Stepping on board an F50 for the first time is daunting enough, but stepping on board and racing against eight other super fast F50s on a tight racecourse with zero practice was the unique challenge handed to U.S. strategist Cam Farrah in Christchurch.
Farrah was called up to the team after fellow strategist Erika Reineke broke her leg in training ahead of the KPMG Australia Sail Grand Prix in Sydney. While Aussie strategist Lucy Copeland was able to fill in during Sydney, driver Jimmy Spithill needed a home grown replacement for the next leg of Season 3 in New Zealand. Farrah’s name was floated by Aussie grinder Kinley Fowler, who met Farrah while she was undertaking Nacra 17 with the Olympic squad in Newport. “The next thing I know, I have a message from Jimmy Spithill on my phone asking me to fly down to Christchurch’, Farrah recalls.
She jumped at the chance - ‘I said absolutely yes, I will jump on any plane to anywhere’. After arriving in Christchurch, Farrah was looking forward to hitting the water and undertaking crucial training with the team ahead of racing. But with high winds forecast, the decision was taken to cancel practice racing altogether, meaning Farrah would only have a few hours to practice before racing got underway on the first day of the event. To prepare she ‘learned as much on land as possible’, talking with coach Philippe Presti, rewatching past SailGP races and spending ‘hours’ in conversation with Reineke, who revealed ‘everything she’d learned in the strategist role’. “Coming into the weekend, I felt like I was as prepared as I could possibly be,’ Farrah says. Ahead of racing, teams usually undertake crucial practice laps but this too was cancelled on the first day when dolphins were spotted on the racecourse. “I think we did two practice laps before the dolphin delay, and then we were straight into racing - so it was definitely a baptism of fire,” she says.
The experience of the F50 was as fast and furious as she expected, specifically the ‘act of running across the boat’ during maneuvers. “It’s literally like standing on the roof of a car on the highway,” she says, “there’s a lot happening and it’s happening very quickly.” Despite this, the skills accrued through Farrah’s past experience of sailing fast, foiling boats kicked in.
“It was very impressive to see such tight racing, but at the same time nothing was that foreign to me,” she says, “I knew it was well within my capabilities so it was just about finding ways to add value to the team and refining how I was viewing the racing because everything was happening so much faster than I’m used to.”
She points specifically to her experience sailing the 69F with the American Magic women’s team, which saw her ‘hopping onto boats with people I had never sailed with before’. “I had done about six months of learning to adapt to a new team really quickly and that training was super valuable in Christchurch because I had never sailed with any of the guys before.”
Following Christchurch, all eyes are looking ahead to the Season 3 Grand Final in San Francisco, which takes place on May 6-7. With Reineke still out of action, Farrah will be returning to the strategist role and is ‘stoked’ to be racing on home waters.
To prepare, she and Reineke have been comparing their implementation of the strategist role to the rest of the fleet to ‘figure out the best ways we can contribute to the team’. For the wider U.S. team however, San Francisco offers the chance to ‘end the season with a bang’ and ‘start Season 4 off on a good note’ in Chicago. “We just want to represent our country the best we can and get everyone super excited about racing in the U.S.”