Recently crowned male World Sailor of the Year, Tom Slingsby and the US challenger American Magic, winners in September of the first preliminary regatta of the 37th Americas’ Cup in Vilanova, finished fourth of the second regatta last weekend in Jeddah. Meantime Slingsby is the winning, driving force of the SailGP Australia team which is on target to win Season 4 – even if he is missing the Dubai GP looking forward to the birth of he and his wife Helen’s first baby. Time to catch up with Tom before practice sailing this week in Barcelona.
▶︎ Tom what was the general debrief across these first two Preliminary regattas, what are the practical takeaways for the future?
As a team we have shown we have the skills to win the event and we have also shown that we are a bit of an inexperienced team as well. We have had the highs and lows, winning in Vilanova and having a poor showing in Jeddah. I look at that as a good thing as this is the first time we have ever really raced with each other and we are up against the likes of Ben Ainslie who has sailed with the same group of guys for six or seven years, Team New Zealand have sailed together for over ten years. And so for us, just say we had won in Jeddah, you would not get that feeling of how the team is going to react after bad days. So we have now experienced a bit of a range of emotions as a team. And I think we learn from that, as hard as that feels right now.
▶︎ Can you in any way fast track that experience?
We have spoken a lot about that, the team culture, the atmosphere, the sailing with each other and the racing with each other. I don’t think it is that simple. Being good friends, doing social things together and knowing each other and trusting each other is a huge thing. But it really takes time. But, yes, we are talking about ways we can fast track that process because now the reality it that the next time we race, with something on the line, is in the America’s Cup Round Robins.
▶︎ But specifically Jeddah Day 1 was not a good day, you’ll now have had time to look at things in more depth, what have you identified?
We have been through it carefully, what we did well and what we did poorly. I guess the light air day was a shocker. There are things we have to work on in the light airs, how accelerate better when you are off a VMG optimum. We know how to accelerate when we are upwind and downwind but when you have a boundary coming in 15 seconds and your boatspeed is too low to do a foiling manoeuvre how do you accelerate at 90 degrees and get the boat at a faster speed before that manoeuvre – that is something we need to work on – we did not do a great job of that. And then we were the last team to arrive in Jeddah and had a lot less prep than the other teams. We need to loosen up on small errors on the track. There were times when we could have tacked inside boats and led them around the mark and we went past them and let them round ahead of us, we were just giving away seconds around the course that we didn’t need to. Our boat speed on the last few days was good enough and was fast enough to win races, but our positioning was not as good as it could have been.
“The launch of the AC75
will be a defining moment”
▶︎ And having now seen the defenders, Team New Zealand, up close and personal on the race course, what are the things you learn from them specifically?
There is plenty to learn from these guys. They have sailed the boat for well over a year now and we are about six months. We did a lot of sailing but they are just more polished at the different wind edges. In the stronger winds they are the best team and in the lighter winds they are the best team. In the medium we all gain a bit, but there is plenty to learn from them. They are very polished around the course and their boat handling was great, their positioning was great, their communication board is good. Every area we could learn from because even though we beat them in Vilanova, we probably raced a bit better on the day, they were the more polished team.
▶︎ It cannot be easy – practically and mentally – to share the control of the boat 50:50….
Laughs….It is not easy. It is one thing only controlling the boat half the time, but the way these boats are set up you only have 50 per cent of your vision. If I was to be controlling the boat the whole time I would still not be able to see all I need to see. You have to get used to in these boats. You cannot steer all the time and see what you need to see. You would love to cross over and steer on the other tack but it is not the way these boats are raced. For me it is a communication part when it is my wheel and when it is Goody’s (Paul Goodison) wheel and how we paint the picture when we are coming to the intersection with a boat. I need to tack at exactly the right point. If I put the board down a second too late they are going to get an overlap underneath us. If I go one second too early they will live on our hip. Things like that….How we paint that picture and get really accurate is something we really need to work on.
▶︎ But where do you see NYYC American Magic overall at this point in the cycle?
Generally I think we are in a good place. We have started well. We have been training up a little bit of an inexperienced sailing team and the guys are improving. We have done our relocation to Barcelona and have hit all our timelines and deadlines accurately. We are on track for the future. As a whole I think we have a lot of room to improve, whether that is our sailing skills and our communication and how that works, how we race the boat. But with systems and things like that there is a lot of work going on every day to make big improvements. We are on that journey. I think as a whole we are pretty happy, we have done everything that we feel we could have to this point and for sure now we are just going to have to see if we have a fast enough boat when it hits the water. That will be a defining moment.
▶︎ What is your view on the French America’s Cup team?
It is tough game to be in the America’s Cup with potentially not as much money as other teams. It is unbelievably good the French are in the Cup and will be racing and I know that with the New Zealand design they will have a fast boat in the Cup. They have not as much training in the AC40s as the other teams and there is a good chance they won’t have as much training in the AC75 as other teams but we know they are a talented group who will have a fast boat. For sure we shouldn’t underestimate them because they could come out and be faster than us all and with the talent of their sailors they could well upset a few teams in the Americas Cup Round Robins.
“Between American Magic and SailGP,
it’s a tough balance”
▶︎ Meantime SailGP is getting more and more demanding, more events and tighter competition, how can you get the balance right to still peak at these events and serve NYYC American Magic?
SailGP is growing all the time and so that is a tough balance, leaving American Magic each time and going to SailGP Australia, how I juggle that. It will be trickier in the new year we have seven event in the first seven months of 2024 and each time that is me away from American Magic for a little while. But at the same time it is hugely rewarding getting the racing experience at the highest level in fast foiling boats. I do see in the future America’s Cup teams having a SailGP team as a huge advantage. Getting to race with your team in high pressure environments is something you cannot train for outside of SailGP for. I think it would be great for American Magic. I think it would be mad for all (Cup) teams not to be looking into how they could put their team on a SailGP boat because it is the highest quality sailing racing in the world at the moment, especially when the boats are such similar speeds.
▶︎ And a third World Sailor of the Year title….
It is a huge honour. But it is the first time I have won the title without it being for my own personal sailing as the driver behind that. This time I was always racing with teams, so I have bit of a weird, guilty feeling. I feel they should all be up there receiving it with me. I am very thankful for American Magic and SailGP Australia teams for being such great teams to be part of. They have really boosted my portfolio and gave me the opportunity.
▶︎ Can you look beyond the Cup and what you see on your sailing horizons?
We are out in front in SailGP again and it would be great to win for a fourth time. But it is getting tougher and tougher, so we understand how hard that will be to do again. But outside of SailGP and the America’s Cup I have zero time and have not even thought of what might be next. But after finishing with the America’s Cup in October, I will be back in SailGP in a bit more depth, I will likely look for some personal sailing, the Moth Worlds in New Zealand (December 2024), then on Lake Garda in 2025. I will look to some personal sailing not needing 50 people to put the boat in the water each day!
Photo: Ricardo Pinto / America’s Cup