Thirty-nine seconds into the first race of Cowes SailGP, the U.S. SailGP Team was screaming around the first mark, edging out the Australia SailGP Team for the hole shot and then, at forty seconds, it all went upside down. Literally.
The spectacular capsize that unfolded, in front of a crowd of thousands ashore, could have ended the day. But the Americans fought on, salvaging the F50 and claiming valuable points to slide into third place overall.
We caught up with helmsman Rome Kirby firsthand, to go inside the mechanics of the capsize and the resulting aftermath:
The conditions were some of the most brutal yet on the SailGP circuit and contributed to the capsize. Explain what you were thinking at the start of race one?
“You’re trying to keep the boat in one piece and the guys in one piece. It was another level that day with the sea state. The bigger waves meant a lower trough [bottom of a wave] between swells which increased the danger of popping a rudder out of the water. With the short rudders on the F50, once you pop them out there’s nothing you can do.”
Replay the moment of the capsize for fans…
“Coming into the first mark, it was us and Australia [SailGP Team] and we had a bit of a tighter bearaway. We were flying level all the way through, and all was good until I felt the helm free up and looked to see our rudder pop out of the wave. It was all over at that point.”
There are other cases when the team has recovered the F50 after “slipping” on the rudders. What made this one so “hairy”?
“When your boat is foiling and your rudder pops out of the water, it’s basically in the air and not doing anything. It’s not generating any downforce. We were going for maximum speed meaning each rudder was pitched at extreme opposite angles which makes the F50 faster. That also meant we lost a lot more “grip” when the rudder popped out. To lose the only element on the back of the F50 holding the boat down, at that speed and in those conditions, it’s nearly unrecoverable.”
What was the mood onboard?
“It was a tough one. We were sailing the boat relatively well, but it is what it is. That’s racing.”
The team gained valuable points on the Great Britain SailGP Team to slide into third overall, were you thinking about the standings when recovering the F50?
“My goal was to right the boat, not lose any more points, and go racing. I think there were quite a few people who expected us to shut it down and call it a day. The tech team and our shore guys jumped into getting the boat back racing. I can’t give them enough credit for saving the day. The quality of our support team showed that day.”
Having climbed into third place overall, the U.S. SailGP Team now takes aim at the SailGP Season One Grand Final in Marseille September 20-22, where the top two teams overall will compete in a winner-take-all match race for $1 million.