Breaking and bonding: China SailGP Team pushes the limits

3 MAY 2019News
  • China

Fans of SailGP saw the dramatic footage and imagery of China SailGP Team crashing down on San Francisco Bay earlier this week. The crash was the first of its kind on the new season of high-performance racing in the F50 catamaran. In a matter of seconds, the Chinese team had gone from flying meters off the water to crashing down, bows buried, into the waves. The outcome was a damaged wing-sail and a time crunch to remain in contention for San Francisco SailGP.

“In a boat like this that travels at speeds around 30-40 knots, if it stops instantly, then all that load transfers into the wing and the boat and literally tries to pull the wing straight over the front of the boat.” Said shore team manager Graham Tourell, affectionately known as ‘Gringo.’ “You can see in the footage that the wing effectively crash jibes and tears the camber arms which link the main element to the flaps.”

To prevent further destruction of their F50, the boat had to be towed backward with the tide. The team feared the top of the wing coming off completely, which would destroy even more of the sail, and potentially injure the sailors and those involved with the rescue efforts.

Damage to the wingsail as a result of the massive nose dive.

“Due to the fact the wing was in so many pieces, it was a bit of a salvage mission just to keep it all intact as much as possible and minimize the damage to the rest of the wing,” said helm Phil Robertson upon arriving back at the team compound and hoisting the boat onshore.

Wednesday morning, a member of the shore team tore the outer skin off the dismantled wing, revealing what audiences online couldn’t see, cracked carbon struts reminiscent of broken ribs beneath. The one design format doesn’t hurt the team, which have components for a backup wing among their spare parts, but the race was on to repair the damage and get the team back out and racing.

Now, with a deadline, the team raced against the clock to keep their campaign on the water, “There's an amazing technical team onshore here,” said Robertson, “and they really took it on and put in some massive days to get us back out racing.”

Work taking place to the carbon fiber frame of the wingsail.

The footage is hard to watch, but the team members maintain an upbeat attitude. For them, to race, these boats are to push their limits, and that’s precisely what they were doing when the crash occurred.

“We heard the crash first, and everyone held on. The most important thing is that there were no injuries to the crew.” Said Chen ‘Horace’ Jinhao. “We were all looking around making sure everyone was okay, we are like a family, the boat we can fix, but the people, you can’t replace.”

Tourell was busy leading the charge on the repairs. “We have an amazing team onsite, from core boat builders to the technical team at SailGP. They have been working flat out, doing a great job and using every hour they have,” he says. “This is what we are here for, there’s a huge amount of hard work and effort. No one questions it, the boats broken, let’s fix it and get back on the water. “

China SailGP Team's wing under repair.

The long hours paid off and the red boat of China emerged across the horizon and back out on the racecourse for the final day of practice racing before San Francisco SailGP kicks-off. Unfazed, they will continue to strive to be at the top of the fleet, even if it means a few bumps and bruises along the way.

China SailGP Team repairs underway.