I sailed 420’s in the National Youth Squad back in 1988 and made it to the Nations Cup. I never made the Youth Worlds as I just wasn’t good enough. But for three years I sailed with a truly outstanding sailor called Guy, who could read my mind and literally saved my life out in Lyme Regis Bay when we got hit by a massive squall, turtled, and my foot got tangled in the toestraps. The buoyancy aid trapped me under the hull. Without Guy’s quick thinking, I wouldn’t be here today. Some would wish that so.
Aside from the heroics, it was the on and off the water camaraderie that made our relationship special and we sailed together through those formative 15-18 ages and had an absolute laugh doing it. We got better and better and did pretty well. We once led a race at the nationals and the coach of the UK Squad hated us because we smoked and found more fun in the bar than in the debriefs. Re-configuring Whitstable Town’s roadworks one evening was a career highlight alongside coming second (twice ffs!) in the National School Championships. I still see Guy and sail with him occasionally 35 years later. Sailing does that. He’s just as good now. You never forget a good crew and you’re nothing without them.
So whilst I purr annoyingly (for my UK audience) about Team New Zealand in recent posts, it’s interesting to look at the chemistry and alchemy that is going down in THE TEAM. We know they are the best team but why? I start with Grant Dalton. Awesome leader cast from the mould of the irreplaceable and much missed Sir Peter Blake. If Dalts was my team boss, I’d run through walls for him. He sets the tone and yes, he gets a rough time in the Kiwi press but boy does he have a winning CV. Slap that down in front of the relentless pen-pushers at The Herald. Stick that in your poisoned pipe and smoke it. Winner. Dalts is the man and he gets the job done.
Okay so they have a leader to absolutely admire. The guy that would never ask you to do something that he wouldn’t do himself but that alone doesn’t win you multiple Cups. The alchemy that is Burling and Tuke is the one to watch in this cycle. Think Conner & Whidden. Think Russell & Brad and countless others in Cup history. The helmsman takes the glory but it’s the side-kick that makes it happen. Where would Batman be without Robin? Would Laurel be funny without Hardy? Would Burling win without Tuke? It’s an interesting question but when you look at succession planning for when Dalts retires, Tuke has to be in the running. He’s already co-CEO (with Burling) of the NZ Sail GP Team and has commercial experience running his own charity that invests in marine technology and conservation. Gold dust. Whiter than white.
Blair Tuke is a household name, quite rightly, in New Zealand, and he could easily become an even bigger name very shortly. But for the rest of the world he’s less well-known. Let’s do the CV quickly: Gold 2016, Silver 2012, won all 28 major regattas between 2012-2016, NZ Flagbearer in 2016, six 49er World Championships (yes 6!), one America’s Cup and a lap around the planet on Mapfre finishing second. Oh yes and he’s the holder of a New Zealand Order of Merit from the New Year’s Honours list 2017. And there’s absolutely no evidence that he’s re-arranged any traffic cones whilst out on the lash in Whitstable celebrating a 4th place in the Youth trials – no evidence whatsoever. He’s clean and firmly in the shadows behind the stardust of Burling.
On Team NZ, he’s the ‘Flight Controller’ – what a brilliant title – but I would guess he’s also the guy keeping Pete Burling grounded, buying him a beer after a hard day, supporting him surreptitiously amongst the team, being a trusted ear, kicking his ass when he needs it, pushing the buttons at the right moment and of course, totally acing his job on the boat.
The paid commentators in the media all look at the star names to make their story. Half-wit pundits like me look to the number 2’s for ‘the’ story and I think Blair Tuke is quite possibly going to be the story, not only of this Cup, but for quite a few to come.
Watch this space.
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