to being in and he remains unfazed.

"We're having some pretty good fun. The boat handling is getting a bit better and it's a good group of guys so we're just getting on with it," he said from San Francisco yesterday in his customary understated manner.

"Troy, Catflap and Giles have been doing it for quite a while now, so they know the boat pretty well. I think our boat handling is getting there. I'm still trying to figure out the laylines.

"There's so much to learn, about starts and all that but we're getting there."

Burling has managed to keep the boat in tact or, as he put it, "I haven't made it hard on the shore crew yet" and he hopes to keep it that way.

As for expectations, he isn't really sure what they are. Korea, a lower budget team who have punched above their weight, were third in the first round of the 2012-13 series last month but have undergone significant personnel change.

Burling will just sail like he always does, to win, but even he admits this week will be a challenge.

"Just for me, being able to get my head out of the boat and keep the thing in the groove is a major task right now.

"I'm concentrating pretty hard on just steering the boat at the moment. I'm not able to look around that much."

Fairfax Media