After an extreme weather incident in Sydney caused significant damage to SailGP’s wing sails and Canada’s brand new F50, the combined forces of SailGP Technologies and Tech Team faced a choice.
They could either ‘cancel two events’ or ‘come out in New Zealand showing [their] strength,’ according to SailGP Technologies managing director Dave Ridley. They chose the latter. But that formidable challenge would require working against the clock to be ready in time for the ITM New Zealand Sail Grand Prix just four weeks after the incident.
The damage was significant. Not only was the Canada wing ‘completely destroyed’, according to Tech Team director Brad Marsh, but it also ‘took down’ the wing hangar, damaging the wings inside. The Canada F50 too, which was fresh out the box on its first day of racing, sustained damage that required complex composite repairs.
The first step was crucial. The day after the incident, the SailGP Tech Team returned to site to ‘survey every single element’. This, Ridley says, included creating ‘a complete register of all the damages’ across ’all boats, all wings, and all foils’ - a report was promptly sent to Ridley back at SailGP Technologies in Warkworth.
Ridley reshuffled work flows and redistributed more than 35 people to work full time on pre-repairs back at SailGP Technologies ‘making as many components as we could’. These were in turn shipped down to Christchurch along with additional staff from SailGP Technologies, who joined the Tech Team. This meant that a total of 40 people were repairing the Canada hull and wings on the ground in Lyttelton.
The damage sustained to the Canada F50, while ‘complex’, was ‘not outside the boundaries of what has been done before,’ Marsh says. Simply put, it required the dedication of ‘the correct people following the correct processes’. The fact that this repair could even be completed on the ground, Marsh adds, is ‘a testament to the talent of the people we’ve got on tour’.
But the wings were another challenge. At the time of the weather incident, the fleet was fitted with the smallest 18m wing. The other modular sections, which combine to create the biggest 29m wing, were either stored safely in the teams’ containers, or damaged in the wing hangar. Ahead of starting repairs, the Tech Team ‘literally had to lie everything out on the floor’, Marsh says. “The order was completely scrambled, but we were able to start repairing the hydraulic and electric componentry on the wings that got crushed inside the wing hangar.” The result is that both the 18m and 24m wing configurations will be ready for racing in Christchurch - with the 29m wings expected to return to the circuit in Season 4.
A key factor in the teams’ ability to complete repairs was ‘luck’, according to Ridley. He points specifically to the ’good timing’ of ‘the next event being in New Zealand’ - the home of SailGP Technologies. This meant that shipping time was drastically reduced. “We were able to have a short transit time, which really helped us out.” Ridley was also able to send skilled staff from Technologies in Warkworth to assist the on-site Tech Team in Christchurch - allowing the team to get an early start on repairs. Those two main advantages were crucial, Ridley says. “The challenges are being prepared and knowing what we have to fix, and we overcame that through the intense survey done by the Tech Team on day one - that was the key to success.”
Looking back on the last month, Ridley points to the ‘incredible outcome’ of having the full, nine-strong F50 fleet on the start line of Christchurch, which ‘shows the strength of SailGP’. “To come from such a setback and only one month later to be back at almost 100% capacity is just incredible.”