As SailGP looks ahead to the eighth event of Season 3, Denmark strategist Katja Salskov-Iversen opens up about the team’s Season 3 performance, the challenges of the strategist position and preparing for Singapore.
Since the Women’s Pathway was first launched in Season 2, Katja Salskov-Iversen has become a familiar face on the SailGP circuit after she became one of two successful candidates selected to join the Denmark SailGP Team. Salskov-Iversen, who made her name racing in the 49erFX Olympic class, shares the strategist role with Olympian Anne-Marie Rindom.
First introduced mid-way through Season 2, the strategist role became the sixth position on board the F50 and was incorporated into an already established five-person crew. This, Salskov-Iversen says, presented initial challenges. “Stepping on a boat in a new role is quite difficult because the other five sailors are used to doing all the jobs themselves,” she says. Ensuring the new role provided value took the cooperation of the entire crew. “Defining how we can increase our performance with an extra person on the boat is a big job for everyone,” she said. “There are a lot of opportunities but there can also be limitations if you’re not using it right.”
When first introduced, the strategist role was ‘not really defined’, Salskov-Iversen says, resulting in differences in how the teams use the position. For Salskov-Iversen, this means being ‘the eyes out of the boat’, and informing Denmark driver Nicolai Sehested ‘how the boats are placed so we can make the best tactical decisions.” “My main job is to paint the picture of the racecourse so that Nicolai can concentrate on sailing the boat fast.”
Key to her role is the race pre-start, during which she is counting down the time to start and the distance to the line. “It’s probably the most stressful part of the race and a lot of information needs to be fed to Nicolai - that’s probably one of the most important moments to have the strategist incorporated into the racing.”
Like the rest of the fleet, there are differences in how Salskov-Iversen and Rindom use the position. “Anne-Marie and I are different sailors so it’s pretty difficult to take on the same role and for the crew to use us in exactly the same way,” Salskov-Iversen says, “there are some responsibilities we are doing the same, but we are also different in our approach.” This can prove challenging for the wider crew who have to ‘change the way they sail from event to event’ but is also ‘inspirational’. “Anne-Marie and I learn a lot from each other, take the best of both worlds and try to implement it.”
As well as employing the position slightly differently, other teams using training time to develop their strategists in other roles on board. This is seen in the Australia SailGP Team where the strategist role is shared between Tash Bryant, Lucy Copeland and Nina Curtis. In training however, Bryant is focusing on driving, Copeland is focusing on flight control and Curtis is training up as a wing trimmer. But this isn’t a path Salskov-Iversen has taken. Instead, she has decided to only focus on developing the ‘complex and important’ strategist role.
“If Nicolai and the team can trust that I have the tactical decisions, they don’t need to look out of the boat and that will increase our performance,” she says. Throughout this development, the team is ‘testing everything’ and weighing up short term and long term gains. “If you can see the big gains in the long term, then it’s important to implement it now and maybe lose a little bit in the short term - it’s a fine balance of finding out what the best solution is.”
The Singapore Sail Grand Prix, the eighth event in the Season 3 calendar, is now just under a month away. Denmark is currently sitting fifth on the overall Championship leaderboard with 42 points, behind Great Britain in fourth with 48. As Season 3 enters its final stages, Salskov-Iversen says the team is ‘pleased with how things are going’ and continues to put ‘constant pressure on ourselves to keep developing.’ Competition amongst the fleet has become fierce, with ‘everyone having the potential to be the best boat’, but Salskov-Iversen remains optimistic that Denmark can secure a place in San Francisco’s three-boat winner-takes-all Grand Final.
“We’re in a good position to gain a lot from the coming events if we can keep improving as we have been.” The team, who ‘were used to being the underdogs’, previously used SailGP’s open source data to ‘copy and paste’ the performances of the leading teams. But now, that’s become harder. “It’s more difficult to see what is gaining and what is losing - the boats that find something new now are the best boats, so we have to keep pushing and be creative.”
Ahead of Singapore, the team has identified key challenges to work on - dropping down to a four-person crew and sailing with the 29m wing. The team’s four-person crew configuration is still being developed, with Salskov-Iversen weighing up the option of moving into the first grinder position or remaining as strategist. “As much as I’m pushing the handles, I can’t match up to the amount of power the guys generate when grinding, so we have to work out how to use our resources the best way.”
The largest 29m wing, which was most recently used in the light winds on the first day of the Dubai Sail Grand Prix, is also a key improvement area for the team. “You have to sail completely differently with it - it’s super heavy and harder to pop and start foiling”, Salskov-Iversen said. She compared the light winds of Dubai with the gusty conditions of Saint-Tropez . “It’s like two different games but you have to think the same way - you have to make the racing as easy and simple as possible.”