When American sailor and SailGP athlete Rome Kirby set out to pioneer foiling in the ice-cold waters, he thought ‘getting up close and personal with icebergs’ sounded like ‘a pretty cool adventure’.
Kirby set out from his home in Newport, Rhode Island and travelled for 30 hours to the most northern tip of Newfoundland, finally setting eyes on the collection of icebergs known as Iceberg Alley on the Labrador Current. The island of Fogo is desolate and remote, home to just 2,000 people and with winter temperatures as low as -8.5°C. The water temperatures meanwhile can fall as low as -1.6°C. But Kirby wasn’t there for a holiday.
His mission was to successfully foil his Moth sailing dinghy around the icebergs and pioneer the very act of foiling in such extreme temperatures. The task literally saw Kirby step into the unknown. “It wasn’t like we could call someone up and ask what their experience had been like,” he says in a documentary created by the US SailGP Team in partnership with Official Technical Apparel Supplier Mustang Survival. “We were actually pioneering something.” At the time of the attempt, Kirby was fresh from the Moth World Championships and was ‘feeling pretty confident’ when he took his Moth out into the freezing cold waters for the first time.
But his first attempt didn’t go as planned and Kirby capsized before he was able to get foiling. “I tripped the rudder and hit the water and it just felt like I hit a brick wall,” he says. “It felt like I broke my ribs - I couldn’t breathe.” The ice cold water, which is denser than warmer water, affected the performance of the foils while the cold temperatures made simple tasks like rigging the boat ‘ten times harder'. ‘It was such a harsh environment,” he says. “We got humbled pretty quickly.”
Three days of extreme wind followed the first attempt and it wasn’t safe to return to the water until the final day of the expedition. “We gave it one last try on the last day.” This time Kirby was successful. While he wasn’t able to foil amongst the icebergs offshore, Kirby successfully pushed the boundaries of foiling by sailing the Moth around the harbor.
Now Kirby has his eyes on a repeat attempt, but with some crucial learnings from the first. “It was a mission and there was a lot of unknown,” he says. “At the end of the experience, we realized it is possible and if we go back and try it again, we know how to make it work.”
Check out the exact Mustang Survival gear - the EP Ocean Racing Collection - that kept Rome safe on his expedition here.