America’s Cup turns to newcomers for experience
Published on May 9th, 2016
By Chris Museler, The New York Times
Peter Burling spent the weekend driving a high-performance catamaran at 30 miles per hour toward a concrete wall lined with thousands of spectators. He had to take into account a three- to five-knot current that ran along the Hudson River as he picked precise trajectories past competitors and floating marks while judging distances and counting the seconds to each maneuver.
Burling, 25, with Emirates Team New Zealand, had arrived in New York leading the America’s Cup World Series, which ends in France in November. On Sunday, his team won.
For most of his competitors, these new Cup boats present a steep learning curve. But for the calm, soft-spoken Burling, the youngest helmsman in the fleet, this is pretty normal stuff, and with professional sailing having turned nearly entirely over to catamarans since the 2013 Cup, young sailors like Burling will very likely become the norm at the top of the professional heap.
In 2013, only one professional sailing series was held in catamarans: the Extreme Sailing Series, with 40-footers. This year, five pro series are being contested in catamarans, and half are using hydrofoils, almost doubling the speed of the boats, to averages of 25 to 30 m.p.h.
Sailors in their 20s, and young designers focused on foil development, are beginning to dominate this new order of the sport.
“Quite a few guys my age have spent a lot of hours sailing hydrofoil boats, like the Flying Phantom and the International Moth,” Burling said last week. “Before the Cup was foiling, I was already sailing a Moth.”
The foiling Moth, a single-person, single-hulled dinghy, represents the proving ground for top Cup talent. In 2011, Burling was fourth at the world championship; the winner, Nathan Outteridge, now the helmsman for Artemis Racing, was 24.
The next year, Burling finished second, behind Outteridge, at the London Olympics in the two-person 49er class. Since then, Burling and his crew member, Blair Tuke, have won 25 consecutive 49er events and are favorites to win the gold medal at this summer’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Burling and Tuke are set to fly to Rio this week to get back into their 49er Olympic training.
Glenn Ashby keeps their Cup team advancing. At 38, Ashby, a catamaran specialist in his third multihull Cup campaign, is the team’s leader and is straddling the old and new generations of Cup sailors. He said sailors like Burling were essential to a successful Cup campaign.
“The best mix these days is to have some older heads who know how a large campaign works,” said Ashby, an Olympic medalist for Australia and a multiple-time world champion in multihulls, “but you need the young guys who have the skill set to push the boat hard and drive the boat accurately. If you had just old guys, you’d miss out on the abilities of the foiling generation.”