Burling hopes Brunel haven't left it too late in Volvo Ocean Race

Peter Burling and his Team Brunel teammates are kicking themselves for their slow start to the Volvo Ocean Race.

Peter Burling, left, and Team Brunel have won two of the last three legs but they've still found time to do a little horsing around. Photo: Volvo Ocean Race.

Brunel have stormed back into contention with two legs remaining in the circumnavigation of the globe after winning two of the last three legs, including the double points crossings of the Southern Ocean and North Atlantic. They are now three points behind leaders Dongfeng Race Team and two back from Blair Tuke's Mapfre.

Both Burling and Tuke have the opportunity to become the first individuals to win sailing's equivalent of a triple crown - Olympic gold, America's Cup and Volvo Ocean Race - and do it all within two years.

But Brunel started the Volvo Ocean Race very slowly, and have collected significantly more points in the last three legs (36) than their first six (21).

"I think probably looking back at the beginning of the race, a few of us are kicking ourselves at how badly we were sailing," Burling told Volvo Ocean Race. "We have improved so much. 

"If you look at our team, we obviously have Bouwe [Bekking] and [Andrew] Cape who have done more laps than anyone else but if you look at everyone else we have five under-30s so we are a pretty inexperienced bunch of offshore sailors. Everyone is finding their own way to contribute to the team and getting the most out of themselves in this sort of environment.

"Every time we go out racing, we make some pretty significant improvements which a fair few other teams haven't seemed to manage to do for a little while. That's something that excites us and we feel we have a fair way to go."

The seven boats will leave Cardiff next weekend for Gothenburg in Sweden before a final 700 nautical mile sprint to The Hague in the Netherlands. 

The red boats of Dongfeng and Mapfre, who have often been engaged in a personal match race, will need to be wary of a fast-finishing Brunel. The Dutch team have tried to mix things up of late, including a more southerly and longer route to Cardiff as they looked to ride a cold front, and in Burling have a helmsman who has a natural feel for how to make a boat go fast.

In fact, Bekking revealed recently they've had to rein in Burling, who is used to pushing things to the limit.

"Peter's whole background is in the details, like when he talks about the America's Cup, it's about sailing on that red line all the time," Bekking told the New York Times. "And that, of course, is the big difference with us because if you are on that red line and you snap something out in the open ocean, you lose out terribly.

"So that balance, I think we had to show him a couple of times, 'OK, take the pedal off the metal now. We have to survive'."

Burling admits it took him and a few of his teammates a while to find their feet.

"Probably half the race," he said. "We are still learning the whole time but we are starting to get a lot better understanding of when the boat is going well or not. In these kind of legs, where the water is a lot colder... you can't really rely on the numbers too much on the mast and you do a lot more by feel. 

"We are not getting stressed about little bits and pieces getting in the way and knowing when we should be stressed and trying to change things and chase more speed."

Burling admits he's a guy who struggles to sit still at the best of times, and illustrated his love of sailing when he competed in last year's Moth world championships straight after the homecoming tour following Emirates Team New Zealand's victory in the America's Cup. Burling being Burling, he won silver even though he had done very little training in the boat.

The Volvo Ocean Race is an entirely different proposition, with sailors often pushed to their limits in often punishing conditions. Burling seems to be revelling in it.

"It's quite funny," he said. "Everyone says how mentally and physically draining it is. When you sign up, what do you expect? It's a race around the world. It's one of the most extreme races and it's what we are here to do.

"We are trying to push the boats as hard as we can 24 hours a day and if you arrive in port with any energy left, you have probably done something wrong."

Brunel seem to be doing everything right at the moment and have two legs remaining to leapfrog Dongfeng and Mapfre. Otherwise, you suspect, Burling will continue to think about what might have been.

by Michael Brown