NewsSlingsby back in the saddle and leading Australian team

Tom Slingsby, CEO & helmsman of Australia SailGP Team
Tom Slingsby, CEO & helmsman of Australia SailGP Team

Slingsby back in the saddle and leading Australian team

Olympic gold medalist and America’s Cup winner Tom Slingsby was in New Zealand last month, leading the Australian crew through its paces as the team got its first training session on the new F50 foiling catamarans.

Although he and several of the Australian crew raced at the 2017 America’s Cup on the F50’s predecessor, Slingsby says so much has changed on the boats that this initial training session was a critical preparation phase for the team ahead of the first SailGP event, now just over two months away.

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“This is our main chance to get ready for the Sydney event in February,” Slingsby said, noting all the teams have limited access to the boats, which he described as being a completely different animal to what they sailed previously.

“There are quite a lot of changes after what has essentially been a nine month rebuild. The foils, the control systems, the number of crew on board, the power source, all these things have changed and that means how you sail the boat needs to change.

“I think the biggest improvement is probably in the foil package. These boats now have a much higher top speed and they’re quicker around all aspects of the course. It’s exciting to have such an improved boat.”

Another difference from the 2017 America’s Cup is in SailGP’s race format, which adds the thrill of fleet racing. Nobody has ever lined up six boats that perform like the F50 does on a start line.

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Slingsby says his team is looking forward to the first event with excitement, but with a healthy respect for safety as well.

“It’s fair to say we’re all trying to get our heads around how it’s going to work to fleet race with six of these boats. It’s just never been done before,” he said. “For sure we’ll have to ease our way into it. With this type of boat, if you think you’ve got it tamed, it will bite back. So I think we’ll all be feeling our way into it in the first races as we learn when and where we can push.”

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As the skipper with the home advantage for the first event, Slingsby is trying to keep his expectations in check. It’s a new championship, new boats, new teams and a new race format. There are a lot of unknowns.

“I just want the first event to go off with a bang and be a success,” he said. “I’d like to see Australia compete well and to the best of our ability on Sydney Harbour in front of a home crowd. That is a lifelong dream for myself and the guys on the team.”

Following the New Zealand training session, Slingsby and his crew went back to Australia and are pursuing different sailing opportunities before reconvening in the weeks leading up to the inaugural SailGP event on Sydney Harbour.

“Most of us have different sailing to go to, whether it’s yachting like the Sydney to Hobart race, or other events. Then in January we’ll get in some theory sessions with our coach to go through our playbook and as soon as we get the keys to our boat ahead of the event, we’ll be out training on Sydney Harbour to get ready.”

When he looks at the six teams competing in the first event, Slingsby says the talent level across the fleet is impressive, and with everybody new to the boats and the circuit, it’s difficult to pick a stand-out.

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“It’s hard to nail down a favorite. We’re all new teams sailing on what are essentially new boats. There’s going to be surprise performances. On paper you’d probably look to ourselves and Japan as having the most experience, but I’ve seen some of the other teams out training and they’re looking very polished.

“I just can’t wait to get racing in Sydney and then we’ll see!”

Australia SailGP Team debriefs after sea trials