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Time for Fresh Oil

by John Curnow, Editor, Sail-World AUS 23 Feb 2020 13:00 PST
They never said it was easy.... © Brian Carlin / SailGP / SailGPDenmark

It's a new year and a new season of SailGP, so it's definitely a great time for some fresh oil. As we know, this is really important for the best shallow or deep fry, and for Season Two it would seem that the gas has been turned up somewhat with the seven F50s.

So over the course of the last year, we ran the 'oil' series. We started with The Good Oil, then More Good Oil, followed by Smothered in Oil, then Soybean or Peanut Oil, with Coconut Oil the last. This new 'oil' looks closely at Team DEN, but before we do that, we need to cover off the following.

Sydney was very light last year, and this caused some grief for the crews with less airborne time overall in the F50 flyers. A big rig was hinted at all last year, and now the very cool new modular variety is around, but apparently there is not the super-tall 29m version as yet, just the 'regulation' 18 and 24m wings.

Equally, we understand that there are only two sets of new foils to hand right now (SF looks to be the go for the remainder), so that leaves the teams with the traditional short and long for now.

Next, Goobs and Parko (Iain Jensen and Luke Parkinson) have joined Team Ineos GBR in key roles after a one-year stint at JPN. Given that everyone says these craft are hard to learn, and even harder to find something comparable to use as a training bed, you'd think their kind of wealth will send GBR to the front of the pack. Then add in the skills of that Ainslie fellow, and well....

Additionally, you'd have to think that they will have some kind of advantage in Sardinia come April in their other boat (Don't mention the war, eh?) After all, supersonic time is supersonic time, whether you racked them up on a Concorde, a Blackbird, or an F18.

Foiling Tack

OK. So we need to be swift and sharp, as there is a lot to cover. We looked at Denmark, and then Copenhagen just before Christmas. We have been very fortunate to have Team DEN give us terrific access to complete this latest 'oil'. Part I of the questions relates to the team itself, our answers come from their Team Manager, Jonas Høgh-Christensen.

Q1: Please tell us about this statement - Denmark is one of the first teams with a title sponsor in SailGP - a vision of the future - and is well supported with a great crew.

We're very blessed that we have ROCKWOOL onboard as a sponsor. We're very happy that they have seen the vision that we've presented to them and understood it from the get go. They understand how SailGP as a platform can be of huge value and can create a brand platform for them on a global level. I think that we managed to outline the commercial viability and the setup would work for a commercial sponsor, and now it's our job to ensure we provide that value for them so they stay in this game for a long time. It's always been the goal for SailGP to be a sponsor-led model and I know there's pressure on the other teams to get to where we are today. We've come a long way with ROCKWOOL and it's good to be able to have a constructive dialogue on how to make SailGP the best possible platform for our sponsors.

Q2: It is said that Team DEN had a war chest of $5M when they arrived. How has this been put to use, and what is the competitive advantage?

I don't know where that rumour came from - if there's a $5 million war chest, I'd like to see it! I think that as we are fully financed outside of SailGP it means that we are probably running the tightest budget of all. We don't have a war chest. What I will say is that we have a sponsor who really wants to engage in this product, and is investing a lot into making the sponsorship and the platform work for them. We will benefit from that as a team as we'll have a greater opportunity to tell our stories and to get to new markets.

Q3: Copenhagen has been added to the calendar for your first year, what will this be like?

I think Copenhagen will embrace SailGP. We've had tremendously positive feedback so far, especially as there's never been a sailing event this size within Denmark - but we are a sailing nation. We're a nation of seafarers, it's in our DNA, and it's in our blood. I think the public will welcome it and engage with it strongly. I think we'll be surprised by the number of spectators, and if the wind and the weather works with us I think it'll be a spectacular event with some fantastic racing and a great opportunity to watch up close and personal.

Q4: Denmark, like all Northern European countries is proud, passionate, and dedicated. How has the country embraced the team domestically?

I think we've managed to get a lot of support from the get go both media wise, but also from stakeholders within the community back home. I think it will continue to grow. We're trying to show them something that a lot of people don't know anything about. I haven't met anyone who I've shown a video or told about the project that hasn't found it cool and exciting. So far so good, everyone is pretty hooked, and no one seems to say it's boring or they don't like it. That's positive for the sport.

Q5: Given every sponsor is in it for the greater picture, what are Rockwool's main parameters for their support?

In general, you should ask ROCKWOOL - but as I understand it, there are two things. They want to use this platform to communicate their strong message on sustainability, especially in urban cities. This is a series that travels to some of the most iconic cities in the world and ROCKWOOL can make a huge impact on both the sustainability and the use of energy within a city, so they'll activate this platform to tell that story. I think as part of this they're trying to reposition the brand in a way that fits very well with SailGP's demographic and values. It's also global, it hits their key markets. That's what is driving their willingness to engage with this.

Q6: What are you doing differently as a result of having sponsors, whereas other teams are desperately seeking them? (RC has made it clear that all must begin to pay their way)

I think as a team we have more stakeholders as we have a very prominent sponsor. We have SailGP as a large stakeholder but also ROCKWOOL and we have to protect their interests - but that also opens a lot of opportunities. It's about identifying how to best optimise those opportunities. One of those is to show the value of being a sponsor in SailGP, and we're the first to do it - we're leading the way - and we will be able to back up with data and studies just why this is a great platform. I'm confident we'll get more sponsors onboard going forward.

For Part II let's hit the water with Nicolai Sehested

Q1: Every Skipper has said how hard it is to train for the F50, as nothing else is like it. You have had some water time now, what else have you done?

It is definitely really, really hard to get any training that relates to F50, as it is just so different from any other boat. To get good at sailing the F50 you just have to be on it. It is so different with how you sail it, work together, and communicate with your crew.

Q2: You will want to do well for sure, so given that two teams stood out so far in Season One, how do you achieve your goals, especially in light of the comment - They hit 47 knots within an hour of stepping on the boat last month and there's quiet confidence in the camp that they can spring a surprise to a few, despite limited time with the F50.

So far it has all been very new sailing to us, with a lot to learn, but thankfully we have been managing to catch up really quickly, so I think we are well placed to be competitive and push the other crews around the racetrack after only 15 hours on board now.

Q3: It is already action packed, making seven boats on the track is certainly going to add to that. As most elite sport is all about the headspace, how do you prepare your team?

I have such a solid team, so preparing mentally is not a huge issue. They are used to competing and being put on the spot, so are used to focussing and prioritising on the day of racing. Our preparation is mainly on the technical and tactical side of things, so that we can sail the boat as fast as possible.

Q4: How have your team adapted to their roles. Phil Robertson said it was almost like being a magician, and a one-man band at the same time, given there is just so much to do, and limited hands. What is your take on it all?

I think the F50 is amplifying the mistakes you are making because you are doing 45 knots. You have to sort of take it easy at the beginning, but you can't really do that, as you have to sail it at 100%, and if you back off it actually becomes harder to sail.

From hour one, day one you have to sail it like you race it. This is the mentality you have to have if you want to learn it and do well quickly.

In terms of enough hands to the jobs on board, that is about having a really good play book and really talking the manoeuvres through as a team at the beginning. You cannot take short cuts. You have to do it correctly from the get go, and stick to that. Even if it takes longer to learn, you will be better off in the end.

Q5: Team JPN will categorically be on the warpath to redemption. Team GBR has some of the best in the world now on board, and they have direct F50 experience from being crew on the second placed boat last year (Goobs and Parko) in addition to the legend with the wheel. How do you tackle that, and Team AUS?

We had some experience sailing with Team AUS last Tuesday when we launched the boat. The biggest difference between the top teams and us is our bottom level. When we are shining and sailing well, we are pretty close to matching Team AUS, but we do find ourselves in tricky positions where we are not good enough yet to pull ourselves out of it. If you look at Team AUS and GBR Team Ineos, they can always pull off a good manoeuvre; they can always have a fast boat in a tricky part of the course. This is what we need to learn.

Our top level is fine, but we are only there say 20% of the time, and we'll need to do 50, 60, 80% if we want to compete with the others all of the time.

Q6: Have you had experience with all the rig/foil combos?

We have mainly sailed with the high lift (low speed) foils as we mainly been in lighter conditions thus far. We are hoping to get a go with the high-speed foils in the lead up to the race, but if not here, then definitely San Francisco.

Q7: We saw that countries with utterly awesome sailors, say France, have had a hard time in the class to date. Skippers said to me that Cowes was just keep it together and get around unscathed, or as close to it as possible. Given the carnage there and NYC, what prep have you done?

Our expectation in Sydney? To have some good races and get a few points off the other teams. Perhaps not on the podium yet, but overall as long we sail well, gain some positions, and are not last, then Sydney will have been a massive success for us.

And now to the racing

Iain Murray is SailGP's Race Director. Sydney weather was the lightest round last year, and we have just had the weirdest Summer of all. So what are his thoughts? "They'll have more lift due to bigger rudders, and this means the light should not be an issue, but 6 knots is 6 knots. World Sailing do not go for anything below this level, and we are no different."

"We have seen a lot of heat generally, including the seas. So the differential is not there, and that means no sea breeze. It has been a bit unusual, and the bushfires create micro systems, which have caused further complications."

"This time of year usually has lighter Sou'east and Nor'east patterns, so it is 'more' normal in that regard. The long range forecast at this time is for light Sou'easters. The practice race on Tuesday, and also for the other days this week are shaping up as nice Nor'easters, then going into the Sou'east over the weekend."

There are new locations for this season, so what can you to look forward to with Copenhagen? "We have been up there a for World Sailing events at Aarhus, so have an understanding of the style of systems, but have not actually done Copenhagen. When we have taken sailing to Northern Europe it has been enthusiastically supported and we look forward to that. Yes you can get fronts, and a range of conditions is to be expected, but the general weather is ideal - 10-15 knots - perfect for these boats."

Right oh - there is plenty of information on the site for you to review when you can. Please avail yourself of it.

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John Curnow
Editor, Sail-World AUS

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