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SailGP: 'Crazy Canucks' top leaderboard for second time after Day 1 in Chicago

by Richard Gladwell/ 18 Jun 19:33 PDT 19 June 2022
Canada SailGP Team helmed by Phil Robertson in action on Race Day 1 of the T-Mobile United States Sail Grand Prix | Chicago at Navy Pier, Season 3, in Chicago, Illinois, USA. June 2022 © Bob Martin/SailGP

Canada SailGP completed the first day of racing of the second round of Season 3 of SailGP, topping the leaderboard in the T-Mobile United States Sail Grand Prix.

They did the same on the first day of Season 3 in Bermuda, much to the chagrin of the more established teams - who were shown the way around the Great Sound in Bermuda by a team having its first racing in SailGP.

The "Crazy Canucks" posted a remarkable 4,1,1 scorecard after three races of just over 10 minutes, sailing in a 14kt breeze.

"We were trying to set our expectations low, but we keep blowing them out of the water. It's tricky," said skipper Phil Robertson reflecting on the day's racing.

Excellence in starting was the key to the Canadian's performance. The "Crazy Canucks" lived up to their self-styled sobriquet showing little respect for the rockstars of the sailing world who made up the nine-boat fleet.

[The "Crazy Canucks" was the nickname for a group of World Cup alpine ski racers from Canada who rose to prominence in the 1970s and 1980s. They earned themselves a reputation for fast and seemingly reckless skiing in the downhill event. Their exploits were encapsulated in a 2004 movie called the "Crazy Canucks", based on the team's history.]

"I guess our team has come from a similar background and story," Robertson said of the new Crazy Canucks moniker that has appeared on the F50.

"I guess it's been a bit of a saying in our team that we're not too dissimilar to them. And we're crazy enough. Our whole team's crazy. We've taken that tagline on and put it into action."

The prime position on the line was at the Committee boat end, starting with pace and judging the time on distance to the start with great precision.

Double America's Cup champion, Olympic Gold, and double Silver medalist Peter Burling went for that startline spot in Race 1 and continued on for a reasonably comfortable win.

The Canadians owned that slot for the next two races, timing their run to perfection and continuing to win both races.

"Yes, the start was the key to success today. We managed to do a pretty good job of getting off the line in good shape and pushing over the whole fleet. It makes it easy after Mark 1 if you're in front.

"The key to winning races is really at the start," he added.

Coy about starting secrets

Robertson wouldn't spill the beans on exactly how they achieved two perfect starts in the second and third races. "We've worked quite hard on our communication loop, and being a new team, you've got to focus on that.

"I think we're communicating well around the whole track. And that's that goes into the start as well. And I guess my background is quite suited for a start box like that, where there are some interesting features like the breakwater."

The startline at Chicago is set just outside the harbour breakwater, and its effect is similar to a pitlane start in F1.

In SailGP, the F50's have to make a call about where and when to exit through the breakwater and charge at the start line. It's not for the faint-hearted, and fortune certainly favours the brave.

"I felt like it was easy. It's easy to know what to do and where to be. And we managed to execute it pretty well," Robertson reflected on two start and race wins.

"The whole fleet has exactly the same onboard software," Robertson explained. "So everyone's getting the same information.

"What changes is that three minutes before the start, a rolling three-minute average of all the wind is used to make all the time on distance and other starting calculations. So that's quite, I guess that's quite key. "

"You also need to know whether the software is a bit behind or ahead for each day."

"Position at the start is key. That's huge. The other key focus is to be fast. We knew it was quite tight from the pin, and boats will be slow down there. So we knew there was a huge opportunity to be up the line. And if you're fast, you'll get over, and we managed to push the boat really well on the reaches to make sure we got over the fleet. To be able to round Mark 1 in the top three in the fleet is huge."

Hard lessons in Race 1

The Canadians started Race 1 in the middle of the line and paid the price of having to contend with turbulent air from the boats to windward.

"Race 1 was interesting. We got a good start and executed our plan. I guess. We were in second closing on Mark 1 when we got into a tricky situation with boats gybing off to starboard, diving down inside us, and holding us to a straight course. It was a bit of a new one.

"We didn't execute it well as a crew - sailing with two boards down and having to sail a straight course until we had room to turn down. That stitched us up, but we managed to sail back through the fleet. The key was to keep the tactics super simple.

"We managed to do two tacks instead of three on one of the beats, which everyone else had to do. That set us up to be different to the main pack. When you're in the middle of that fleet, we try not to be dictated to by other boats. So being free and by yourself, and able to sail your own race, is a big part of it."

Upwind the race course didn't seem to have a favoured side allowing the crews more latitude in race strategy if they had to play catch-up.

"It was pretty even. I was a little bit surprised about that. Because obviously, the city front was right there. And there is a big Navy Pier sticking out into the course, which tends to create quite a big wind shadow.

"But it seemed to be fairly even everywhere you went. And to be honest, I don't think you could ask for a better day in Chicago.

"With that race track, and where we were racing, it's the perfect conditions and with 14 knots of breeze and flat water and coming out of the north running up and down the city front, made ideal racing.

"There were probably 20-degree shifts, maximum. So you're constantly keeping an eye on it and tracking it and knowing what phase you're in, and I guess playing your course - based off that and whether you're in a fast mode or a high mode, and where we're positioning against other boats. When we were racing, the changes in the breeze didn't seem huge, but they were definitely there.

"The pressure was up and down mainly around Mark 1, maybe due to the Navy Pier. It also seemed to drop off towards the left side of the course, and the boundary there was a little patchy. The right side of the course was usually constant in wind pressure. We had to be a little bit careful going to the left."

Catch-up doesn't go to plan

Chicago was just CanadaSailGP's second regatta, following their first in Bermuda last month. The team blew their first day's practice, capsizing their wingsailed catamaran just a few minutes after starting the session while still strapped alongside their chase boat.

"We had a challenging lead-up to this event," Robertson told Sail-World. "Five minutes before Race 1, it was still not going 100% to plan.

"The second practice day was super light. And we managed to sail with four crew, which we've never done before. So it was a new day for our team and very challenging.

"For us, it has been a case of one step back and two forward in the lead-up to the event. But today, I think it was a real testament to the team of how well they've learned and being able to pull it out on race day. Our recovery in Race 1 one was pretty cool to see."

Between Bermuda and Chicago, the Crazy Canuks took advantage of sharing everyone's data, along with seeing the onboard footage and audio comments.

"That's, but it's a huge shout-out for all the newer teams, and you can learn a lot," says Robertson. "The top teams are doing it as well, and you can spend endless hours watching and learning. We also went to Portugal to do some more training on the water in our GC32 and spent two days in the simulator in Belfast."

"We're spending much of that simulator time developing depth into our squad as well. We're not probably not using it with the race team as such, but more just as a development platform for new team members."

"The purpose of the GC32 training is to develop everyone's skill set around foiling and knowledge. It's been really beneficial for that."

Women crew 'a massive benefit'

Skipper Phil Robertson (NZL) and wingsail trimmer Chris Draper (GBR) raced today with four Canadian nationals.

Olympic 49er campaigner Georgia Lewin-Lafrance performs the co-pilot and strategist role. Billy Gooderham is the flight controller. Tom Ramshaw is a forward-facing grinder, and we rotate the two powerhouses, Jareese Finch and ex-American Magic grinder Tim Hornsby.

"The two internationals make us competitive and facilitate the learning of the others," Robertson explains. Not all teams sail with a co-pilot behind the driver.

"We came in with a fresh approach and managed to figure out a way to utilise our female athletes in the way we sail the boat and helping hugely with all the technical and strategic planning and communication.

"A point of difference between the more established teams and ours is how our co-pilot/strategist plays a big role in fleet management and ensuring we aren't in a collision situation. It is a massive benefit having women sailors on board, that's for sure."

With the forecast being light for the second day of racing, Robertson says they will have a reset overnight.

"Tomorrow is forecast to be an entirely different day. We're going to have the 29-metre (light weather) wing. So it's straight back to the drawing board and figure out how we handle that because we've never done that as a team.

"We're going into a race day with a boat configuration that we've never sailed before and conditions in which we've probably never sailed. And possibly a crew configuration with which we have probably never previously raced."

"In the state, we are in at the moment, every day is a completely new day for our team. So it's a big learning opportunity for our team.

"Thankfully, we probably put in quite a solid day today to set us up for tomorrow."

It was another great day for team founder Fred Pye. "He's pretty pumped after today's results," says Robertson.

"He's a very passionate guy and quite emotional. So, he travels the ups and the downs- and he's obviously on a bit of a high at the moment. So it's cool."

"He's also very realistic and knows that it's a sport, and a day like today is to be cherished and enjoyed. Tomorrow is a new day, where we need a new focus. So he's a good man. He's down to earth."

With 27pts, Canada sits on top of the points table after Day 1. Great Britain, skippered by five-time Olympic medalist Ben Ainslie is second, just one point behind with 26pts. A much improved New Zealand team, comprising the crew who won the last two America's Cup, is third overall with 23pts. The Season 1 and 2 SailGP champion Tom Slingsby (AUS), with a crew of former America's Cup champions, is fourth on 21 points.

Two races will be sailed tomorrow, with the top three progressing to a three boat, winner takes all final.

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