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SailGP: Phil Robertson reflects on the End of the Beginning for the new CanadaSailGP team.

by Phil Robertson/CanadaSailGP 3 Jun 2022 16:01 PDT 4 June 2022
Canada SailGP Team helmed by Phil Robertson during a practice session ahead of Bermuda SailGP © Felix Diemer/SailGP

CanadaSailGP's skipper, Phil Robertson reflects on the End of the Beginning for the new CanadaSailGP team.

Well what a way to launch a new team into a sports series, third place in the opening event of SailGP season 3 and the first event for our new team, Canada.

It has been a huge six months since I first got involved with the Canadians. Back in November there was our team founder Fred Pye and a couple of others just starting to put pen to paper. As it was my third start up team I had a fair idea of how I wanted things to run and got right into the crew recruiting process. The plan was to first build everyone’s knowledge on foiling and the F50, then up-skill them in foiling before working on the specific skills of sailing an F50. The tools: Numerous documents and discussions, a GC32 catamaran and the F50 simulator.

For a driver (skipper) you really need to know and trust your crew as each person plays a huge roll in sailing these boats safely. A real challenge for me was I knew no Canadian sailors and had six months to get a squad ready to drive the F50 safely and competitively. Of course Covid was disruptive in trying to do everything as planned but I first got to meet a selected few in January and we started to build from there.

To date we have been through three simulator sessions and two GC32 camps trialing the people we highlighted as having the potential skills to race the F50. What I was looking for was firstly their natural ability and feel, how fast people learnt and most importantly how people worked within a team.

We arrived in Bermuda one month before the event. SailGP is a monster of a project and it is surprising how little time there is to actually sail. The first 10 days of training were structured around learning the essentials : tacking and gybing, turning upwind and downwind. We had varying weather conditions which also resulted in varying boat set ups.

There are five different wing and foil configuration’s in SailGP and we managed to use them all during these days.

Each configuration results in quite different styles of sailing the boat. Given the little time you have to train, maximising your time and learning with the not so common configurations is also a big priority. It may be six months before we see the 29m wing and light air foils again. In addition to this daily adjustment, we were also rotating crew daily to broaden the teams knowledge of the boat and give me a chance to see how people respond when sailing an F50 at high speeds.

It is really hard to gauge each persons exact skills and expertise until you have sailed with them on the F50, so this was a key part to me picking my team. This meant that whilst the boat configuration was changing daily, so too was our crew and people’s positions onboard. The bonus to this was we were expanding our groups knowledge and also specific skill sets onboard. The downfall, time was being taken away from the eventual candidate and time is king in SailGP.

One of the things that impressed me the most was we could jump on an F50, with a brand new group and we were able to foil tack and gybe in our first session. The boats are constantly getting refined by SailGP Technologies which is making them easier to sail for debutants. The hard part is gaining the experience that the top teams have and closing that gap of knowledge and skill.

Once the first phase was complete and we had picked our race team, we were into the last six days of training. This was focused on becoming more consistent with our tacks and gybes, working on the harder maneuvers and also looking at sailing around a race track. What the race track adds is pressure. Pressure to perform your maneuvers inside the boundaries without the perfect set up. This is key, as you are mostly maneuvering in traffic during racing and it is rare you’re in a steady state environment to nail your tacks and gybes. Scrambling well is a good asset to have in your pocket.

Practice race day arrived before we knew it and with 20 hours of F50 sailing under our belt we were as prepared as we were able to be. Luckily for us we were able to call on the experience of Chris Draper on the wing which has been a huge help in our learning process and safety onboard.

To our surprise we ended up winning one of the practice races and got some great race learning under our belt too.


Our plan was to come in without high expectations, make sure we focused solely on learning and enjoy the experience. Well what happened next was not what I expected.

We got off the start line in the first two races in great shape. Sailed really well and consistently around the course making great tactical decisions and managed to start the season with a 2nd place in race one and a 1st place in race two. Race three we jumped the gun at the start but clawed our way back to a 5th. Sitting atop the leader board on day one was not what we expected!!

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