Blair Tuke ticks off his Volvo Ocean Race box.

Be­fore the age of 30, he’s checked off the Olympics, the Amer­ica’s Cup and the Volvo Ocean Race. So, what’s one of New Zealand’s hottest sail­ing com­modi­ties to do? Just keep go­ing.

Sailing World - - Contents - By Suzanne Mcfad­den

St rid­ing through the Volvo Ocean Race Vil­lage that bloomed out of the con­crete around Auck­land’ s Via duct Har­bour, Blair Tukei son a mis­sion ./ When he reaches the Ma pf re base out on the Halsey Wharf, he en­ters a jam-packed ship­ping con­tainer, wedg­ing him­self be­tween tow­ers of freeze-dried food and racks of foul-weather gear that are wait­ing for

the next dive into the South­ern Ocean. He quickly whips off his team shirt and pulls on a black T-shirt that is dis­tinctly Kiwi.

The il­lus­tra­tion on the tee is a chalk­board with a tally of some of the coun­try’s more pop­u­lar fish — snap­per, ka­hawai and kin­gies. Aside from sail­ing, fish­ing is Tuke’s other love.

Off­shore vet­eran Neal Mcdon­ald, Mapfre’s per­for­mance man­ager, pokes his head into the con­tainer. “You’ve come in dis­guise to­day, have you?”

“Yeah,” replies Tuke. “It’s a bit quicker get­ting through the vil­lage this way.”

Per­haps incog­nito he might not have to stop ev­ery 20 foot­steps or so to shake hands or en­gage in friendly ban­ter.

Not that Tuke is tongue- tied or un­com­fort­able in a crowd. On the con­trary. His Olympic coach, Hamish Will­cox, calls him the most “so­cially as­tute” per­son he’s ever come across. “He has com­pas­sion with a cap­i­tal C.” He’s easy­go­ing, warm and open in his con­ver­sa­tion.

But per­haps it’s be­cause Tuke — at 28, al­ready an Amer­ica’s Cup win­ner, six- time world cham­pion, and Olympic gold and sil­ver medal­ist — wants to blend in with the crowd. He rel­ishes rare mo­ments of nor­mal­ity.

He ad­mits he no longer posts photos on In­sta­gram of his fam­ily home in an idyl­lic and se­cluded bay within the Bay of Is­lands. “I try to keep it on the down-low a lit­tle bit,” he says. “It’s a pretty spe­cial spot.”

Not long af­ter Mapfre crossed the Volvo Ocean Race’s sixth- leg fi nish line on the Waitem­ata Har­bour ( in third place), Tuke es­caped with his three broth­ers — Nathan, Daniel and Jesse — to Ap­ple Tree Bay, and the house in which they grew up. Soon, not far off the front lawn, the broth­ers were free­d­iv­ing and spearfi shing, col­lect­ing a bounty of seafood: cray­fish, paua (abalone), snap­per, king­fish and John Dory.

Blair, the third-born, speaks pas­sion­ately about tak­ing from, but also pro­tect­ing, New Zealand’s marine life. “I love free­d­iv­ing es­pe­cially. It’s a much more sus­tain­able way to fi sh be­cause you take what you want to eat and don’t hurt any­thing else. I’d like to do more to raise aware­ness, to try to spread the mes­sage of how much trou­ble our oceans are in.”

This is a side of Tuke that few peo­ple know. That and his pas­sion for rugby. He tries, some­times in vain, to keep a bal­anced life.

Al­though he would al­most be­come the fi rst sailor in his­tory to claim the “triple crown” — Olympic gold, Amer­ica’s Cup and a Volvo Ocean Race ti­tle — that elu­sive honor doesn’t con­sume him.

“It’s not re­ally all- im­por­tant to me. My main goal is to do this race, learn from it and fulfi ll my child­hood dream.”

A dream that be­gan with a shabby old dinghy, and a book on his ocean­go­ing idols.

On the main stage on Te Wero Is­land in the Viaduct, two broth­ers tus­sle over a mi­cro­phone. Their mother watches, un­con­cerned, from a bean bag out in front. Jesse is the vil­lage com­père dur­ing the

Volvo Ocean Race stopover — re­spon­si­ble for a pub­lic grilling of his older brother in a Satur­day-morn­ing Q&A ses­sion.

“So, Blair, where to from here?” he asks. Both broth­ers laugh at the fam­ily inside joke. Even though his broth­ers de­clare they’re his big­gest fans, they won’t let the heav­ily dec­o­rated Tuke rise above his sta­tion.

Blair tells the 100 or so peo­ple who’ve gath­ered that, first, there is Emi­rates Team New Zealand’s de­fense of the 2021 Amer­ica’s Cup to for­mu­late, and that he and Peter Burl­ing are con­sid­er­ing mount­ing a third Olympic cam­paign for Tokyo 2020.

He re­veals they are also think­ing about en­ter­ing a New Zealand-flagged boat in a fu­ture VOR. “Pete and I would love to bring a team to­gether, and hope­fully in the next race,” he says.

“I don’t know how he does it all,” Jesse says. “He was a lot more driven than me when it came to sail­ing as kids. I knew I wasn’t cut out for it, be­cause he would go sail­ing ev­ery day af­ter school.” The broth­ers won a 29er na­tional ti­tle to­gether, but while one drifted away from the sport, the other sailed from strength to in­cred­i­ble strength.

The Tuke boys grew up in par­adise, at the end of the Kerik­eri In­let in the post­card-per­fect Bay of Is­lands. “We had spe­cial times. Af­ter school we’d build huts in the bush or go down to the wa­ter and cruise around on our boo­gie boards and kayaks. Our imag­i­na­tions ran wild,” Jesse says.

Their fa­ther, Andy, im­ported fish­ing gear. Their mom, Karin, ran the lo­cal book­shop and post offi ce in town. They bought a cruis­ing yacht, a War­wick 56, when Blair was 8.

But it wasn’t till age 11 that Tuke learned to sail. It be­gan with a school sail­ing day run by lo­cal teacher Derry God­bert. A Kiwi coach­ing le­gend, he’s now well into his 80s and still teach­ing kids to sail.

Af­ter Tuke “kind of liked” the sail­ing day, his par­ents bought an old P-class dinghy for $200. They kept it on the lawn at home and mucked around in it in sum­mer.

“Al­though I didn’t sail un­til later than most kids, a big thing go­ing for me was grow­ing up around the wa­ter. I un­der­stood the tide and the wind,” Tuke says. “I wouldn’t say I was a fully nat­u­ral sailor. I had to work pretty hard at it.”

Tuke by­passed the P-class route most Kiwi kids fol­low and learned team rac­ing. Among the fleet of Kerik­eri kids were Brad Far­rand, who sailed the Volvo Ocean Race with Dutch en­try Ak­zono­bel, and Andy Maloney, who ped­aled next to Tuke on Team New Zealand’s AC50 in Ber­muda. “We fig­ured out then that the more hours we spent on the wa­ter, the faster we could make the boats go,” Tuke re­calls. Home­work wasn’t a pri­or­ity.

Tuke also loved New Zealand’s na­tional game, rugby, and played un­til he was 15. “Some of my best sport­ing com­pe­ti­tions were play­ing rugby on cold Satur­day morn­ings,” says the promis­ing young half­back. “I still have a pretty big pas­sion for it.”

He now sees he was un­likely to have ever made the All Blacks. But it was still a tough de­ci­sion to quit the game, even when the al­ter­na­tive was a trip to Bel­gium to com­pete at the 2005 Splash World Cham­pi­onship. It was a wise choice. On his third at­tempt at the Splash worlds, in Riva del Garda, Italy, 17-year-old Tuke won his first world ti­tle.

By then, the Tuke fam­ily had moved to Auck­land, liv­ing in the Viaduct on board a boat for a year. Tuke left school early to take up an elec­tri­cal ap­pren­tice­ship. “I didn’t

An­drew Blair Tuke ex­celled in in­ter­na­tional youth sail­ing be­fore pair­ing with skip­per Peter Burl­ing in the 49er. The duo re­turned from the Lon­don Olympics with their first sil­ver medal and then went on an un­de­feated tear in 2017 be­fore eas­ily earn­ing gold in Rio.

“I love the com­bi­na­tion of tight ra c i n g , ad­ven­ture and en­durance .”

Af­ter Ocean nine Race months ri­vals, as Blair friendly Tuke and Volvo Peter Burl­ing (op­po­site, be­low, get­ting sheared in Cape Town af­ter their first- time- equa­tor- cross­ing haz­ing) an­nounced they were pair­ing up again in the 49er for Tokyo and with Emi­rates Team New Zealand in de­fense of the Amer­ica’s Cup in 2021.

want to go to univer­sity. I’d rather work and learn,” he says.

“I didn’t think sail­ing would be my life. I just wanted to be a bet­ter sailor, so I took ev­ery op­por­tu­nity that came.” He went to two Youth Worlds in the 29er, then came un­der the tute­lage of Olympic board­sail­ing gold medal­ist Bruce Ken­dall, in a Tor­nado cam­paign that didn’t qual­ify for the 2008 Bei­jing Olympics.

Nev­er­the­less, Tuke learned “good life skills” from the avant- garde Ken­dall. “He re­in­forced the im­por­tance of al­ways en­joy­ing what you’re do­ing, and al­ways be­ing who you are,” Tuke says. “I think I’ve been pretty good at that.”

It was around this time that Tuke first met Burl­ing. They’d been New Zealand team­mates at the Youth Olympic fes­ti­val in Aus­tralia and spent a sum­mer rac­ing against each other in the In­ter­na­tional 420s. Burl­ing and his crew­mate Peter Evans won back-to-back world In­ter­na­tional 420 ti­tles be­fore rac­ing the 470 at the 2008 Bei­jing Olympics.

Burl­ing, then 17, sent Tuke an email. “He knew he and Carl would be too big for the 470 and wanted another chal­lenge. So, we sat down with our par­ents and talked about an Olympic cam­paign. We bought a pretty crappy 49er for $5,000 and said, ‘Let’s try it out for a few months and see how it goes,’” Tuke re­calls.

And so be­gan one of the great­est part­ner­ships in world sail­ing his­tory.

Tuke was “su­per stoked” with their sil­ver medal at the Lon­don Olympics. “It was where we were meant to be.” They’d climbed a steep learn­ing curve, with the help of even­tual gold medal­ists, Aus­tralians Nathan Out­teridge and Iain Jensen. “But we ran out of time — some­thing we rec­ti­fied later,” says Tuke.

It was clear the two of them had a golden re­la­tion­ship. Will­cox, their 49er coach, al­ways saw it. “When you put two in­cred­i­ble sailors to­gether and the chem­istry works, then you’re get­ting 200 per­cent out of that per­for­mance. Pete and Blair are able to push the right but­tons to­gether and have a huge amount of re­spect and trust that makes it work.”

They are great mates, Tuke con­firms. “It helps that from the start, it was al­ways a two-way cam­paign with an equal say in every­thing — us­ing our skill sets the best we can, know­ing the other guy is do­ing all he can.”

Tuke’s strengths are tac­tics, mak­ing the boat go faster and at­ten­tion to de­tail. Burl­ing, the skip­per, is stronger at rig­ging and tun­ing the boat.

In the four years lead­ing up to the 2016 Rio Olympics, the Ki­wis were un­beaten in an un­prece­dented 27 straight 49er re­gat­tas. Un­til the fi­nal prac­tice event in Rio. They fin­ished third, but Tuke sees it now as a god­send. They had the wrong mast and weren’t fo­cused on rac­ing.

Come the Rio Olympics, they never put a foot wrong. Tuke and Burl­ing were hon­ored as the New Zealand team cap­tains, car­ry­ing the flag into the open­ing cer­e­mony, and soon af­ter, on Gua­n­abara Bay, they clinched gold be­fore the medal race. “The most pleas­ing thing was that we sailed one of our best re­gat­tas. Not many peo­ple can do that un­der the pres­sure of the Olympics,” Tuke says.

He would love to de­fend that Olympic ti­tle in Tokyo. “But we’ve got to be 100 per­cent sure we can do it prop­erly, or we walk away know­ing we’ve done a great job.”

The end of 2016 was one of the tough­est times Tuke faced in his sail­ing ca­reer. “We’d come off a mas­sive high and went straight into the Amer­ica’s Cup trenches,” he re­mem­bers. “Find­ing our feet in the place was a bit of a chal­lenge.”

That was un­til the be­gin­ning of 2017, when the AC50 Aotearoa New Zealand was launched, with its rad­i­cal cy­clor-power sys­tem, and the team all came to­gether.

“Peo­ple prob­a­bly didn’t re­al­ize what my job was, even now. ‘ Flight con­troller’ was what we called it,” Tuke says of his job ped­al­ing and con­trol­ling the dag­ger­boards. “With all the in­no­va­tion and tech­nol­ogy, I was learn­ing right the way through.”

He en­joyed the fact he wasn’t “un­der the same scrutiny” as Burl­ing, the helms­man and ul­ti­mately the spokesman of the team. “I found it a lot eas­ier than I did at the Olympics, pres­sure-wise. In Ber­muda, I didn’t have that much lum­bered on me, so it was quite easy to go about my job,” he says.

It wasn’t un­til they reached Ber­muda that Tuke knew they had a fast boat. He knew they could win the Amer­ica’s Cup in their first loss to de­fend­ers Or­a­cle in the roundrobin series. “We just mucked up two sim­ple things in that race. Other than that, the boat was go­ing fast, and we were get­ting bet­ter sail­ing it.”

The day Tuke was cat­a­pulted into the sea when the boat pitch-poled, he’d never been more afraid.

“At first it was slow mo­tion, then it all hap­pened su­per quick. I was con­trol­ling the foils, look­ing at the lee­ward hull, and all I could think about was the board. But then I was in the wa­ter, and I didn’t know if I was com­ing up un­der­neath the boat.”

When he popped up, he tapped his hel­met, let­ting the chase-boat driver know he was OK. It took a while longer for him to be cer­tain the boat would be OK too.

When Tuke first started sail­ing, he read Aus­tralian jour­nal­ist Rob Mun­dle’s book Ocean War­riors, about the 2001-02 Volvo Ocean Race. “I read it and thought, This race is sweet. I want to do this,” he says. As a teen, he sailed with his fa­ther from Auck­land to Fiji three times and loved it.

The in­vi­ta­tion to sail in the VOR came straight from Mapfre skip­per Xabi Fernández, who had sailed against Tuke in the 49ers.

“I love the com­bi­na­tion of tight rac­ing, ad­ven­ture and en­durance,” he says. “There’s not a lot of time to think about things at home, or big philo­soph­i­cal life is­sues. You sail the boat, try to make it go fast, then sleep and eat. You learn how to keep push­ing when you’re tired. You’re al­ways con­scious of how you act and how that re­lates to oth­ers. I’ve learned so much about how to get the best out of oth­ers.”

Tuke’s watch cap­tain Pablo Ar­rarte says the Kiwi is a good man to have on board, not just for his sail­ing skills. “When he’s happy on the boat, he’s a good singer,” Ar­rarte says. And then Tuke breaks into song: “I’m com­ing home, I’m com­ing home. I’ve sailed the world, I’m com­ing home.”

On that note, Tuke says, it’s time he tried to re­gain some equi­lib­rium in his life. There hasn’t been time lately for him to set­tle down in a home or have a girl­friend.

“I think I’ll sail for a big chunk of my life, but ob­vi­ously, there are other things I want to do. It’s been hard to have a bal­ance,” he says. “So now I have to try and bring that back a lit­tle bit.” Q

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