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Soybean or Peanut Oil?

by John Curnow, Editor, Sail-World AUS 8 Sep 2019 23:00 BST
Phil Robertson - Skipper of Team CHN in the SailGP © Galen Chan for SailGP

We had The Good Oil, followed by More Good Oil and then Smothered in Oil. So when I got to speak with Phil Robertson from Team CHN in the SailGP, well one of those two oils seemed the only way to go. Given that we are so close to the Grand Final in Marseilles, something with a high flash point was also entirely apt.

Q: What is it like to be part of the greatest show on earth?

A: It's full on, that's for sure. I am thrilled to be apart of it. It is an intense environment, and a lot of work, so you feel like there is no time left to reflect when you are in and amongst it all. You work hard for two weeks, and then it is all over inside two days. You have two 10-minute races, which is when the adrenalin has kicked in, and then you are left to process it all afterwards.

The format is super short, with a massive build up, a short rest before racing, and then it is all over. So it is a really strong feeling, like you are not done at the end of the second day, and it is very strange. It is almost like you say to yourself, 'What just happened?'

Finishing the last race on a high is really important, as you don't want to close down looking inwards. So there is a strong desire to keep at it, and keep improving. Without doubt the hardest part is lacking time on the boats. Overall we have not many hours on the water, but I can't grizzle because it is all for the big show.

We have 20-25 people on the team, and it takes it all of them just get a few hours on water. Overall you get to appreciate just how incredible these machines are, and you don't want it end. I just wish I had one somewhere else to train on permanently, for they are hard to master, and there is nothing similar anywhere in the world to train on. We get an extra day, which is two hours more than Tom and Nathan, so that is a bonus.

Q: How have you gone with a 'development team'?

It's a massive challenge. Our Chinese crewmembers are all from a VOR background, which means a different mentality, person, effort and everything, as well as no foiling experience. James Wierzbowski and I had done stadium sailing with the foiling GC32s, but not the AC50s.

So it is a massive mix and stages along the curve, which makes learning as a group really hard. Because of our different backgrounds and subsequent knowledge sets you have to learn how to sail these boats, and then progress to mastering them, so as you mix it all together it is like a very delicate recipe.

Q: You lose another non-Chinese member next year.

(Huh - a nervous laugh from Robertson.) Given where we feel where we are it to just be here, it can feel like we have not even got a handle on it. Paul Campbell-James is on the wing, and James has Flight Control. Right now we are probably at 50%, as these craft are so hard to sail, foil, and manoeuvre correctly.

The positive is that we are doing dry laps now. You have to be at the highest standard to be able to win, and we want to win. There are just days left of this season, so we are not going to be close in the points, but I really do think we can race from this point forwards.

So yes, next year the wing trimmer will have to be Chinese, and by virtue of what I've just said, will have no experience in the job. If you look at CJ and James who are in their 30s and this their life, they are learning all the time, and their commitment to learning is outstanding. It has taken a long time to grasp this boat, and it's the same for me. Having someone not their level, will make 2021 interesting.

There has been no chatter of changing the rules, and all our learnings are there so we can deliver to those rules. Another Chinese member is coming, and I believe we can make it happen. China is doing well at the World Cup, so doing well at sailing in general, but there is nothing past the Olympic sailors. That means no pros, and we cannot get hold of the Olympians. Maybe this is wrong, for I feel that with more variety, the better it helps your target event. China's board sailors would benefit, and so might we as well as China as a sailing nation on the whole.

Q: How interesting was Cowes, especially that bear away?

That was a scary moment. It was the same in SFO. What saved us was that we had two rudders in the water. If you are high up on your foil tips, and lose a rudder out, then you loose 1500kgs of down force. Your righting moment is gone. At the same sort of second you add three or four positive degrees of lift, the bow goes down massively, the board ventilates, and it is all over!

We dropped out of the sky, nose-dived, filled with water, but came out of it way better than the USA. I am pretty happy with how we performed, and big part of that was keeping it safe. There was a point when it was just survival. We came back all intact, so that is a good day. As a plan it worked. Taking it cautiously was matched to our expectations, and we went around the track.

Q: And so to Marseilles.

I am really excited. Sailing these boats is special. We are going in with some good training first, and then maximising three day event (first time instead of two or one as it was at Cowes die to weather), which means there is a lot more racing, and it will be lot more rewarding. So we will come in, and give it everything we have, so as to benchmark ourselves.

It will prove how much we have learned, and I want to be competitive against AUS and JPN. As for good results, well I can't put a number on it, for it is very dependant on how you sail. They are difficult to get around cleanly. It is like trying to fly a jet fighter when you have a single Cessna ticket. It is hard to describe what it is like, for every position is doing two or three roles at once: A foot for a button, and each and doing something else.

It is like we are magicians on board, juggling whilst you race around the track, and then you also have to think about where you are going and the next manoeuvre. The F50 demands co-ordination between all members just to be going 100%, and that's in a straight line. Once the boat's suffering, then it goes messy, and the hardest part is manoeuvring them well. It is where it is all at.

I think all the teams are there now, so it will be good racing, because each tack or gybe can make a massive difference to the outcome. There has been growth in the ranks up behind the top two. We'll battle to see who could learn the most the fastest, so Marseilles will be the first time it has been six boat event.

Q: You recently did the A-Class Worlds.

Just doing more learning. This is a fantastic boat that foils upwind, so it is all relevant. The more diversity, the better it is for your personal growth, and it all transfers over to the F50.

SailGP is definitely an incredible series to be part of. We have done a lot of learning, and making inroads now. I am excited to see what happens with the future, which should be pretty great. The effort and whole show is unbelievable. This was the right move and we're on right track. Perhaps they may even have more teams?

Closing words go to SailGP's Regatta Director, Iain Murray.

On the back of running the racing for the last two ACs, he's definitely qualified. "The first year has been remarkable. Hundreds of thousands watch it live, and plenty more on TV and the web. Remember this is a start up business. What has been accomplished and the skills displayed in many areas has taken sailing to new level."

"We are all trying to represent our sport in the best light, and the quality of all the elements has meant it has never been done like this before. Two go in fighting for a million dollars."

Going not quite so quickly in even bigger boats

The team from Black Jack, and the crew of artisans at McConaghy in Gosford, have transformed the supermaxi Black Jack ahead of the 75th Hobart. With the fleet of five behemoths so closely matched, every little bit helps, and so the vessel named in the late Sir Jack's honour now has a new for'ard section, and is evidently beamier out aft.

Black Jack slid down the highway to Sydney on the weekend where she will be reunited with her keel and stick once more, before going for a yacht next week. Interestingly, many of the parties from her origination back in the day were all part of the transformation. Designers, engineers, builders and all were once again associated with her new, über-powerful look. It's definitely going to be serious at the pointy end of the fleet!

Right oh - here today there are some gems for you to review like the Clipper, intel from North Sails, Maxis from Sardinia, the ETNZ AC75 - one of the coolest things going around, IMOCAs x 5, J/70 Worlds, GC32, Transpac Tahiti, mini Transat, and certainly there is much, much more.

Remember, if your class or association is generating material, make sure we help you spread your word, and you can do that by emailing us. Should you have been forwarded this email by a friend, and want to get your very own copy in your inbox moving forward, then simply follow the instructions on our newsletter page, where you can also register for different editions.

Finally, keep a weather eye on Sail-World. We are here to bring you the whole story from all over the world...

John Curnow
Editor, Sail-World AUS

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