The grinder is the most physical position on board the F50. The two positions at the front of the boat create all of the energy for trimming the wing sail and the jib, powering all the maneuvers, and adjusting the heel and ride height of the F50. On a sailboat as supercharged as the F50, it takes a tremendous amount of energy to get around the race, and even more to outlast your competitors.
Just ask Matt Gotrel, grinder for the Great Britain SailGP Team. Gotrel has an Olympic gold medal from Rio in the Men's 8+ rowing event, one of the highest achievements in rowing. Gotrel grew up sailing but transitioned to rowing in college, working his way up to Olympic level. When his sailing buddies offered him the role with the Great Britain SailGP Teameager to take it, but he had no idea what a challenge switching from the oar to the grinding pedestal would be.
"Nothing gets you ready for being on board the boat. The hardest part is the moving platform. You're trying to put out as much power as you can while the whole thing is moving up and down, left and right. There's no substitute for grinding, you can't do much cross-training," says Gotrel. "For ages, I couldn't reach the same heart rates as I was when I was rowing; it has taken me six months to get to the level where I was training properly."
Without the grinder, the F50 wouldn't fly, the flight controller would be without control and the helmsman, unable to steer. The strength of the grinder is, on a basic level, the physical strength of the boat, and so grinding requires athletes to be exceptionally strong and ready for anything.
"A good grinder on these boats has to have big lungs, big heart, be powerful and to be able to make good decisions. The whole time you are on the racecourse you are at nearly max heart rate just pumping away," says the United States SailGP Team grinder, Dan Morris. "Training days are really hard. Train harder than you race. That's what it takes to be comfortable on race day."
New York posed an especially difficult challenge for the grinders who found themselves snapping into action in anticipation of gusts of breeze to lift them onto foils and get them going.
"There was a lot of mode changes of the boat. We would have times where we were transitioning from one hull in the water to foiling mode and popping both of them out, and that transition requires an immediate amount of power," said Tim Morishima of the Japan SailGP Team.
There's more to it than raw power, the grinder has to be mentally strong and be able to anticipate the next moves, so they aren't working against their teammates.
Hans Henken, United States SailGP grinder has a degree in astrophysics, which comes in handy when analyzing the flight of the F50 while providing the power to make it fly.
"The backward-facing grinder is controlling the heel of the boat and watching the ride height; they are also initiating the grind. The forward-facing grinder is the power and not only has to keep up with the backward-facing grinder, but they have to control the jib. They feel the load as the wing trimmer makes adjustments to the sails. Its high intensity and a matter of being in sync with each other and the wing trimmer," says Henken.
This weekend the group of grinders racing against one another in SailGP Season 1 will be put to the test on the Solent in Cowes, UK. Tune into the SailGP APP or check www.sailgp.com/watch to see these athletes test their limits.