Give us your honest review of the first year of SailGP?
The first season was great! We didn’t know what to expect, but we couldn’t have asked for more in terms of spectators and (TV) viewers, and I think we have attracted a lot of new people to the sport. That’s huge for us!
How important is this event for the sport of sailing?
Tom: It’s really important. We’ve had some amazing sailing competitions with America’s Cup, and Olympics, but they’re once every 4 years. We get a lot of momentum and then it disappears. But with this, a regular circuit, country versus country competition, fastest boats in the world, and it’s here to stay so hopefully we can get a lot of momentum and get some partners involved.
Could you feel the interest growing as the year went on?
We had 20,000 spectators out (on Sydney Harbour) for our first ever event, and it’s grown ever since. In New York there were 60,000 people watching and I want the Sydney event (in February) to be the biggest of the season.
Which was your favourite race of the season?
For sure Sydney! I’ve raced around the world for my whole life and I don’t usually have friends and family to watch me, so to race and lead an all-Australian team in these type of boats on the Harbour was pretty massive for me.
How good was your crew?
They are unbelievable. We were the favourites going into the competition because of our team. Ky Hurst and Sam Newton are the two biggest, fittest grinders, the experience of Kyle Langford on the wing trim, Jason Waterhouse was new, but his resume in Olympic classes is second to none and he’s been a great fit for the team, and I guess with my Olympic and America’s Cup experience steering, we were the favourites on paper, and we showed it throughout the year winning 4 of the 5 events.
Japan was your closest opposition, skippered by another Aussie, Nathan Outteridge, how close did they get to you?
They were really close! It just felt like we were in this dogfight the whole time, we just had our heads down, and each time we popped up we were just squeaking those event wins. Competing against Nathan Outteridge, you know you are up against probably the most naturally talented sailor in the world – it’s so effortless for him to make the boat go fast! So if you beat him in any sort of boat, especially an F50, which is his bread and butter, it’s pretty massive for us!
Any changes to the boats for next year?
The platforms and the foils will stay the same. We’ll get new, modular wings (sails). We’ll have our current 24-metre wing, and we can add a section in the middle and it goes up to a 29-metre wing, then we can take that section out and another out and it goes down to an 18-metre wing. At the moment we can sail in 5 to 23 knots of wind, this will let us go down to 3 knots and be foiling in 5 knots. And with the small wing, we should be able to sail in 30-knot winds and be even quicker again!
How will SailGP look different in 2020?
Tom: The plan is to improve every event. We’re always learning and always adapting, and we’re going to have more teams each year – we’re going to bring in a 7th team (in 2020), it hasn’t been announced who yet – and we’re going to have more events. The plan is to add an event and add a team each year, to get to 10 teams and 10 events. Then we cap it there and have a circuit. The beauty of it is there are no rules in place, so we can decide if we want to use a relegation model, meaning if you are in the bottom two, possibly you get dropped out and two new boats come in.
What was the highlight of the year?
Winning the Sydney event was pretty big! Obviously winning the final event in a close race coming from behind was unbelievable, but I just loved competing in Sydney. Racing with the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the background and perfect weather with everyone out on the harbour where we could sail around the spectators, with people jumping off boats swimming and having a few drinks and a great time, that gave me a lot of pride seeing everyone here in Australia watching and enjoying our new sailing event.
So Sydney is the must-win event for next year?
For sure! February 28th and 29th. You can’t lose on home turf, especially being the defending champions, but everyone will get a bit more training time so the other teams will be coming in hot trying to take it off us!
Who will be the big improvers in 2020?
Great Britain. They were unbelievably fast in all the training sessions last year! They were beating us and Japan in training, and then they had a lot breakages, they capsized in New York, they had a big crash in Cowes and were out for the event, and in France they underperformed. When they put it together, they are a top team. And I think all the teams will improve. China was most improved this year, slowly climbing the ladder to finish third. The French are also improving.
How big could SailGP become?
I want it to be seen as an Australian team where the nation gets behind us and I’d love sailing to get to the point where people want to stop what they’re doing and go to the pub or wherever to watch Australia race. That’s the dream. We’re a long way from it, but baby steps, and with this event and this format I think we’ve got a shot at it!
Will you be taking time away from the team to go to the Tokyo Olympics?
No. I’m doing SailGP and I’m really happy with that. I’ll do the Moth World Titles in Perth – it’s an event I’ve never won and I need these little personal goals on the side to keep myself sharp and motivated. And then I’ll be getting ready for the Sydney SailGP event next February!