At the start of Season 3, professional sailor and ‘data nerd’ Emily Nagel was unveiled as SailGP’s newest international commentator. But her journey to the mic was anything but straightforward.
It began in 2016, when Nagel, who is originally from Bermuda, was part of the country’s Youth America’s Cup campaign. Keen to get involved with America’s Cup, Nagel successfully lobbied Canada wing trimmer and SailGP veteran Chris Draper for an internship with Cup challenger Softbank Team Japan and spent her time split between the ‘design side and the shore team’.
After the Cup, Nagel competed in the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race with the AkzoNobel team, counting Denmark Driver Nicolai Sehested among her team mates and New Zealand’s Peter Burling and Blair Tuke, and Australia’s Kyle Langford among her competitors. Following the race, Nagel began to hear ‘chatter’ of a new racing league named SailGP and remained ‘100% committed to chasing sailing on a professional level’.
After ‘sending out feelers’ to get involved in the league but ‘getting little back’, Nagel decided to start her own sailing-focused data analysis company. Her passion to get involved with SailGP remained and, ahead of the Championship starting in February 2019, she offered up her data services for free. “I decided the only way to make an opportunity happen was to make it myself,” she says. “So I flew out to Sydney and offered to work for free for two weeks - they probably thought I was mental but I just wanted to learn and get involved.”
Her role included creating data reports for individual teams encompassing ‘whatever they wanted’. The value of these reports was quickly noticed by the Great Britain team, which hired her on a full time basis for the rest of the season and the Sydney Sail Grand Prix in February 2020.
Ahead of Season 2 however, Nagel was offered the chance to trial as a female athlete with Great Britain or to continue as a data analyst. She chose to trial. In the meantime, she began freelancing for the British Olympic Sailing team as a data analyst and was ‘very surprised’ when she was offered the opportunity to join SailGP as a commentator. “I’ve sailed with Freddie on a few big projects and I know Stevie through my work with the Olympic team and both of them suggested I try it.”
The next step was to shadow Freddie during the Bermuda Sail Grand Prix at the start of Season 3 and undertake commentary practices on Zoom, which saw Nagel commentate on the same race ‘over and over’ with the aim of ‘learning how to talk’. “It’s a new challenge but one I’m actually quite enjoying,” she says.
The purpose of Nagel’s commentary is clear. Unlike Morrison, who is described as a ‘colour commentator’ and tasked with conveying the excitement of the race, Nagel’s role as a ‘technical commentator’ is to incorporate the vast amount of data being generated by the F50s. While commentating, Nagel will be looking at ‘multiple data screens showing [her] what’s going on’ while also ‘watching the racing’.
“I’m trying to combine the two worlds of what people are seeing on the screen and what is happening with the data,” she says. “I guess I’m doing the data analysis but talking out loud at the same time”. The aim is to unlock the audience’s understanding of the data and ensure that even ‘an audience with nothing to do with sailing can tune in and start to understand the technical side,’ Nagel says. “It’s not that an audience can’t understand these concepts, it’s just that no-one has ever explained them before.”
Behind the scenes though, it’s not as simple as Nagel suggests. While watching the racing from SailGP’s remote broadcasting studio in Ealing, London, Nagel must also talk to the producers about which data graphics she’d like to appear on the screen before ‘jumping in and explaining why those numbers are important’. “There’s a whole lot more going on than I ever imagined,” she says. The most challenging thing, she says, is the ‘amount of voices’ she hears while commentating. “I imagined that I’d have a microphone in front of me and I’d just talk”.
The reality however is a ‘full headset’ linked to a switchboard ‘with about 10 other people on it’. “I’m easily distracted and having five voices in my head is the hardest part for me,” she says.
Nagel has sailed with or against multiple SailGP athletes, including the likes of Jimmy Spithill, Jason Waterhouse, Luke Parkinson and Tom Johnson. As a result, she offers unique insight into the athletes and their teams’ sailing styles.
“A lot of them have pretty distinctive sailing styles and you can see that through the data,” she says. “I know the individuals, what makes them tick, what annoys them and how they sail the boat, and that really helps when it comes to talking about them.” Based out of Ealing, the commentary team sits within SailGP’s remote broadcast operation, which Nagel describes as ‘incredible’.
“The set up just blew my mind,” she says. While she regrets ‘on a personal level’ not attending the events in person, she admits ‘you can’t ignore the sustainability impact of not flying 40 people around the world." Following her debut event in Bermuda, Nagel says she was ‘overwhelmed’ by the positive feedback of friends and fans and has driven Nagel to introduce more ‘technical topics’ going forward.
Meanwhile Nagel is excited to step back into the commentators box for the Great Britain Sail Grand Prix | Plymouth, which gets on July 30/31, despite having trouble winding down after a shift at the mic. “I struggle to sleep after commentating,” she says. “I pretty much get an adrenaline high from it.”