Hi Blair! Congrats on your recent Cup win, and welcome to the Volvo Ocean Race! Where are you right now?
I’ve actually just gotten off a bus – we’ve been touring the America’s Cup up and down the country. The reception we’ve received shows just what top-level sailing means to the people of New Zealand. It’s been awesome – a huge moment for everyone. Seeing all the boats on Auckland Harbour as we toured the Cup was really cool. It’s the kind of thing you only see when the Volvo Ocean Race comes to town, or when the Cup was here last time.
You’re joining MAPFRE for the 2017-18 edition. How did that come about?
I’ve raced against Xabi a lot in the 49ers and then when the race came to Auckland in the 2014-15 edition, I went onboard for the In-Port Race and the start, so I’ve seen them in action close up. The team has a lot of talented people on the boat and I think it’s a great opportunity for me to broaden my skills and bring my recent Olympic and America’s Cup experience to the MAPFRE team.
Some people might be surprised to see you make the step into offshore racing so quickly after a big year – tell us about what the Volvo Ocean Race means to you…
The idea of doing the Volvo Ocean Race is something I’ve been excited about since I was a kid, it was one of my earliest ambitions. New Zealand has achieved so much in the Whitbread and the Volvo Ocean Race, with the likes of Sir Peter Blake and Grant Dalton, and more recently, Mike Sanderson, who won it in 2005-06. Mike’s from Northland, my hometown, and I remember feeling really inspired when he got the trophy. It set a fire in me – and an ambition to go and do it for myself.
Do you have any offshore experience?
My family had a yacht, and between the ages of 10 and 13 I did a few bluewater crossings. I fell in love with offshore sailing and all that it entails. From there, I got into offshore sailing more and more, and did a bit of ocean racing – some Sydney to Hobarts, a race to Fiji from Auckland a couple of times. I’ve got a lot more to learn, and under no illusions to the learning curve I’ve got in front of me, but at the same time I’ve got access to some very smart and experienced people. I know what it’s like to be out there and offshore, but to do it at this high level of a race is going to be new to me. I’m excited for the challenge – I’ve loved being challenged in the past, and having to learn fast, and I’m really looking forward to this one.
An Olympic and America’s Cup campaign is one thing, but the Volvo Ocean Race is next level – a complete lifestyle change, much more remote and more dangerous. How have those closest to you taken the news?
[Laughs] Well, it’s fair to say my Mum will be a little bit stressed when we’re out there! They’ve never really watched me do this kind of racing. But no seriously, my family is really excited for me. Everyone who is closest to me has known I’ve wanted to do this race for so long, even before the America’s Cup and the Olympics, and there’s nothing but positive vibes for me and the team.
You won Olympic gold in August 2016, and you’ve already followed up with America’s Cup success less than 10 months later. Don’t you just want a day off?
Ha! At times, I do think wouldn’t it be great to have a bit of time off and relax – you know, go surfing and diving for a while but that thought doesn’t last long! This is an amazing opportunity and long held ambition. I can’t wait to get stuck in.
I’m sure you’re well aware that you stand on the brink of making history – you could become the first ever sailor to win the Triple Crown (Olympic gold, the America’s Cup and the Volvo Ocean Race). How big of a motivation is that for you?
That would be awesome to do – but at the same time, it’s not my motivation. To be honest, it’s more of a happy coincidence. This is something I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid, and if it culminates in me being the first to win all three, that would be amazing, but this is about me learning and developing my skills and experience as a sailor. My only objectives are to get better, make the boat go fast, and help the team win.
New Zealand just loves the Volvo Ocean Race, doesn’t it?
For sure – it’s awesome to see how the whole country gets behind the Volvo Ocean Race. It captures Kiwis’ hearts because of the incredible history of the race and our nations love of sailing. The thought of racing into Auckland, the City of Sails, and then leaving again for the Southern Ocean, is pretty exciting. Before I get there, I have to do a lot of learning and gain experience in how to make these boats go fast. It’s a great time to be heading to New Zealand – sailing is very much back on the map and I’m sure it’ll be an incredible stopover in 2018.
Is there anything you can take from your ETNZ campaign that you think will help you in the Volvo Ocean Race?
I guess so – number one would be to keep learning and keep getting better. Even if you do really well on the first few legs, you’re not necessarily going to win the whole thing, so you have to keep at it and grinding out right until the end. I also think there’s a lot of value in having good chemistry onboard, and trusting the guy or girl next to you to do their job the best as they can. In the Volvo Ocean Race, that’s of even more importance. Obviously, competing in this race is something that’s new to me but at the same time the whole team aspect is something that I really love, and I’m looking forward to getting that feeling again at MAPFRE.
You’ve been watching the evolution of the Volvo Ocean Race recently from afar. What do you make of the changes for this edition, and the future?
Even though I’ve not been involved until now, the Volvo Ocean Race is one of the pinnacles of the sport, so I’ve been watching with keen interest – and as far as the evolutions, such as taking girls onboard, I think it’s gonna be great. It’s certainly a learning curve for everyone in terms of how to use the best combination of sailors and how to extract the best from the team, and I think it’s going to be a huge part of the race, which is really cool. I’m excited that there’s more Southern Ocean, and with the return of the Cape Town to Melbourne leg, that means a lot more sailing down south which is great. Looking even further ahead, after this edition, it seems there will be some really cool and fast boats, and it’s all really exciting.
It’s 100 days today until the race begins – what’s up next for you?
Next up, I’m off to meet the guys at the MAPFRE base in Galicia, Spain, and we’ll sail the boat up to the UK for Cowes Week in early August, and then straight into the Fastnet Race. After that, we’ll continue racing Leg Zero back down to Lisbon, and get into training. For me, coming in late, I still have to do my courses and safety stuff, so there’s lots coming up. It’s a massive opportunity and I’m keen to learn from the guys, and I feel ready and happy that Xabi and the guys want me to bring my skill into the team. Our goal is to win this race – we’re under no illusions about how tough that is going to be, but with the team we have, we’re up for it.