Sailing right now is a huge privilege

Published on April 21st, 2021

Rome Kirby

With the start of season two for the SailGP sports league on April 24-25 in Bermuda, Scuttlebutt editor Craig Leweck checks in with U.S. SailGP Team flight controller Rome Kirby for an update:

There’s been a lot of change in your sailing team. How did we get to this squad?

The team started two years ago when the America’s Cup was already rolling, so we started the first season with a bunch of guys that didn’t have much experience on the boat. But our group came a long way throughout the season, to the point where we were on the podium going into the last event until we broke the boat, going from the podium to dead last.

Sometimes it doesn’t go your way.

Then we made some changes for season two, and we had our moments at the first event in Sydney but we just couldn’t quite put it all together; our boat handling wasn’t there. And then the coronavirus hit, and 14 months later the America’s Cup finished, and there was an opportunity to make some changes for this re-start of season two.

I’m the only original sailing team member on the squad, but we’ve got a lot of old Oracle AC guys together now, and it’s been a lot of fun sailing with this group.

How did it come together for Jimmy Spithill to join the team?

He became available with the completion of the America’s Cup, and he’s obviously pretty close with league principal Larry Ellison and CEO Russell Coutts. Our team was definitely on the younger side and on the inexperienced side, so with Jimmy comes a lot of experience and knowledge which has us taking some pretty big steps forward.

Beyond changes to the team, there’s been changes to the F50 too.

The biggest thing is the wings. We had the 24 meter wing but now also have the 18 meter wing to use in big breeze. They made some modifications to the rudders, so we can flip the rudders up now, but the biggest adjustment is the wing. We’re able to go a whole lot quicker with them in the upper range. Still on the to-do list is a really big wing – I don’t know when that comes on line, but that’s going to be our light air setup in the near future.

What is the upper wind range for the smaller wing?

We don’t actually know. We haven’t really tested the upper wind limit, but the Australians used our boat for some training and capsized it, and it was estimated to be blowing in the high 20s to low 30s. We expect to be racing in that range.

Bermuda has been in lockdown during some of your training, and now has extended restrictions through the competition. How has this impacted your program?

Luckily, we’re not too affected by it. We’re in our own little bubble. Our team goes from the base to straight to our hotel rooms. We’re not allowed on any other bases, any other infrastructure on site. We’re not even allowed to go in our teammates’ hotel rooms. Even though you’re all side by side all day, you can’t go hang in your teammates’ hotel rooms. We literally go isolate at night and come back during the day and go sailing if we can.

What does it mean for the United States to have one of the eight teams in SailGP?

Oh, it’s a huge privilege. Just to go sailing right now is a huge privilege, but I would say within SailGP, I think all of us are pretty lucky to be here and have a team, and we want to do our best to stick around and succeed both commercially and competitively.

How important is it for your team to have events in the US?

In order for us to survive, I think we’re going to have to have at least one event, if not multiple events, in the US for potential commercial reasons. With potential sponsors coming on, having events in the United States is a huge part of us staying alive. And plus, who doesn’t want to go compete in front of their hometown crowd? Whether we have an East Coast event or a West Coast event doesn’t really matter as all of us enjoy sailing with in the USA, flying the colors on our boat.

Can your team benefit grassroots sailing in the USA?

Certainly, by having a team the next generation can see something to strive toward. With the America’s Cup, you never know what’s going to happen. There is always a lot of uncertainty and limitations, but at least SailGP gives these upcoming Olympians and high performance sailors a target to aim for. We are all working hard for SailGP to be around for a long time. That’s the goal, so kids coming up can see this and want to go be a part of it.

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SailGP Season 2 Schedule*
April 24-25, 2021 – Bermuda Grand Prix
June 5-6, 2021 – Italy Grand Prix – Taranto
July 17-18, 2021 – Great Britain Grand Prix – Plymouth
August 20-21, 2021 – ROCKWOOL Denmark Grand Prix – Aarhus
September 11-12, 2021 – France Grand Prix – Saint-Tropez
October 9-10, 2021 – Spain Grand Prix – Andalusia
January 29-30, 2022 – New Zealand Grand Prix – Christchurch
March 26-27, 2022 – United States Grand Prix – San Francisco (Season 2 Grand Final)
*Subject to change

2021-22 Teams
Australia, Tom Slingsby
Denmark, Nicolai Sehested
France, Billy Besson
Great Britain, Ben Ainslie
Japan, Nathan Outteridge
New Zealand, Peter Burling
Spain, Jordi Xammar/ Phil Robertson*
United States, Jimmy Spithill
*Season 1 skipper Phil Robertson (NZL) will helm in an interim capacity while Jordi Xammar prepares for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

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.

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