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Kiwis throw down the gauntlet

Winning form: Tuke, foreground, and Burling celebrate their 49er gold at the Rio Olympics (Photograph by Bernat Armangue/AP)

Bermuda has been waiting for the Emirates Team New Zealand America’s Cup challenger to arrive to see just how their boat matches up against the other five teams. In a few short weeks, all the questions will be answered. New Zealand arrived yesterday and should be on the Great Sound within two weeks.

Peter Burling, who will be driving the 50ft America’s Cup Class flyer, threw down the gauntlet: “We are pretty fired up to bring the cup back to New Zealand — where it belongs.”

Before leaving for Bermuda last week, Team New Zealand’s helmsman Peter Burling and trimmer Blaire Tuke sat for an interview with Mike Hoskin of Newstalk ZB in New Zealand. The pair, who made names for themselves first in winning the 2013 Red Bull Youth America’s Cup and then in winning their discipline at the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games last year spoke on a broad range of topics.

“Do you feel it?” they were asked. “Feel the pressure?”

Burling said: “We look forward to getting up there [Bermuda] and getting into it.”

The team have been comfortable training in New Zealand while the other teams were already in Bermuda. Tuke explained that sailing at home through the Kiwi summer had been a way to be more efficient.

“We had a great New Zealand summer and made the most of it,” he said. “Conditions in Bermuda have not been the best through their winter — December, January, February and even on through March.”

“They had lots of days ‘blown out’ because of winter storms coming down from the north. We haven’t had as much time in the waters [of Bermuda]. Come race day you just have to play what’s in front of you, look up the course and make the most of it.”

Oracle Team USA and Artemis Racing have been based in Bermuda for almost two years. The other three teams — Land Rover BAR, SoftBank Team Japan and Groupama Team France — arrived before mid-March. Since late March the teams who were already training in Bermuda have been match-racing against each other in two race periods under the newly modified race protocol.

Burling commented on the Qualifying and Playoff format where all the competitors sail against each other, even the defender. “It is what it is. It is a moving target and we have to make the most of it, play the hand we’re dealt.”

“It is an advantage to see Oracle racing and to match up with SoftBank Japan, too, in the World Series and the qualifying rounds. They have the Oracle design package and are under the Oracle umbrella. It will be nice when we can line up against those blokes and see where we are weak and where we are strong.”

Foiling has been a big topic. Some people think that foil design will win the race. The New Zealand helmsman and trimmer both believe that the boats will be up on foils in almost all conditions and probably in all the conditions within the upper and lower wind limits, an approximate average true wind speed between 6kts and 25kts, measured as defined in the race protocol. Tuke explained that the AC Class boats will be up on foils from start to finish because of improved technology.

“The 72-footers sailed in San Francisco were designed as boats ‘in the water’ hoping to foil, The AC 50-footers have been designed to foil everywhere from the start. We will come in the [starting] box on foils and be foiling at the start, although we may drop of if it [the pre-start] gets close.”

And what about pedal power, the radical shift from arms to legs for grinders? “We are happy with the decision.” Burling said. “Every day we get better.”

As for crew placement, he said: “We will be putting all the crew on the windward side. that is the fastest. The pictures of two peddlers per hull was ‘fake news’, just a picture someone took when the crew were in that position. Transfer times from side to side are just about seven seconds, maybe a second or two slower than for the traditional arm grinders.

“Transfer times depend on how much risk you want to take,” Burling added, referring to their high G-forced experienced in sharp turns at race speed.

Tuke was asked who is “up” but hedged his bet in reply.

“We have a good feel of who’s going well and how we slot into that, what wind conditions we do well in and what mode we’ll be sailing in,” he said. “We’ve got a good platform now and we’ve just got to get up to Bermuda and put the final touches in it. We will keep developing right on through the challenger series.”