Will the personal sailing styles of Sibello, Burling, and Tuke influence the America’s Cup

Pietro Sibello and the Burling-Tuke teams each had distinct racing styles on the 49er circuit – styles they developed and optimized in a decade each at the top of the class. These America’s Cup leaders are all now part of large teams, but with Burling in control and Sibello/Tuke each in strongly influential positions, it will be interesting to see if their 49er styles will emerge in the fight for the America’s Cup.

A quick note here to say that Francesco Brui, Marcus Hansen, Jacopo Plazzi and Umberto Molineris are all 49er sailors of repute as well, but in Bruni’s case, he’s gone on to do almost two decades in other classes where his sailing style will likely have evolved, and for Hansen, Plazzi, Molineris they are each part of their boats power plants, and therefore sailing style would be hard to detect from within such big teams.

Pietro Sibello, with his Brother Gianfraco emerged on the 49er scene in 2002, essentially displacing Bruni as the top Italians and were at the top of the 49er game for the next 10 years. Bruni moved on to a Star career, but the 49er the Sibello brothers were known for going very fast, and being gentlemen on the water. Few teams won more pin ends of the start line than the Italian brothers, and I doubt there is a sailor from their generation they raced against who would have a bad thing to say about them. They were a team that would do their turns if they ever fouled, generally avoided mixing things up too much, and kept the boat going fast in the right direction.

Burling and Tuke, on the other hand, are known for their out of the box thinking, conservative starts, boat handling in all conditions, and extreme speed on the downwinds. Because of their ability to hold tough lanes on the upwind, Burling and Tuke often start in the middle of the line keeping their options open, and are very in tune with the fleet and the wind. In unstable conditions, like most conditions, they have been virtually unbeatable in the 49er. They sail a more aggressive boat on boat style than the Sibello’s ever did, and if that sends them back to mid pack or deeper, they would rely on an amazing ability to put the boat in the best wind and go extremely quickly to make up places on the downwind.

The outcome of the America’s Cup in New Zealand will be determined by a lot more than sailing style but here’s what we can look out for.

  • When conditions are stable and the race is up for grabs, look for the Italians to be less aggressive than we might normally see from a Spithill lead team, opting instead to keep the boat moving quickly to the favored side of the course.
  • When conditions are unstable, look for Burling and Tuke to think out of the box. Think about that moment in the Christmas regatta when Tuke suggested Emirates Team New Zealand gybe instead of tack on the upwind to stay on the foils. That’s just an inclination of how Burling and Tuke are unconstrained by match racing playbooks and public opinion if they think they can get the job done in a creative way.

The Cup is almost always decided by boat speed, and there is little reason to think this one will be any different. But in a long series, there is bound to be some actual racing too, so let’s see what choices these skiff legends make.

Sign up for the 49er Class Newsletter to follow the current and future stars of global sailing,

Join membership

Join the Elite Community of 49er Sailors and Fans