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Racing with Purpose: Inside Great Britain SailGP Team's purpose and impact projects in Chicago

24 JUNE 2022Blogs
by Hannah Mills

In a new blog series, Hannah Mills looks back at the purpose projects and impact of the Great Britain SailGP Team during SailGP events. First up the T-Mobile United States Sail Grand Prix | Chicago at Navy Pier.

Chicago was an incredible event both on and off the water. The first time in SailGP history competing in this iconic sailing venue on fresh water and it didn’t disappoint.

The team has committed to making positive impact off the water alongside securing race results on the water, Chicago was the perfect example of this with several community activations. Ensuring we delivered purpose that inspired the next generation whether in sailing or sustainability, through our education and purpose partner - Protect Our Future.

Here are a few of those great examples, it’s amazing what can be achieved in just five days!

Lady Of Tepayac Elementary School

This was my favourite experience from Chicago. Walking into the Lady Of Tepayac Elementary School to a huge roar from the kids was the most amazing feeling. All aged between 6 and 11 and from a range of backgrounds, they had the biggest smiles and so much enthusiasm for life – asking some brilliant questions after listening to me talk about my experiences with the Olympics and sustainability. My personal favourite was more of a statement by one of the young students - ‘you have really pretty hair’ a great confidence boost!

Season 3// United States Sail Grand Prix // Hannah Mills purpose blog // Lady Of Tepayac Elementary

These opportunities to reach schools in the local community wouldn’t be possible without the support of the GREAT Britain and Northern Ireland Campaign back in the UK. They linked us up with the Big Shoulders Fund in Chicago who through scholarships and academic programmes, aim to strengthen the schools they work with and the local community.

It was hugely inspiring to meet the young students and see them follow up my talk by taking on one of our Protect our Future resources to understand more about climate change and the positive action they can take.

Inspire Student

We were delighted to be joined by the awesome Elias Erling for a week of work experience with our shore crew. Eli got stuck into everything F50 related whether it was putting the boat together, craning in and out or even at the end of the week being the first intern to take on our ‘Truck and Trailer Inspire grinding challenge’ where he posted a very impressive score and currently sits top of the leaderboard – watch out for the video! Eli is also doing great work in his local community as a full-time sailing instructor at our Adopt a Club in Chicago – Jackson Park Yacht Club which I’ll talk a bit about next!

Although he sits both top and bottom of the Truck and Trailer leaderboard (being the only person to post a result so far…) I have no doubt it’s going to be a tough score to beat. We definitely need our on-board grinders Matt, Neil and Nick to post their three minute average watt score for a base line…challenge set!

Season 3// United States Sail Grand Prix // Hannah Mills purpose blog // Elias Erling

Adopt a Club

Jackson Park Yacht Club gave us the biggest and best welcome by any Adopt a Club we’ve have visited so far! I don’t think I’ve met anyone with as much infectious energy as the lady who runs the Foundation at the club – Karen Harris.

The Foundation was an incredible example of community action in Chicago, providing outreach, education, training, support and resources to engage young people and adults in boating and other activities on and around the water. Over half the youth sailors are minorities and half are female which makes it one of the most diverse sailing programs in the United States.

They have a huge scholarship programme with over half of the kids receiving financial assistance to attend camps. Their focus is reaching low income/at risk youth and they partner with the Chicago Police Department to help address youth gun violence and trauma and we look forward to continuing our relationship with them in the future.

Season 3// United States Sail Grand Prix // Hannah Mills purpose blog // Jackson Yacht Club

Sail GP Impact League local project

Matt Gotrel, one of our team’s powerhouses on the grinder, joined forces with SailGP and Friends of Chicago River to help with instream habitat restoration in the river that leads into Lake Michigan.

The City’s industrial past means that much of the river was dammed, dredged, straightened and reversed meaning a lot of the native plants have been destroyed. Native plants provide things like:

  • Sustaining the health of the local ecosystem.
  • Decrease the harmful effects of stormwater including erosion and water pollution
  • Mitigate climate change through carbon sequestration.

Matt, known as Shrek, loved getting back down in the swamp and was joined by other SailGP team members in a project to help replant some of these native species into the riverbed. A previous Team GB rowing gold medallist from Rio 2016, Matt was right at home heading down the river in a canoe!

Season 3// United States Sail Grand Prix // Hannah Mills purpose blog // Matt Gotrel

The goal of the project is to establish self-sustaining plant colonies over 100+ miles of the river and SailGP have committed to support the expansion of this important project by two and a half linear acres!

Chappers Solar Chase boat project: One of GBR’s mottos is ‘Small Change, Big Difference’ and we constantly look at our working process to see areas of improvement that can lessen our climate impact and also improve performance.

Shore crew member James Chapman took this on with an idea around solar energy on our chase boat with the project reducing fuel energy consumption from our team chase boat via the batteries that charge all the instruments on board.

In Chicago, Chappers installed 2 small 20w solar panels on the chase boat to trickle charge the house battery, which has several benefits:

  • No need to run engines at the dock to top up batteries before going afloat, or plug in a charger after unloading the boat from the container.
  • When radios, plotters, trackers and other equipment are used before practice days, it does not discharge the battery, which increases its working life.
  • Batteries are always topped up before transport.
Season 3// United States Sail Grand Prix // Hannah Mills purpose blog // Chappers

Running this pilot enabled us to learn about how much electricity we generated and how much solar energy we need to generate to make the project fully off grid. What I love about this project is many of the components used are second hand and understanding how much power we are using in different areas of our team, helps us understand what resources we need to create the greenest solutions available to us.

More to come from Project Solar Chase Boat

Collab with SailGP Canada

The final project I wanted to mention was our collaboration with the Canada Sail GP Team. Together we created a circular economy workshop evening where we hosted all the Inspire career students attending the Chicago event.

Delivering this workshop and seeing how engaged and interested the next generation was with the concept of the circular economy and how we could use it within sailing was exciting. The ideas the Inspire Students came up with around end of life for F50 materials and changing some materials so they would last longer and be fully reused/recycled after their lifespan was very cool.

Season 3// United States Sail Grand Prix // Hannah Mills purpose blog // Canada Collab

Partners with purpose

On the commercial side we were delighted to announce that Corpay would continue their partnership with the team and committed funding to support our ‘Protect our future’ platform and the team’s ambitions to educate young people and educators with skills and knowledge to understand climate science and take positive action.

Our official Technical clothing partner Henri Lloyd launched a new collaboration with LØCI Footwear and provided the team with a ‘Limited Edition’ shoe that is created from ocean plastic sourced from the Mediterranean and Atlantic Coast of Africa. For every pair of Henri-Lloyd x LØCI made, 20 plastic bottles are removed from our oceans, very cool and comfy also!

Season 3// United States Sail Grand Prix // Hannah Mills purpose blog // Loci Merch

My biggest take away from this trip… Young people are full of inspiration, ideas and think outside the box! They have no preconceived ideas around what is possible and what isn’t. It is incredibly and infectious to spend time with them. It’s this type of thinking we all need to adopt when it comes to the climate crisis and the solutions we need to find.


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