Australian athlete Nina Curtis has described the first day of racing in Saint-Tropez as ‘absolutely insane’, claiming the Australian F50 was ‘right on the edge’ of control.

Heavy winds of up to 45 km/h dominated the first day of racing of the Range Rover France Sail Grand Prix, resulting in the the nine warring F50s being fitted with the smallest 18m wing and high speed rudders and boards. The fast and furious racing saw SailGP’s racing speed record broken by home favorites France, which hit 99.94 km/h.

Season 3 // Australia SailGP Team // Nina Curtis interviewed

Speaking about the conditions, Curtis told SailGP’s Deep Dive podcast that the entire fleet was ‘racing on the edge’. “I’ve never experienced anything like it,” she said, “we were neck and neck, fully fighting and no-one was in safety mode - everyone was sending it at 90 km/k in a close quarter racetrack - it was absolutely insane.”

France Sail Grand Prix | Saint-Tropez | Season 3 | Australia | New Zealand | Racing

Podcast presenter David ‘Freddie’ Carr, who fronts the podcast with Stevie Morrison, argued that the first day of the Range Rover France Sail Grand Prix was ‘a defining day’ in the sport of sailing, ‘not only [because of] the high speeds on that close course, but because of how high the level was’.

Curtis agreed, acknowledging that improving performances across the fleet have halted defending champions Australia's period of dominance. The team, which won the first two events of the season, missed out on a place in the Final for the second consecutive event in Saint-Tropez and have now not won an event since the T-Mobile United States Sail Grand Prix in June.

Australian athlete Nina Curtis in the strategist role alongside driver Tom Slingsby

While the ‘Australian team is ‘well renowned for being fast in heavy air’, it is now facing pressure from teams on the rise, Curtis said. “We’ve still got perhaps a small advantage there but the bar’s certainly been raised and all of a sudden you’re shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the fleet,” she said.

The team remains at the top of the Season 3 leaderboard with 42 points, but is just one point ahead of challengers New Zealand. This, however, is providing the team with plenty of motivation, Curtis said.

“We love having our backs against the wall, we like having to dig in and really fight for it,” she said, “we haven’t had that unbroken streak for a while now but that’s made us really hungry and we’re really hunting now to get ourselves back in that Final race of these next events.”

Season 3 // Range Rover France Sail Grand Prix // Australia nosedive

A defining moment in Saint-Tropez was the moment Australia and New Zealand were on a converging course on the approach to the finish line of the first fleet race. Aggressive match racing tactics by Kiwi driver Peter Burling, who had the right of way, resulted in the Australian boat dramatically nosediving meters from the finish line. The Australian F50 was promptly overtaken by Great Britain, the U.S. and Spain, leaving it in fifth place instead of second.

“It was actually so much faster and more intense than it shows watching the racing back,” Curtis said on the incident. “We were right on the edge.”

Australian driver Tom Slingsby criticised Burling for the move for the damage sustained by the Australian F50. It was unclear at the time if the team would be able to resume racing, but the damage was patched up by SailGP’s shore and tech team in time.

“We were really lucky that we didn’t have more damage than we did and continued to race for the rest of the day,” Curtis said. “We have a pretty extraordinary shore crew {…} and we wouldn’t have got around the track if it wasn’t for them.”

Season 3 // Range Rover France Sail Grand Prix // Australia close up

She added that racing in such heavy wind resulted in ‘an absolute extoll of the senses’. “You can’t hear yourself think from the noise from the foils and the water washing over you,” she said. “I’ve never felt cavitation like I did on that day - it’s just rattling and sounding like it’s going to completely explode”.

Women’s Pathway Program

As SailGP prepares to mark the first anniversary of the Women’s Pathway, Curtis reflected on the significance of the program, which has so far resulted in 25 female athletes racing since Cádiz in Season 2.

Australian athlete Nina Curtis signs merchandise for fans

“It’s such an exciting time to be a female sailor,” Curtis said, “When I was growing up, these opportunities weren’t available to us and being on the front line and figuring out what it looks like has been a pretty awesome journey.”

The Deep Dive podcast is available on all major podcast platforms and will feature new episodes ahead of each event of SailGP Season 3.