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TOM SLINGSBY: Young and On Fire

Published on May 6th, 2013

Standing in for fellow Aussie Jimmy Spithill for the final America’s Cup World Series event, young Tom Slingsby set off to Naples to put one thing straight: He’s just much of a helmsman as he is a tactician.

A hard worker and fiercely competitive, he proved he’s got what it takes to get an AC45 around the racetrack quickly, bringing home another match-racing title for Oracle Team USA, which also claimed the overall ACWS 2012-’13 season championship.

Best buddies with Nathan Outteridge, helmsman for Artemis Racing, the two grew up racing together in Australia, and like Outteridge, he holds a slew of consecutive world championship titles (six) and an Olympic gold medal – in the Laser. He’s fast finding his feet in the big world of the America’s Cup.

* What was your edge in Naples?

TS: The thing we did best was the crew work – I had quite a young crew but really motivated guys. We had Pete Van Nieuwenhuijzen … who has won everything with Jimmy over the past couple of years. We were able to gain valuable meters all the time through various maneuvers, and that added up at the end.

* It was your first time helming the 45 in a major competition. How did it go?
TS: I loved it. I’ve often been called a tactician over the last five years, whereas I’ve always thought of myself as a helmsman but have never had the opportunity to show it. This is the first time I’ve been able to steer a boat in the World Series, and I wanted to make a statement that I’m a helmsman and not just a tactician.

* Oracle now has three excellent helmsman – how do you feel about being the bridesmaid and not the bride when clearly you’re capable?

TS: It’s OK – I was given an amazing opportunity. I was hired as a tactician with the strongest team in the America’s Cup, and I’m still pretty young and going to run with it. I know I wasn’t hired as a helmsman, but I’ve now had a lot of support since Naples. People now know that I’m there if Ben or Jimmy gets injured or sick, I can fill in. I think they know now I can do a good enough job, and it’s nice knowing I’m being known as a helmsman as well as a tactician.

* You’ve been a successful tennis player and Laser sailor. How have you managed the transition to team and working with a crew?
TS: Everyone knows me for the Laser sailing I’ve done, but I’ve been sailing yachts as a tactician for around 10 years: Farr 40s, Etchells, TP52s, RC44s. When I was getting into it, I’d find the boats with the best tactician and try to get a ride with him. I really studied how they communicated, and I remember writing things down when I was younger about the way they communicated: what they said and how they said it. I learned quickly all about tones, and you have to make sure you have the right tone when you’re speaking to the crew, make sure you don’t display urgency or tension when you speaking … that kind of thing. I must have been improving over the years because I was hired as a tactician at Oracle, and it’s all going pretty well!

Sailing World, read on:

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