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US SailGP Team prepares for launch

Published on October 16th, 2018

When SailGP was announced, it was the fulfillment of Russell Coutts’ long-held vision of how Sailing can be formatted to succeed in a commercial sport landscape. The inaugural season in 2019 will have five events, with two of them in the USA, and one of the six teams representing the country. Scuttlebutt editor Craig Leweck caught up with Rome Kirby who will lead the United States SailGP Team.

How did this get started for the USA team?

Russell Coutts called me about six months ago and asked if I’d skipper the team. Things happened quickly as we jumped into action to organize a training camp to select the crew. We used one of the turboed AC45s from the last America’s Cup and had about 10 days in August where we trialed a group out in Newport, RI.

From the group of invitees we selected a team that’s young and extremely talented and hard-working guys. I think we have an awesome group here and we’re looking forward to getting started.

Note: More about the team here.

How aware of SailGP were you when Russell called?

Having been involved with Russell for the last two America’s Cup cycles, I knew there was something going on. I heard all the rumors but didn’t really think much of it. It’d been a year since Bermuda and I was busy doing my own sailing, but at the same time if something was to happen, I knew I wanted to be involved having previously sailed on these boats. Certainly now, I’m really excited that Russell called and asked me to head out the team.

Looking forward, what now?

We’ll be in London for about three days to use a simulator that was developed by Artemis Racing for the America’s Cup. From there, we get to New Zealand by late October for about three weeks to sea-trial our F50 catamaran. Then our boat gets packed up and sent to Australia, and hopefully we can do another simulator session in between.

From there we’ll probably be setting up the boat a bit early. Each team’s going to be allowed a fair bit more time to train prior to first event so I think we’ll be down there sometime in January. We’re not 100% sure on the dates, but we’ll be there in January at some point prior to the event in February.

Craig: Russell told me he tried the simulator in London and was amazed at how difficult it was to sail the boat efficiently. And he’s Russell Coutts!

It sounds like you’ve got good access to the boat.

For the most part, but you ask any sailor and they’d always love to have way more access, but that’s not the case so we’re going to have to make the best of the time we have.

Not many Americans have experience on boats like this.

Yes, but they’re a talented group with a great mindset. These guys are going to come in and it’s definitely going to be new to them, but at the same time, they’ve shown that they can learn, and they’re all great sailors and have a positive attitude. They all work hard, and that’s what we want. That’s going to be the difference between having a successful team and not.

I suspect the league is handling a lot of the logistics with regard to the boats, but do you still need to have that component within your team?

While the league will have some centralized maintenance services where a lot of the stuff is taken care of, we’ll have five guys on our shore team that look after our boat and stay on top of the systems because these boats are so complex.

The boats have been optimized since we saw them in use at the 2017 America’ Cup. Can you tell your mom they’ve gotten safer?

I think she realizes when she hears the boats could go 50 knots she’s like, “Yeah. I don’t need to know any more.” But safety obviously is a big priority for SailGP. However, I wouldn’t say with the boats getting faster that it translates to them getting a whole lot safer. There’s obviously risk in everything we do. We’ll see. Hopefully, the flight control and systems are accurate. We’ll certainly focus on that to improve safety but for now we’ll play it by ear and see how it goes.

From left: Hans Henken, Dan Morris, Rome Kirby, Riley Gibbs, and Mac Agnese.

Established in 2018 and headquartered in London and San Francisco, SailGP seeks to be an annual, global sports league featuring fan-centric, inshore racing in some of the iconic harbors around the globe and culminates with a $1 million winner-takes-all match race. Rival national teams from Australia, China, France, Great Britain, Japan and the United States battle it out in identical wing-powered, foiling F50 catamarans, engineered to exceed 50 knots. Details:

2019 Schedule
Sydney, Australia (February 15-16)
San Francisco, USA (May 4-5)
New York, USA (June 21-22)
Cowes, UK (August 10-11)
Marseille, France (September 20-22).

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