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US SailGP Team: Making strides for 2020

Published on February 25th, 2020

Rome Kirby

Scuttlebutt editor Craig Leweck checks in with United States SailGP Team skipper Rome Kirby for an update prior to the opening event of SailGP Season 2 on February 28-29 in Sydney, Australia:

Your team was the least experienced last year. During that first season, where did you see the biggest gains being made?

I think we made progress on all fronts, but the greatest advancement was simply in how we worked together on and off the water. It takes a while to build trust and communication, but that came along as we got to know each other.

Since time in the boats is so limited, we were always trying to kind of make the most of the time we had, whether it was practice or racing. It was reassuring that through our effort we definitely showed significant improvement throughout the season, to the point where we got ourselves on the podium, and mathematically, we still had a really, really outside chance of making it to the match race going into last event.

Unfortunately, we broke the boat the first race of the last event, and that put us out for a few races and basically started us on this downward spiral where we just struggled to recover. So that was a bit frustrating, but to get to the point where we were on the podium was a big, big step, and the whole team was pretty optimistic.

Looking forward, we’ve got a pretty good plan in place and a good squad, so I’m really looking forward to the 2020 season.

Coming into the off-season, what were the areas you needed to address to give yourself a better plan for 2020?

Finishing the 2019 season the way we did, we were pretty bummed out, so we went straight to Washington, DC as a team, and we joined the McChrystal Group for a seminar, spending nearly a week peeling back the onion of 2019 to assess our flaws were and where we can get better.

So we started with that. Obviously, we don’t get much time in the boat, so you really got to optimize and figure out how you can get better without that time and then, when you do get the time, how you maximize your time. That drove some changes, such as bringing on Kimo Worthington as General Manager.

I noticed one of your 2019 teammates, Dan Morris, joined an America’s Cup team. Do you see SailGP being a gateway for bigger opportunities?

Considering the America’s Cup is steeped in history, I can’t fault guys for chasing that dream. I chased that dream for seven or eight years, but SailGP hopefully will, one day, rival the America’s Cup in terms of prestige and as an event which consistently attracts the top sailors.

Even this year we have Ben Ainslie’s team coming in as they see the value of racing foiling boats amid the high level of competitors that are involved.

Racing foiling boats at a high level, there’s a huge premium on it; there’s definitely America’s Cup teams that see value in that, which is good. It’s good for SailGP, it’s good for our team, and it’s good for the sport. However, one day I can see SailGP being such a premier league where guys will start choosing SailGP over the America’s Cup. Time will tell.

Limiting time in the boats keeps the expenses down, but it also makes it hard for teams like yours to catch up. But now you’re getting some practice time before the first event… is everyone given the same amount?

I would love to say yes. I should probably be PC, but I’m not going to. So no, not everyone gets the same time. It can be a bit frustrating for some teams, can be beneficial for others. Being the newest team, the Danish are going to get substantially more time than we are or the French or the British or whoever. But then you’ve got the Australians who are probably pretty frustrated because we probably get an extra few days more than them, but we’re trying to catch up on years of experience that they’ve got in these boats.

Is this the league’s attempt to manufacture close racing?

In essence, yes, so to make a massive jump is hard. If we could have sailed all off-season, we would have, as that’s where you make the biggest gain, but it’s not a reality right now. But hopefully we can bring some more sponsors on board and continue building our team and SailGP so we can do this stuff in the off-season a bit more.

Using the simulator helped prepare teams for 2019. Was there any simulator time this off-season?

I think every team had the opportunity to go use a simulator, though it’s not quite the same as being on the real boat. It’s totally different, and while it is beneficial, it does not replicate sailing. At the end of the day, time on the boat– there’s no substitute for time on the boat.

Doesn’t matter what boat it is. If you’re not in the boat and you’re not sailing it every day, there’s nothing that compares to it. So getting over the simulator has its benefits, and obviously, we’ve tried to maximize and use the simulator objectively and try and get out what we think is beneficial.

We’ve got a couple of simulator sessions scheduled this year but it doesn’t have the same effect as getting a couple of days on the water.

You said every team has the opportunity to use the simulator. Is using it a budget consideration?

Everything we do is a budget consideration. Using it is not cheap, but it is beneficial if there’s things you want to get out of it. So we need to make sure it’s worth it to spend money on flights, accommodation, simulator time. Doesn’t matter what you’re doing as a team, budget is always taken into account.


2020 Teams
Australia, Tom Slingsby
Denmark, Nicolai Sehested
France, Billy Besson
Great Britain, Ben Ainslie
Japan, Nathan Outteridge
Spain, Jordi Xammar/ Phil Robertson*
United States, Rome Kirby
* Xammar will helm with Season 1 skipper Phil Robertson (NZL) serving in an interim capacity. Details.

2020 Schedule**
Sydney, AUS (February 28-29)
San Francisco, USA (May 2-3)
New York, USA (June 12-13)
Cowes, GBR (August 14-15)
Copenhagen, DEN (September 11-12)
** A sixth event may be added to the calendar at a later date.

SailGP detailsTeam rostersResultsWhere to watchFacebook

Established in 2018, SailGP seeks to be an annual, global sports league featuring fan-centric inshore racing in some of the iconic harbors around the globe. Rival national teams compete in identical F50 catamarans with the season culminating with a $1 million winner-takes-all match race.

Season 1 – 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)

SailGP Season 1 Overall Leaderboard
1. Australia, Tom Slingsby, 229
2. Japan, Nathan Outteridge, 223
3. China, Phil Robertson, 171
4. Great Britain, Dylan Fletcher, 169
5. France, Billy Besson, 164
6. United States, Rome Kirby, 163

Note: Total points based on SailGP scoring.

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