How SailGP grinders power the boat to jaw-dropping speeds

Jonathan Turner

It is no secret that the world’s fastest sail-powered boats – SailGP’s high-performance foiling catamarans – feature some of the most sophisticated and technically advanced control systems ever created.

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The world’s fittest athletes

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Switching gears

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‘Push with everything you have’

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From the heart

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This is for those who appreciate the spectacle of sailing above the water at 100 km/h, and question “How?”. Innovation is a product of curious minds, good data and ambitious goals. But the best innovations are often hidden beneath the surface – inside walls, hulls, materials, computers and minds. We want to put what’s beneath the surface in the spotlight.

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SailGP: Of Flight Controllers, Drivers, Wing Trimmers, Grinders and things

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Ben Ainslie: America’s Cup grinders don’t just wind handles

There’s a perception that most of the new America’s Cup sailors do nothing but grind. The absence of the big, set-piece, choreographed manoeuvres — such as setting, dowsing and gybing spinnakers with 16-man crews — has led some to believe that the modern Cup sailor has little to do except wind on the handles.

But it’s the physical demands of winding on the handles that now puts these sailors into the same league as world-class endurance athletes and news stories about foiling tacks have shown how critical technique is throughout the crew.

The now-stated goal of Cup teams going into next summer’s racing is to keep the boat on its foils or “flying” right around the race track – and this starts with solid straight-line technique. The boat’s foils use the same technology as an aircraft wing and just as a wing lifts a plane off the ground, the wings — or aerofoils — of an America’s Cup boat lift it out of the water.

The main wingsail works in the same way as an aircraft wing except it’s rotated to stand up straight, rather than lie flat. The harder the wind blows, the more force it makes for the wing to push the boat forward. When the boat is going fast enough, the hydrofoils can create enough force to lift the boat out of the water.

But we have to work as a team to achieve this. The wing trimmer needs to adjust the wing to keep the boat supplied with the right amount of power to keep us flying — and we need to be in constant communication to get this right.

My job is to control the foils when we are straight-line sailing. The rudders help keep the boat flying but the real power needed to keep it in the air comes from the two sets of hydrofoils that are located further forward. I can adjust the rake using the hydraulic power generated by the four guys on the grinders, which is where world-class athleticism is required.

By changing the rake I change the angle of the foil as it goes through the water and this alters the amount of lift that the foil creates — and even the direction upwards or downwards. I need to adjust the board rake to get the right amount of lift to keep the ride height stable enough to fly through lifts, headers, puffs and lulls. When we are straight-line sailing these adjustments are often tiny and measured in fractions of degrees.

The rest of the crew join in when we come to the corners. The challenge is to transfer the momentum of the boat from one foil to the other at full speed, while turning through 70 or 80 degrees — a bit like a skier turning a corner. When we are locked in and going straight the weight is on the two uphill edges, which gives us some sense of security. The tricky part in the turn is to transfer the weight on to the new edges at speed.

When it comes to a tack or gybe, six guys are needed to co-ordinate the process. In a gybe, the wing trimmer moves first and starts to cross the boat. I begin the turn as the wing trimmer arrives on the new side and takes the new sheet. The trimmer then has to drop the new board and it’s crucial that it touches down at the right angle to provide the right amount of lift without destabilising the boat’s motion.

I start crossing the boat while the wing trimmer steers through the remainder of the gybe and adjusts the new board rake to maintain stable flight through the turn. The grinder then lifts the old board as we accelerate out of the gybe and settle on the new angle.

Once across the boat, I take the new wheel and resume control of direction and board rake. This releases the trimmer, who is the last to cross. The four guys at the front grind like crazy to restore the hydraulic power we’ve used in the turn, ready for the next adjustment.

In a tack, the challenge is multiplied by the need to maintain enough speed to keep foiling as the boat is turned into the wind and motive force is lost — pulling this off is as difficult as it is to achieve a reach-to-reach gybe in 25 knots in the old America’s Cup monohulls .

So if anyone tells you those at the front are just winding handles — tell them otherwise!

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What is a grinder and what is its role? Explanations by Franck Cammas

Franck Cammas returns with a second episode on the preparation of the French team - Groupama Team France - for the America's Cup. He makes us discover the role of the grinder or wincher in French.

Chloé Torterat

In this episode entitled "Why are there four grinders aboard the AC Class?" Franck Cammas explains the organization aboard the AC Class - on which the French team will compete in the next America's Cup . From the hangar - where the boat returns every evening - he returns to the role of the"grinder" whose role is to turn the cranks, present in the cockpits.

What is the role of the grinder?

They are 4 on board, since there are 2 columns, one at the back and one at the front. They are called G1, G2, G3, G4 depending on their position on the boat . The rear column is more dedicated to the action on a winch - itself dedicated to the wing sheet adjustment. At this station, the movements are very intense, but by peak, that is to say that sometimes, there are also moments of stop when there is no need to tuck in the sheet.

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Those at the front are in charge of accumulating energy to fly the boat . To do this, the incidence of foils must be continuously adjusted with movements several times per second. They are also in charge of raising and lowering the foils with the many buttons that equip their cockpit. "They are constantly turning, during 20 minutes of the regatta, to fill energy accumulators, i.e. oil under pressure, which makes it possible to make all these movements

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It is the helmsman who controls these movements - like changing rake to fly at stable height - or it is the grinders themselves when they raise or lower the foils.

What are its qualities?

The grinder job is extremely complex and requires both physical and mental strength "In the manoeuvres, they must perform a real choreography." explains Franck Cammas.

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Physical preparation is also essential since they weigh on average 95 kilos and are capable of producing 300 watts on average 20 minutes, just with the strength of their arms "They are truly top athletes who must be extremely well prepared, concludes Franck Cammas .

Aboard Groupama Team France

The crew of the AC Class consists of 6 people a helmsman , a wing trimmer, plus four grinders (winchers). They are also in charge of tactics, jib and foil adjustment, but manoeuvres. The rotation of the grinders is essential for each race as the physical effort is intense when they have to produce the energy to drive the hydraulics that control the foils in particular.

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Arnaud Jarlegan is a wincher in charge of storing the necessary energy, especially for foil adjustment.

He has a huge multihull experience. Its large size and its feline flexibility make it an essential grinder and trimmer on board such a machine.

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Matthieu Vandame is a wincher in charge of storing the necessary energy, especially for foil adjustment.

For this position, he had to gain 10 kilos of muscle but his power, his brilliant university background and his exemplary attitude made him indispensable on board as a grinder and trimmer.

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Nicolas Heintz is a wincher in charge of storing the necessary energy, especially for foil adjustment.

He is over the top of the quintal and has a second row rugby stature, and according to Franck Cammas , he has the best physical potential of the crew .

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Olivier Herledant is a wincher in charge of storing the necessary energy, especially to adjust the wing.

He has such a physical condition that he can"press" on the cranks while keeping the necessary lucidity.

Franck Cammas unveils the secrets of his catamaran for the America's Cup

What are Drivers, Flight Controllers, Wing Trimmers and Grinders? F50 crew roles explained

Know your Flight Controller from your Wing Trimmer? How about your Driver from your Grinder?

SailGP's cutting-edge F50 catamaran is a technological marvel and only the most elite athletes can fly one of these boats, which hit speeds of nearly 100 km/h (62 mph) in the perfect conditions.

The crew have to be at the top of their game each time they race the F50, but do you actually know what each of the people onboard are doing on the boat to ensure it flies across the waves?

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For those SailGP fans not so up to speed with the intriciacies of the F50, we join Japan SailGP Team Driver Nathan Outteridge for a brief explanation of each role on the F50.

“The main thing the Driver does on the boat is make the decision where to go on the racecourse," says Outteridge. "They communicate to the crew what the plan is.

“Furthermore, most of the skippers in the teams, myself included, are heavily involved in the logistics of the event.”

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Flight Controller

Outteridge continues: “The Flight Controller is responsible for keeping the boat in the air. Every time the boat touches the water is a time the Flight Controller has made a mistake.

“He needs to keep the boat flat and keep the boat locked in going fast. He needs to have a very good relationship with the Driver and Wing Trimmer to make sure the boat is locked in and going quick.”

Wing Trimmer

“The Wing Trimmer needs to have a really good understanding of how to generate power, and how to distribute that power on the boat," says Outteridge.

Japan teammate Chris Draper, who trims the wing on the F50, adds: “I can basically control all the power in the boat at any one moment.

"I have to put the wing in the right shape and communicate to Nathan the best modes to sail to get to the goal as quickly as possible.”

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“At the front of the boat we have two Grinders positioned," finishes Outteridge. "One Grinder faces forward and one Grinder faces backwards. Both of the Grinders at the front are turning the handle for the winch to make sure we can trim the wing sheet as effectively as possible.

“Leo Takahashi is our primary No.1 Grinder and he faces forward, and Yuki Kasatani is grinding facing backwards. He’s looking at [Wing Trimmer] Chris Draper in the eyes and making sure he knows what Chris needs in terms of the amount of power.

“He also has to be very brave, because he’s going round the racecourse extremely fast facing backwards, so he has to have a lot of trust in the guys behind him.”

Learn more about the crew roles on one of SailGP's cutting-edge F50s by watching the below video

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Motors Have Muscled Out the Grinders

By Henry Fountain

  • Feb. 13, 2010

VALENCIA, Spain — Brian MacInnes is a longtime sailor with the BMW Oracle team that is challenging for the America’s Cup for the third time, having sailed on its two previous boats , in 2003 and 2007.

This time, though, when BMW Oracle’s USA-17 won the first leg of its best-of-three series with Alinghi 5 on Friday in the 33rd edition of the Cup, MacInnes was not on board.

MacInnes, known as Puck, is a grinder — sailing’s equivalent of a football lineman. With their brawn, he and other grinders operate hand-powered winches that raise and trim the sails, move the boom and do other tasks that require brute strength.

But MacInnes has fallen victim to legal maneuvering and technology. In the long court battle over the Cup, the Alinghi team moved to allow the use of motorized winches and hydraulics for the first time in the event’s 159-year history . At first, BMW Oracle fought the Swiss over the issue, but then, realizing it could not beat them, it joined them. So MacInnes, a 41-year-old Canadian who sailed his first long-distance race when he was 10, lost his spot on the boat to an internal combustion engine.

The yacht had initially been outfitted with hand-powered winches, which sit on pedestals and have long arms that are operated by two people working in tandem. But when the decision was made to go with an engine — a high-performance gasoline-powered model that is surprisingly light — the winches, and the six to eight crew positions to work them, were jettisoned.

MacInnes still has a job, helping to maintain BMW Oracle’s trimaran , which is a huge and complicated sailing machine, one that requires an estimated 200 to 300 man-hours of work on shore for every hour of sailing.

“Obviously, my role has changed a little bit now,” MacInnes said this week. But just because he was resigned to not being on the boat did not mean he was happy about it.

“Not having a physical aspect to the sport is a real detriment,” he said. “It’s not the same without the big guys there. Engines don’t tell jokes. They can’t have a beer with you at the end of the day.”

They also do not have eyes and a brain. A good grinder is continually evaluating the trim of the sails and working the winch to make adjustments if something looks even slightly amiss.

“I think a lot of times, the guys actually do a better job at it,” he said. “An engine can’t look at the sails and see what’s going on. There’s a lot of things that we just instinctively do when we’re sailing, and you can’t expect that from a machine.”

While sailing, grinders spend about half the time at the winches and the rest helping other crew members or doing other jobs around the boat. But the time spent grinding is intense, particularly in a close race.

“If you get in a tacking duel upwind, you’ll go through 25 to 30 tacks in a couple of miles,” MacInnes said. All that shifting and trimming of the sails makes for intense bursts of work.

“You’re constantly on it — 12 seconds on, say, and then 20 to 30 seconds off,” he said. “It’s like running 30 100-meter sprints in a row.”

MacInnes is not the only grinder who has found himself doing other work. Gilberto Nobili, a 35-year-old member of the BMW Oracle team from Parma, Italy, spends most of his days writing and testing performance-and-display software for the sailors who are on the boat.

“I have two passions: one is I.T., and the other is sports,” Nobili said.

He had been working as a grinder and programming in his spare time when the decision was made to go with the engine.

“When somebody said there was no more room on board — I was already there,” he said. “It just meant doing more software.”

He still spends time on the boat, testing software rather than trimming sails. But he stays in shape — grinders lift weights and do other workouts daily — because he knows he will be operating the winches again at some point on another boat.

“I miss it,” he said.

MacInnes already knows he will be working as a grinder next month, in a single-hull yacht in the Louis Vuitton Trophy races. He said he was looking forward to the adrenaline rush of racing.

As for the current race, he said, “it’s just not quite right.”

He added, “There’s certain sporting events that shouldn’t involve engines, and I believe the America’s Cup shouldn’t.”

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The Cyclors of American Magic

  • By Spencer Powlison
  • April 25, 2023

Cooper Dressler and John Croom

American Magic’s AC75 Patriot glides through the water near Pensacola, Florida, and as it picks up speed with the day’s favorable winds, the imposing dark hull rises from the water and begins to plane on its hydrofoils. Crouched near the bow, pedaling furiously, John Croom is lashed by spray. His earpiece crackles with chatter from the rest of the crew. He has watched videos of America’s Cup boats. He’s logged hundreds of hours of training on land. But this is his first time—his first time on any sailboat.

“Still to this day, that’s one of the most euphoric moments I’ve ever had in my career,” Croom says. “Getting the opportunity to sail, and then just feeling that actual takeoff and being on the foils was something super special. That was the day I fell in love with it.”

While some of sailing’s traditionalists bristle at the inclusion of cyclors in lieu of grinders on America’s Cup boats, there’s no turning back now. The technology will be found on every boat in the 2024 America’s Cup.

This novel power-delivery method has opened the door for newcomers like Croom to hop aboard, like throwing a ­drivers-ed student into a Formula 1. It has also led to a revolution in the way America’s Cup teams recruit talent, hone their physiological training, and use cycling know-how to power the AC75’s hydraulic controls.

“We’re finding that cyclors bring much more power to the table,” says Ben Day, American Magic’s performance lead. “Cycling uses much bigger muscle groups; therefore, they can produce more power than arm grinders. And with the new AC75 regulations of reducing crew numbers (eight sailors total), we need to find that power in other ways. So, most teams are looking at cyclors at this stage. Glutes, quads and hamstrings can produce more explosive power and more power for a longer sustained period.”

Day is another example of someone outside the sailing establishment who quickly entered American Magic’s inner circle. Day had a 12-year career as a professional cyclist, racing primarily in North America. Once he retired from racing, the Australian started Day by Day Coaching out of his adopted hometown of Boulder, Colorado.

Not surprisingly, Day and American Magic looked to the cycling world to find athletes to fill their “power teams.” The team had preliminary conversations with Kiel Reijnen, a professional rider who spent six years in cycling’s WorldTour, racing the sport’s premier events, such as the Tour of Spain, Tour of Flanders, and multiple UCI World Championships.

“We focused on leg-­dominant power sports, with similar activities that would fit the needs for racing on the boat,” says Day of the recruitment process. “We have taken time to examine a whole list of athletes that might fit the bill, and then have reached out to consider interest.”

It wasn’t as simple as assembling a bench of top cyclists. The rule book states the combined weight of the eight-person crew must be between 680 and 700 kilograms. Split evenly, that means each person should be between 85 and 87.5 kilograms. Reijnen weighs 65 kilograms. It’s rare to find a pro cyclist that weighs more than 80 kilograms because power-to-weight ratio in cycling rules all. Cyclists can control both variables in the power-to-weight equation. Training can boost power output, measured in watts. They can also lose weight to improve their power-to-weight ratio. Naturally, any given rider has limits for both variables. The best professionals are extremely efficient in their power production and astonishingly lean. It would be a tall order for someone like Reijnen to gain 20 kilograms without compromising their power output.

Croom is uniquely suited to the challenge, having found cycling late in life after playing football in his younger years and at times weighing close to 136 kilograms. Though he slimmed down to about 90, he’d never be suited for road cycling. Track cycling, on the other hand, was a good fit. Since track events are held on a flat, 250-meter track, weight can be sacrificed at the expense of raw power.

Ashton Lambie is another hopeful on American Magic’s power team who never quite fit cycling’s mold. This mustachioed Nebraskan holds the record for the fastest ride across the state of Kansas. He’s also the only human to ever ride the 4 km track pursuit event in under four minutes.

The riders you might see on television at the Tour de France are not going to be aboard an AC75 in Barcelona. Similarly, the athletes who have been recruited to pedal the cyclors aren’t ready to ride on day one, despite their extensive backgrounds in cycling. Intense training is underway to prepare them for the demands of an America’s Cup race.

“There are periods where we spend time focusing more on endurance or strength development,” Day says. “At other times, we’re working more around the high-intensity phases.”

While American Magic has been mum about the specifics of the training and the AC75’s power demands, Croom has posted many of his recent workouts and training rides on Strava, an online activity tracker.

Croom has done extensive endurance work, already logging weekly rides longer than 80 miles in January. He’s also been completing viciously intense interval workouts to build his body’s tolerance for maximum efforts. For example, he was able to hold 371 watts for 20 minutes in one such workout. Simply a statistic, right? I’ve been racing bikes for the last 25 years, and at my best, I can hold 302 watts for 20 minutes. Someone without training or experience would do well to maintain just half of Croom’s wattage.

While the training and performance of these new crewmembers are opaque, the technical details of the AC75 are practically impenetrable. American Magic’s spokespeople and crew did not answer specific questions about how the hydraulic power system works, but what we do know is that the boat has a hydraulic accumulator tank, which stores pressure generated by the cyclors. The crew uses a hydraulic actuator to convert the tank’s pressure into force, which in turn powers the boat’s controls. Any time the boat needs to tack, jibe or simply trim a sail, power is needed.

Sources indicate that the hydraulic accumulator results in a very unusual feel at the pedals for the power team. It’s also believed that as the tank gets full, the effort to add more pressure to the accumulator becomes harder.

“We can change the different inputs to the system,” James Wright, of the American Magic power team, told the America’s Cup Recon Unit, which monitors and reports on the team’s developments. “The different power demands necessitate different inputs from us on our side. The system kind of auto-adjusts depending on the demands from the sails and, of course, what we can give it.”

It’s easy to imagine how the team might strategize its efforts, given the intensity of a 20- to 30-minute America’s Cup race and the essentially limitless power demands of the boat. They might attempt to keep the tank as low as possible with steady, moderate pedaling, and then fill it as fast as possible with maximum effort ahead of a demanding maneuver like a tack. Perhaps some of the four riders would be specifically reserved for all-out efforts to fill the tank on demand, while others would ride steadily to feed power to minor adjustments.

Whatever the strategy, it is clear that the entire crew needs to be in lock-step during a race. “When we talk about the sailing team, we consider the power team part of a sailing team; they have to work in cohesion,” Day says. “The afterguard will request efforts from the guys as they trim the boat, and they’ll learn what they can deliver in terms of power. And the guys will give it their all to deliver what’s asked of them. So, there must be solid cohesion between the two groups; ultimately, we are one team.”

Clearly, the sailors, engineers and coaches are working furiously to optimize the use of the cyclors. There is another area of the sport that has some catching up to do, and that is World Cycling’s anti-doping controls. Even the casual cycling fan is aware that performance-­enhancing drugs have long tarnished the sport’s reputation. Given the massive physiological demands placed on the AC75’s power team, the sport’s governing body, World Sailing, would be wise to heed the lessons of cycling’s past.

In the wake of a major doping scandal about 10 years ago, cycling began rigorously testing athletes out of competition because it was found riders could achieve huge performance gains by doping for training and then cleaning up in time for in-competition controls at races. It stands to reason that this is a major liability for the America’s Cup, given the amount of run-up that the teams have to train for the 2024 event.

Although World Sailing conducted 186 in-competition tests between 2020 and 2022, including anti-doping ­controls at the last America’s Cup, it did not conduct any out-of-­competition controls during those three years. To ramp up efforts for the 2024 Cup, World Sailing brought on Vasi Naidoo as its director of legal and governance. Naidoo has experience with anti-doping efforts at the Olympics and Commonwealth Games, and she served on the Ethics Commission at the UCI, cycling’s international governing body. World Sailing confirmed that there will be out-of-­competition anti-doping tests in 2023, and the testing will include America’s Cup athletes.

Fortunately, on the whole, the interplay between cycling and sailing—two unlikely ­bedfellows—has resulted in a fascinating exchange of technology and science. “The transition to cyclors allows a tech-forward, applied-­sciences sport to pull in a completely separate sport and borrow technology from it,” says Reijnen, who himself is an accomplished sailor, having finished the WA360 event sailed out of Port Townsend, Washington, in 2021. “What does sailing borrow from cycling, but what does cycling then borrow from sailing?”

Even at the person-to-person level, this exchange of information and experiences has been rapid and, in fact, quite cordial.

“The coolest part about being part of this team is that I came into this group of sailors so new and so green,” Croom says. “And they were super-­welcoming, understanding, and trying to get me to learn as quickly as possible. Like, any questions I had, there was no such thing as a dumb question, and that was something special.”

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Positions on a Racing Sailboat

Positions on a Racing Sailboat | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Gabriel Hannon

August 30, 2022

‍ The success of a racing sailboat depends entirely on the ability of each person on the boat to know and execute their role in high-pressure situations.

While boat-dependent, all positions are some combination of the responsibilities of driver, bow, tactician, trimmer, and pit. The driver makes the final decisions and steers, while the other crew members play various roles providing information, trimming sails, and keeping the boat moving fast.

The fundamental responsibilities of sailboat racing do not change, regardless of the number of people aboard. Someone in a one-person dinghy has to be able to keep track of the course, make tactical decisions, trim sails, steer, watch for new breeze and other boats, and ensure that they are set up for the next leg. On a larger boat, with more sails, more controls, and more required coordination, these jobs still exist and are distributed amongst various crew members. We will go through the basic crew setups of various one-design racing boats from one through four crew members to develop how the increase in crew and complexity begins to distribute the responsibilities of making the boat go fast across the team. Then, we will make some general claims about bigger boats, but as everything gets more confusing in the larger crews, we will not specify too much.

Over years of racing boats of all sizes, I’ve seen these crew roles respond to personal skills, different boat setups, strange habits, and teamwork to the point where everyone can respond to different events seamlessly. Sometimes these roles are perfectly well-defined, but sometimes a quick-thinking crew will switch positions on a dime to make up for a mistake in an entirely unorthodox way that is somehow perfect. On smaller boats, people have different priorities and different ways to work through all their responsibilities, but on all the best boats it is the people who know how to excel in their role, and how to make life easier for all their teammates by knowing exactly what they need, who make a sailboat go. Let’s get into it!

Table of contents

‍ The One-Person Dinghy: It’s All on You

You could argue that sailing, at its most basic, boils down to one sailor, a handful of lines, and a tiller against the breeze and water. Perhaps it would be a ridiculous argument, as sailing has always relied on people working together, but there is something to seeing who can go out there and be the one to make it work the best. When all the responsibilities for every inch of the boat fall on one person, it is interesting to see who has everything in sync the best. There is no specific title for this position, but I suppose you could call them

The Single-Handed Sailor

There are fundamentally three aspects to sailboat racing: boat speed, boat handling, and tactics. The single-handed sailor has to excel in each dimension. The best case study for a single-handed boat is the ILCA Dingy, once known as the Laser, but other notable racers include the Opti, Finn, RS Aero, Moth, and Wazsp classes.  

Boat speed comes down to trimming the sails properly for the angle to the wind. This means adjusting not only how far in and out the sail is, but also tuning specific control lines to give the sail the ideal shape for wind strength and direction. Making micro-adjustments to sail trim while dealing with all the other aspects of the race may not seem like much, but they can make the difference between winning and falling behind. While on larger boats there are entire positions dedicated to this, the single-handed sailor has to deal with this the whole time.

Other factors in boat speed concern steering through the wind shifts and wave sequences properly and keeping the boat flat by hiking out. This often includes being able to shift weight in precise ways to keep the boat optimally balanced and cutting through the waves.

Boat Handling

While boat speed forms the basis of all sailing, it is also crucial to know how to maneuver the boat through course changes. Windows in sailing races are small, and being able to get a boat into a lane is often a fraught affair. Having the confidence to trim the sails properly and maneuver sharply while still maintaining speed is a huge boost to a racer. Turning points at marks or directional switches while tacking and gybing are where many of the gains in a race come, and a clean tack coming into the top mark on port can mean the difference between leading the fleet and having to duck behind a parade of 30 boats. Being able to put on the brakes and accelerate quickly is key in tight spaces along the start line, and is a weapon for the best sailors.

Singlehanded racers have total control over their boat handling. Changes in direction come down to perfect synchronization of sail trim, steering, and body weight, and the single-handed sailor has to account for how every single adjustment affects these maneuvers. Some of the best boat handlers grow up racing single-handed boats; the feel developed sailing solo is hard to beat but requires years of fine-tuning and muscle memory.

All the speed and maneuverability in the world does not do much if you don’t know where to put the boat. Like any sport, the fundamentals are simple, but becoming a master takes a lifetime. The single-handed sailor must hold the entire course, the regularity of the wind shifts, the tendencies of the current, the positions of the other sailors, and their own plans in the front of their minds while pushing the boat as hard as possible.

While this is no place to discuss the intricacies of upwind tactics or the fastest lines on a downwind in different boats, the singlehanded sailor has to be able to think and make decisions tactically then execute those decisions themselves. This is such a large task that bigger boats will often have someone whose entire job is just to call breeze and tactics.

The single-handed sailor is without a doubt a jack-of-all-trades. We will discuss various terms for different crew-members on bigger boats, and while you could use the terms ‘skipper’ or ‘driver’ for the single-handed sailor, this does not quite say it all, so we save these positions for the bigger boats. We will not explicitly break the other boats down by who is in charge of boat speed, boat handling, and tactics, but roles can generally sort into various levels of responsibility for these categories.  

The Two-Person Racer: The Best (or worst) Way to Get to Know Another Person

On a two-person boat, of which common examples include the various 420 classes, the Olympic Classes (470, 49er, Nacra 17) among many others, responsibilities are slightly split, but this distribution comes with the tradeoff of greatly increased complexity and coordination requirements. Double-handed boats tend to have at least two, and often three, sails, require more involved tuning, move much faster, and occasionally require single or double trapezing. The very best doublehanded pairings move as one, but this type of coordination requires both sailors to have an intimate knowledge of their role and the dynamic balance of the boat. Without further ado, the common positions:

The Skipper (Driver)

The skipper of the boat steers the boat. On different types of boats, they have different trimming and setting responsibilities, most often including the mainsheet--though the 49er is a notable exception. You can call them either a skipper or a driver, but you rarely say that ‘you skipper;’ instead, you would say that ‘you drive,’ so the latter term has begun to stick as the position as well.

As they are the person driving the boat, the driver tends to make the final tactical decision. They do this in collaboration with the crew, who is often going to be feeding information about the course and competitors to the driver, but the final decision comes down to the person holding the stick (forgive the vernacular, if you may).

Different double-handed teams often have different dynamics. In some, the driver will primarily be focused on tactics, while the crew has to keep their head in the boat making it go fast, while in others the skipper lets the crew make such calls while focusing on the breeze right in front of them, it all depends. Boat handling requires nigh on perfect coordination, and skippers must keep their crews alerted to any upcoming maneuvers.  

The unsung heroes of many a double-handed pairing, a good driver can sail well with an ok crew, but a crack crew can take a skipper with some potential to the top of the fleet.

Responsible for trimming the headsail and setting and managing the spinnaker on boats that carry them, the crew’s primary roles is to keep the boat going fast. They often can make the small sail trim and control adjustments that the driver cannot. Especially upwind, the crew scans the course for new breeze, other boats, lay lines, and any information that the skipper could need to make the best decisions possible.

A good way to consider some, but not all, skipper-crew relationships is that the crew can get all the micro-considerations out of the way so that the skipper can focus on the big picture. The small picture adjustments in terms of sail control and angle of heel keep the boat moving and the skipper zippered into the feel of the course. In turn, this allows the skipper to plan ahead and keep the crew involved in decision making, making sure that they don’t screw their crew with a crash tack or sudden gybe.

Still, on some teams, the crew makes all of the outside the boat decisions while the driver just drives the boat as fast as they can. This often works with spacier skippers, of which there are many, and highlights the value of a strong-willed crew. Crews are often on-the-water coaches for high-strung skippers and are key to the success of a team. On more athletic boats, a crew can crucially contribute to boat speed and handling through trimming, ooching, and body-weight adjustments.

All of this is to say that a crew, both as a single person on a double-handed boat and as an ensemble on larger boats, is never to be considered an accessory to the skipper, but are crucial parts of a competitive racing team.

The Three or Four Person Boat: I Thought That Was Your Job!

Having outlined the general dynamics of a skipper-crew pairing, it is not particularly helpful to discuss exact boat setups and interactions. From here, we will provide terms and positions with general roles. These are all subject to change, but once you reach boats of three or more people, roles become highly specialized, as boats of this size begin to get complex enough that you cannot do everything on your own. Let’s run through the general roles that must be filled on boats of up to four, with the knowledge that these can be switched around and combined depending on skill, boat setup, and breeze.

Things change yet they stay ever the same. The bigger the boat, the more boat the driver has to deal with, but the role does not fundamentally change. The driver still has their hand on the stick, and, despite the best attempts of various crewmembers, still is the final decision maker on the boat. Sometimes they will trim the mainsheet as well, but other times they will leave this to a member of the crew

The bigger the boat, the less running around the skipper does and the more focused they are on sailing the perfect line through the fleet. Even their ability to scan the course and make tactical evaluations wanes on the bigger boats, as they must put more trust in their crews to make the right reads. They are still ultimately responsible for putting the boat in the right spot, but they are ultimately unable to control everything that is happening on the boat.

Debatably the easiest analog to the crew on a double-handed boat, the bow is, if nothing else, the most likely person on the boat to get soaking wet. Sitting the farthest forward, they are occasionally responsible for trimming the jib--particularly on three-person boats--but primarily have to deal with setting the spinnaker and dealing with front-of-boat controls.

They can play a role calling tactics, breeze, and other boats, but because they are so often busy with the chaos of boat handling in crucial spots and are often far away from the skipper, they mostly need to focus on their role setting the chute and managing the complications near the front of the boat.


Often sitting at the hip of the skipper, different boats have different assignments for their trimmers, which can range from main-trimming across the whole course to only touching the spinnaker off the breeze to controlling the jib instead of the bow. Regardless of the particulars, they need to make the adjustments that keep the boat moving fast, and need to be continually in sync with how the skipper wants to sail.

The person in this position is often responsible for communicating details about the course and from the rest of the crew to the driver. Their role gives them more time to look around and make fine adjustments, rather than having a continuous responsibility, so they are in the perfect position to survey the information at hand and collaborate with the skipper on decision making.

On three-person boats, this is generally one person playing both roles in active collaboration with a driver. On certain four-person boats, this can lead to two trimmers who alternate between calling tactics and trimming different sails depending on the leg. Other times, this role is fully bifurcated, with one person trimming and another entirely responsible for looking around and making calls, with only a menial role controlling the sails, but this looks different on every team.

While Nascar has its pit crews, beginning at four-person boats, sailing just has its pit person. As boats get bigger, sails and various lines are more prone to twists, knots, and the generalized snarls that give sailors across the world excuses to flex their famous propensity for swearing.

The pit is responsible for eliminating, or at least minimizing, these disasters via preventative prep. They do not have a conventional job trimming sails, per se, but they are the ones who make sure that everyone else can the sails set cleanly. They prefeed sheets, ‘run the tapes’ on off-the-breeze sails to make sure they aren’t twisted and are notorious neat freaks. They often are responsible for raising and lowering sails around mark roundings; these events are almost always chaotic and never go according to plan, so it is the pit who has to coordinate the chaos as much as possible and clean up the mess in time for the next explosion. Unheralded, often stuck below decks, the pit can be the difference between a boat running smoothly and a stream of curses over a huge gash in a thousand dollar spinnaker.

Now This Is Getting Ridiculous: The Road to Specialization

As of this point, we have covered the key roles on just about any sized boat. As you get to bigger and more specialized boats, the situations will call for more and more crew members doing increasingly focused work. While having talented sailors on a larger boat is no less important than having them on a smaller dinghy, there are simply not that many parts that have to be moving all the time to fully occupy more than a few people at a time.

Still, when they are needed, during gybes, mark roundings, sets, and douses, these extra crew members are crucial. On certain boats, there is an entire position dedicated to trimming the twings during gybes; the position is only slightly more serious than the sound of the ropes. Still, the other crew members are so busy during the gybes that they need the extra pair of hands. Furthermore, having a sharp sailor in a position like that ensures another pair of eyes and hands to spot problems and step in if needed. Knowledge and quick action are unlikely to go unappreciated on any boat, even if it is only in a very specific setting.

There is, however, one more term for extra crew members on boats of this size, and it is distinctly unspecialized: meet the ‘rail meat.’ On sufficiently big boats, where heeling is slow but a fact of life, every now and then you just need a big ole guy to sit on the edge and hang out to windward. A flat boat is a fast boat, and sometimes you just need someone hanging out over the rail, skilled and mobile or not.

Finally, on high-performance boats, like America’s Cup boats or the new-fangled SailGP league, rail meat is replaced by ‘grinders,’ who specialize in turning hydraulic cranks like they’re in a CrossFit gym. Sometimes drawn from other sports, famously including rugby players on New Zealand’s America’s Cup team, grinders may not have the tactical acumen to step into a single-handed boat and win the day, but they are key pieces to winning teams and are no less a sailor than anyone else.

Hopefully, next time you go down to the water and someone tells you they need someone to run their bow, this has done enough for you to know exactly what you’ve gotten yourself into! Happy sailing!

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I have been sailing since I was 7 years old. Since then I've been a US sailing certified instructor for over 8 years, raced at every level of one-design and college sailing in fleet, team, and match racing, and love sharing my knowledge of sailing with others!

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The Sailor’s Grind Is the Best Workout You’ve Never Tried

The twice-a-week workout that’s preparing Team Oracle USA for their third-straight championship.


By Michael Finn

Next July, Bermuda’s Great Sound will host the 35th America’s Cup , one of the oldest and most-watched sailing races in the world. Six teams will compete for the 165-year-old trophy: USA, New Zealand, Sweden, Japan, France and Britain. Under the command of skipper James Spithill and funded by Larry Ellison , the billionaire Oracle co-founder, Team USA has held the cup for six years — and they plan on keeping it.

Team USA’s desire to win can be seen most clearly in their training regimen. It is relentless. Since they last won the cup in 2013, the sailors have been lifting, running and dieting almost non-stop, and it shows in their rugby-player physiques. Yacht racing demands gargantuan levels of core, arm and lower-back strength, along with incredible stamina and sharp focus; indeed, the fastest sailing crews are among the world’s most gifted athletes .

Craig MacFarlane and Scott Tindal are the two men responsible for keeping Team USA in cup-winning shape. As physical performance manager, MacFarlane oversees the team’s workout routine. Tindal, the head physiotherapist and team nutritionist, mostly handles recovery and diet. Together, MacFarlane and Tindal build a holistic training regimen for each sailor. Some sailors need more strength training; others need more cardio . But every sailor has one workout in common, built around one core-shredding exercise called “grinding.” And it just might be one of the best workouts you’ve never tried.

“Grinding is a whole body exercise , not just upper body,” MacFarlane said. “You generate power from the floor through your hips and upper body. It’s a cyclic movement where you synchronize a pushing and pulling movement with opposing arms.” On racing cats like the USA-17 , grinding is how the sailors control the boat’s gears. The grinding pedestal looks and functions much like a bike pedal, with two opposing cranks on each side, only it’s propped up to meet at the sailor’s torso. You grip the handles and start grinding, either forward or backward, and the sail trims up or down, which in turn changes the boat’s speed.

In the gym, grinding is a bit different. Team USA uses special grinding machines — sort of like trimmed-down ellipticals — that are rarely found in traditional gyms. Luckily, for us landlubbers, there are ways to train just like Team USA without the special machinery. The following workout, which is adapted from Team USA’s twice-a-week cardio and grinding session, is meant to blast the lower back, arms, lungs and heart. And it can be done in just about any gym .

1 Start on the rowing machine. Row at a steady pace for 30 seconds. When 30 seconds is up, jump off the machine and begin a 20-second shuttle run. Run 10 meters out, and 10 meters back in. Repeat 4 times. With 10 seconds remaining of the last set, row at maximum effort.

2 Run. Once you’ve finished the grinding/rowing, and your heart rate is around 85 percent of its maximum rate, MacFarlane says to start running at a “bloody good clip.” This is where your heart and lungs go into overdrive, while your upper body muscles take a short break. Run 1 lap (a quarter of a mile), and return to the weights.

3 Dumbbell thrusters (x10). Begin like you would an Olympic clean. Squat low with your feet slightly wider shoulder-width apart. Grab the dumbbells (use a high-rep weight, around 20 pounds) off the floor, explode upwards, and extend the dumbbells over your head. Alternatively, swap in a barbell for more weight. “If you look at a squat movement, it’s the whole body. If the dumbbell heavy enough, and you lift it over your head, your rate will stay up. It’s one of the hardest movements you can do. If you’re lifting a barbell, it’s even harder, because you’re lifting more weight,” MacFarlane said.

4 Pull-ups (x12). For more challenge, do full chin-ups or kipping pull-ups (an acrobatic upward lunge as you swing your body upward), or, for a core-centric exercise, raise your toes to the bar.

5 Kettlebell swings (x15). Here’s where the workout begins to wind down. MacFarlane says kettlebell swings are perfect for sailors, as they work the posterior muscle chain (sailors are constantly hunched over). Sit low, arch your back, drop the kettlebell through your inner thigh and then burst your arms upward, ending the movement at the top of your head.

6 Work your brain with a puzzle. At this point, your lungs will be screaming and you heart will be thumping through your chest. It’ll be hard to focus. This is the perfect time to train your mind to make game-time decisions. MacFarlane has the sailors do a small geometric puzzle — though a simple game on your phone would be a good alternative.

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What Each Crew Position Wants You to Know

This article is a guide to show how small improvements can make a big difference for your fellow crew. Read on to learn what your crew wants you to remember each race!

grinder yacht racing

While it’s important to master your position on the boat, it’s equally as important to understand what’s going on in other domains and what you can do to make your teammates’ life easier and help the boat sail smoothly.

We reached out to a mix of successful sailors to find out what they want the other crew members to keep in mind to help them execute their job the best they can. Here’s what they had to say.

“The race is not over until the spinnaker comes down. It is easy to switch to recovery mode right after crossing the finish line, but this can be costly with a messy takedown, ripped or wet sail. To go along with this, after races finish send the jib bag up before the food bag! It’s frustrating for the bow when I’m are ready to flake the jib and everybody is eating.

I am happy to see the tactician’s general awareness of the bow team. We understand tacking mid jib-flake can’t always be avoided, but a quick cleanup with everyone cooperating makes life much easier. Lastly, my lifeline is the pit position, I like when this person is attentive and stays by their position until the bow team finishes cleaning up between races!” Anonymous bowman

“The mast is a lot easier when trimmers have patience on the set. They can pop the spinnaker open by sheeting too early and make the mast and foredeck look terrible! My key teammates are sewer and pit: a spinnaker set never works well if the trimmers, mast, sewer and pit are working independently, but when we hit on all cylinders, the set will be a thing of beauty. The other critical players to a happy mast are the tactician and helmsman. If the boat isn't in proper orientation to the wind when it is time to take the spinnaker down disaster can strike. A great bow/mast team will make it work, but a little waggle to help collapse the spinnaker goes a long way for a clean drop.” Andrew Spaulding*

“Be mindful of where things are thrown. For example: a jib change on the run, I may not be the one putting the old jib or bag down below, so I ask teammates to be mindful of the flaked kite halyard. I flake it once and then spend the rest of my run focusing on weight placement, pole position, finding the leeward marks and it becomes time consuming to have my head in the boat for longer than necessary.

The pit is in the middle of two groups. When it comes to maneuvers, the bow and brain trust may not always be on the same page, and I often have to decide which one to follow. If the back of the boat is calling for something that the bow is not ready to do; I can't force the issue. I can facilitate it, convey the sense of urgency, but I can't take the spinnaker down or jibe it by myself. This communication becomes easier if I receive clear and timely information from either end of the boat.” Scott Murin

Headsail Trimmer:

“Acknowledgment of communication. If I ask a teammate to do something, they should either act on it immediately or answer ‘copy’. If there is no acknowledgment, the person making the request often asks two or three times getting louder each time. I often see this situation and, my ultimate pet peeve is when the teammate finally answers and says ‘I HEARD YOU!’ When people say “copy” I can leave the task with them and move on. My other suggestion is to make habit of saying the person’s name before making a request so their attention is grabbed and time is not wasted by repeating what they didn’t hear before their name was called (this could be the difference between a collision and a race win).” Morgan Trubovich

“A briefing with the days goals. There should be a morning discussion describing the weather, potential courses, and anything else important. After the team is on the same page, people can break into groups depending on who they need to interact with throughout the day. I talk to my offside trimmer and grinders about what situations may come up and then I talk to the main trimmer about possible sails and boat settings.

It is also important to have quiet and calm maneuvers. I like to have ongoing discussions about what’s to come so when the boat is actually turning everyone has already anticipated their weight placement and I can focus on feeling the sheet run through my hands.” Dave Gerber

Main Trimmer:

“The most important thing is pressure calls and relatives. A main trimmer is ‘head in the boat’ which only gives them so much feel, so consistent and accurate information are crucial for boat speed. I am happy with simple dialogue with the tactician to know what modes are expected. If we develop standard steps, it becomes easy to be on same page.

The jib and main must also cooperate, they are constantly working together to make the boat do what the tactician wants. As a main trimmer, I let the jib do what they want and communicate when they are hitting the main or when they can be tighter. It’s good to develop concise key words and terminologies for any maneuver where the main has to be fine-tuned; some examples: high build, high kill, half tack, speed build, or racing.” Luke Lawrence

“I love it when new crew get onboard, listen to the race conversation and offer input where it might be lacking or where he/she can contribute value.  For example, if no one is calling breeze on the rail, it’s great to have a crew take the initiative to make very concise and valuable breeze calls (Puff on in 3, 2, 1….).   It’s also great when new crew take a few minutes to observe, listen and see what info or help might be needed instead of diving right in without first watching or thinking. It's valuable when a crew member offers input and "finishes the sentence."  How many times have you heard someone say "...the right has a lot of pressure...." AND what??? Inquiring minds want to know. Finish the sentence: "... and they look strong/are headed/etc."   Completing the sentence and picture for the tactician, driver and speed team is extremely helpful.   A positive attitude and imploring the “5 second rule” (does what I’m about to say make sense and is it valuable? Am I finishing the sentence with my comment? ) make any crew a welcome addition to my boat." Ms. Sailsalot

“Come with a game face on. There is always time for bar talk, but it shouldn’t be before racing. I appreciate team members who get to the boat and prepare their position for racing. When people scatter and aren’t responsible for their area it takes away from what I need to be doing as a tactician and the performance suffers.” Geoff Ewenson

“Clear and short communication. I am happy when the trimmers and I are in sync with what steps we will take as conditions change. It is helpful for me to understand which way the trimmer is likely to move the leads, etc. as the breeze changes. For me, tactical input and observations are certainly invited before situations happen, especially 10 minutes before a start.” George Szabo

Boat Captain:

“Ask questions at the right time. I love when people want to learn and be involved with how the boat comes together, but choose a time when not much else is going on, probably not when I’ve just sat down to service a winch. I love it when each crew member takes responsibility for their station and addresses problems early, and to take it one step further if they are part of the solution whether it be a short term regatta fix or the long term ultimate fix, it’s fun to bounce ideas off others.

My life becomes easier when teammates self-delegate. I think of tasks as skilled and unskilled; if you are unsure how to help with the skilled boat work, there are always unskilled items that can be taken care of. Examples: filling water bottles, organizing down below, grabbing food and clean up. And if you still don’t know what to do, ask yourself, ‘If I were running this boat, what would I want done right now?’” Kyle Kant

*Editor’s Note: Shortly after publishing this piece, our team received the very sad news of Andrew Spaulding’s untimely passing. He was much loved by the sailing community and our team’s deepest sympathies go out to his friends, family and everyone who’s lives were touched by his wonderful spirit.

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Yacht Racing Life

What is SailGP?

  • Inshore Racing

What is SailGP?

Welcome to the Yacht Racing Life guide to the new SailGP international sailing league.

If you read the press release and watched the promotional video but are still wondering what SailGP is all about, don’t worry. We have broken down everything you need to know into easy to understand bite-sized chunks.

Table of Contents

SailGP is a brand-new international yacht racing league for professional teams racing equalised ultra-high-performance fully-foiling 50-foot catamarans. During the inaugural 2019 season six teams will compete in five events around the world – Sydney, Australia, San Francisco, USA, New York, USA, Cowes, England, Marseilles, France.

At the last event of the 2019 season a 1,000,000 US dollar cash prize is up for grabs for the victor in the final winner-takes-all 20-minute race between the top four overall teams.

Who is behind it all?

SailGP is the brainchild of American billionaire-businessman Larry Ellison – co-founder, executive chairman, and chief technology officer of Oracle Corporation – and prominent New Zealand yachtsman Sir Russell Coutts, a multiple world champion, Olympic gold medallist and five times America’s Cup winner.

Together at Oracle racing Ellison and Coutts masterminded two America’s Cup victories in 2010 in Valencia and 2013 in San Francisco.

When does it start and what’s the schedule?

SailGP was officially launched in London on October 3 but the first season will take place in 2019 with events scheduled as follows:

Sydney, Australia – February 15/16

San Francisco, USA – May 4/5

New York, USA – June 21/22

Cowes, England – August 10/11

Maseille, France – September 20/22

How many teams are there and who are they?

Six teams will compete in the 2019 SailGP season:

Great Britain SailGP Team

What is SailGP?

CEO and wing trimmer: Chris Draper

Skipper and helmsman: Dylan Fletcher

Flight controller: Stuart Bithell

Grinders: Richard Mason and Matt Gotrell

United States SailGP Team

Rome Kirby leads United States SailGP Team.

Skipper and helmsman: Rome Kirby

Wing trimmer: Riley Gibbs

Flight controller: Hans Henken

Grinders: Mac Agnese and Dan Morris

Australia SailGP Team

Tom Slingsby to lead Australia SailGP Team

Helmsman: Tom Slingsby

Wing trimmer: Kyle Langford

Flight controller: Jason Waterhouse

Grinders: Ky Hurst and Sam Newton

Alternate/reserve sailor: Kinley Fowler

France SailGP Team

French Olympic Nacra duo head France SailGP Team.

Skipper and helmsman: Billy Besson

Wing trimmer: Matthieu Vandame Devan Le Bihan and Olivier Herledant

Flight controller: Marie Riou

Grinders: Devan Le Bihan and Olivier Herledant

Alternate/reserve sailor: Timothé Lapauw

China SailGP Team

China SailGP Team

Skipper and helmsman: Phil Robertson (NZL)

Wing trimmer: Ed Powys (GBR) (Thomas Le Breton (FRA) – reserve)

Flight controller: James Wierzbowski (AUS)

Grinders: Liu ‘Black’ Xue, Jinhao ‘Horace’ Chen, Liu ‘Leo’ Ming (reserve)

Japan SailGP Team

Australian America’s Cup sailors at core of Japan SailGP Team

Skipper and helmsman: Nathan Outteridge (AUS)

Wing trimmer: Iain Jensen (AUS)

Flight controller: Luke Parkinson (AUS)

Grinders: Yugo Yoshida, Yuki Kasatani, Leo Takahashi (reserve)

What nationality requirements are there for the teams?

SailGP organisers want a meaningful nationality rule so that the teams are genuinely representing their country. A strict nationality rule will be enforced based on a new agreement with World Sailing who will make the final decision on sailors’ eligibility to race.

For the first season, while the American, Australian, British, and French crews will be required to meet the nationality rule 100 per cent, to fast track the Chinese and Japanese teams up the learning curve they will only be required to have 40 per cent of their sailors from the home country. This requirement will increase by 20 per cent in each subsequent season.

Which boats are being used?

Racing will take place in high-performance, fully-foiling, F50 catamarans. The boats are based on several of the AC50 cats that took part in the 35 th America’s Cup in Bermuda but have been updated and equalised over the past year at Core Boatbuilders in New Zealand to create as close racing as possible.

Sail GP F50 catamaran specification highlights:

Height: 24 metres (78 feet 9 inches)

Length: 15 metres (49 feet 3 inches)

Width: 8.8 metres (28 feet 11 inches)

Weight:  2800 kilograms

Estimated top speed: 54 knots (62 miles per hour)

What is SailGP?

What’s different about the new boats compared to the AC50s?

Full details are still emerging but as well as equalising dimensions of the boats and the foils and rudder appendages to make the F50s effectively one design, boats will now use battery power to run the flight control system. The work of the grinders will solely be to power the sail trim on the boats’ gigantic multi-articulating wing sail.

One other difference is that the trim of the rudders can now be changed dynamically while racing rather than being pre-set as was required under the America’s Cup rules. This is expected to significantly improve performance and increase safety.

What about the sails?

No firm details were given on the sail setup for the SailGP F50 catamarans at the launch in London, but it is safe to say the boats will use a very similar configuration to what was used at the 2017 America’s Cup in Bermuda – i.e. a huge fully controllable wing sail and a smaller conventional headsail. It is likely that smaller wing sails will be used to allow for racing in stronger winds but at launch there was no mention of the possible use of gennakers for lighter winds.

What are the crew roles on the SailGP F50?

The teams will race with five sailors on board with the option to swap out one sailor during a race day.

SailGP F50 crew roles:

Helmsman – steering, boat speed, and boat on boat decisions

Wing trimmer – controlling the setup of the wing sail for maximum speed

Flight controller – ‘piloting’ the flight of the boat

Grinders (2) – providing power for sail trim purposes (the F50 flight control systems are battery powered)

What will the racing format be?

The SailGP regattas will be a combination of mostly fleet racing but with an element of match racing thrown in too.

At each SailGP event it is envisaged that the teams will have two practice days followed immediately by two race days with three fleet races on the first day followed by two fleet races on the second day, finishing with a match race between the two top teams to determine the winner.

The final event of the 2019 season will be a winner-takes-all fleet race between the overall top two teams for a 1,000,000 US dollar cash prize.

The course configurations were not announced at the launch event in London but are expected to be similar if not identical to the reaching start/windward-leeward/reaching finish configuration used in the last America’s Cup in Bermuda.

Are the designs of the boats fixed for a season?

No. An internal design team will continue to try to evolve and develop the performance of the boats. Any changes made will be tested and evaluated before being applied to all the boats at the same time.

Are there any sponsors involved?

  Yes. British luxury car brand Land Rover, French fashion house and luxury retailer Louis Vuitton, and American global computer technology company Oracle Corporation, are all sponsor partners of SailGP.

How much does it cost to run a team for a season?

When we put that question to Russell Coutts at the launch in London he told us that it would take a budget of five million US Dollars (4.3 million Euros) to run a team for a season.

What are the plans for the future?

Coutts and Ellison’s vision for the future of the SailGP circuit is that after two years or so it evolves into a self-sufficient entity with well-established teams that continue to function even if the ownership changes hands.

The pair’s medium to long term vision for SailGP is up to 10 international teams and 10 events around the world each season.

We hope you have found this guide to SailGP useful.

The guide is updated as soon as new information about teams and events becomes available so check back regularly. Meanwhile if there ism anything you think we have missed or if you have any questions about SailGP please send us a message and we will try to answer them here. 

6 thoughts on “ What is SailGP? ”

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SailGP have pulled out of their Whangarei harbour base after testing only two boats. According to their website, there was to be a two week testing and handover for each boat. The US and Australian boats have been out extensively, with French voices heard on the last day of the Australian boat testing. So, is there to be a full muster in Sydney, 15 and 16 February? Any news on this from other sources?

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Yachting World

  • Digital Edition

Yachting World cover

Pontos four-speed winch

  • Toby Hodges
  • July 9, 2015

It’s the biggest advance in winch design in a generation. Toby Hodges tries out two new four-speed winches from French company Pontos

grinder yacht racing

Product Overview

Overall rating:.

  • • The speed or power offered by two extra gears makes life much easier aboard
  • • Safety – hands are kept on the handle during the operation of the winch, not near the jaws or drum
  • • The base of the drums fit into the same screw holes as Harken winches if retrofitting
  • • The winches use quality tried-and-tested materials that are easy to service
  • • The footprint is larger than conventional two-speed winches, so Pontos may not fit yachts with winch positions pre-sculpted out of the coamings
  • • The names Trimmer and Grinder are confusing. ‘Speed’ or ‘Power’ would be more intuitive
  • • It is easy to go too fast or with too much power and pull the clew clean out of the sail if not concentrating or at night!


Price as reviewed:.

How frustrating it would be to have a car with just two gears! Yet most sailors still rely on standard two-speed self-tailing winches for all winching applications. The self-tailing winch came out in the 1970s but, apart from aesthetics, ease of maintenance and reversible technology, there has been little fundamental change in its design since then.

All that is about to change, however, as a new French company called Pontos introduces four-speed winches that offer potentially the biggest advance in manual winch technology in a generation.

In essence, Pontos has added a clutch to provide two extra gears, which can be used to provide either more speed or more power. So with two faster gears, the Grinder winch offers up to six times the line-speed of conventional two-speed winches. Alternatively, the Trimmer model has two higher gears, offering twice the power and reducing the force needed to winch a line.

Toby on the Grinder. Photo: Graham Snook

Toby on the Grinder. Photo: Graham Snook

Intrigued to find out if the theory worked on the water, I travelled to St Malo to test both types of winch on two different yachts.

I was blown away by the results.

How four-speed winches work

Pontos winches look like normal (Lewmar/Harken) self-tailing winches. They use the same quality materials and they function in much the same way. However, the French company has incorporated a clutch and a trigger mechanism to enable the seamless engagement of two extra gears. And by reversing this clutch mechanism two different models for different applications can be created.

Crucially, Pontos has used tried-and-tested mechanics. The winches use a planetary gear system – one or more outer ‘planet’ gears that revolve around a central ‘sun’ gear – and a dog clutch commonly used in manual gearboxes in cars and bicycle hub gears.

These two systems have been around for decades. The magic, the invention and the patent-protected part is the composite clutch ring or ‘trigger’ the company designed to enable the clutch to move up and down to engage the gear system.

Exposed clutch system used to operate an extra two sets of gears. Photo: Graham Snook

Exposed clutch system used to operate an extra two sets of gears. Photo: Graham Snook

How does this work? The crown is independent of the drum. When tension is applied and the large gear meets resistance in its springs, it moves this trigger ring enough (9mm/18º) to push up and engage the clutch. The mechanical force on the drum now works the two extra gears.

The load remains on the metal-on-metal gears as normal – “like a car, there is no load on the gearstick,” says co-founder Darryl Spurling. Changing gear simply involves changing direction with the winch handle, as with a two-speed winch.

A Pontos winch requires no more maintenance than any other modern winch. A key is supplied to open the top and the whole drum lifts off to expose the gears and bearings, which require only an infrequent freshwater rinse or lube.

Pontos infographic

The Grinder for more speed

We sailed from St Malo aboard a JPK 10.80 fitted out with Pontos 40s on the coachroof plus size 46 primaries. One tack in and I was impressed – Bang! The jib was in before I even looked up to check the trim. A couple more tacks and I was completely sold.

On a crewed racing boat one person lets off the windward sheet during the tack and another pulls in the new working sheet as quickly as possible. The beauty of the Grinder is that it allows you to set up for a tack with the lazy sheet ready in the self-tailer and the winch handle engaged.


I could easily let off one sheet during a tack and sheet in the other quicker than two could perform the operation on standard winches. There were no shouts to attend the ‘skirt’ (foot of the jib getting caught on the pulpit) and no fighting with the winch handle.

By the time I remembered to look up at the jib, it was almost too late – in light winds it is possible to over-sheet in just four turns of the handle. Yet you still have three higher gears to trim with when the breeze is up. Our skipper, Gilles, said he was especially happy with the ease and comfort the winch brought in windier conditions.

Remembering which way to turn the handle for first gear is crucial. Pontos says future winches will have an arrow indicating this. I didn’t hear the gear change every time – a small click indicates the clutch engaging. But changing direction is intuitive and familiarity comes reasonably quickly.

For short-handed sailors the benefits are obvious. Some 25 per cent of the Class 40 fleet has already adopted Pontos winches, including Sebastien Rogues, who currently tops the Class 40 leaderboard on GDF Suez .

Thibaut Vauchel-Camus using a Grinder on Solidaires en Peloton. The Class 40 finished 2nd in the Route du Rhum. Photo: Pierrick Contin

Thibaut Vauchel-Camus using a Grinder on Solidaires en Peloton. The Class 40 finished 2nd in the Route du Rhum. Photo: Pierrick Contin

His boat captain, Martin Piquet, explained some of the benefits the Grinder winches have brought while they prepared for the Route du Rhum. GDF has two sets of size 52s in the cockpit and a size 40 at the mast base (for rapidly hoisting spinnaker halyards and socks).

The speed of the Grinders is such that a spinnaker can be gybed with the sheet in the tailer. And flying sails can be furled at twice the speed – important when trying to maintain boat speed during a sail change. By leaving a sheet in the self-tailer, the crew can tack quicker than hauling by hand, while being able to keep one hand free.

The Trimmer for more power

Unlike the Grinder, the Trimmer does not change the method by which you tack. The first two gears are the same speed as conventional two-speed winches, so a tack still involves pulling a sheet through before locking it into the self-tailer. But it is the ease with which you can then continue to wind in a heavily loaded sheet that proved astonishing with this winch.

Pontos-Trimmer yellow rope

Traditionally, this would require two hands, shoulders, your back and any other leverage you can get from a typically awkward position. However, with the Trimmer in its lowest gear, it requires a mere two-fingered effort.

Employing the extra gears of the Trimmer feels like locking a diff on a 4×4, engaging low range (4L) and ploughing up a mountain, slowly but surely. As long as you have time, the torque gets you there.

This was demonstrated to us aboard Karibario , a weathered Sun Odyssey 40. She is still raced hard by an enthusiastic, yet elderly crew. They were increasingly struggling with the effort required to sheet in the large, overlapping genoa.

Her owner, Jean Legallet, previously had Harken 44s mounted on his coachroof and explained how it needed a “100kg brute” to grind in the genoa. The fourth gear of the Pontos means it can now be done one-handed by any of his crew. Their only concern now is the danger of actually exerting too much load.

Jean Legallet and his senior crew can now winch in a large overlapping genoa easily one-handed. Photo: Graham Snook

Jean Legallet and his senior crew can now winch in a large overlapping genoa easily one-handed. Photo: Graham Snook

Interestingly, Legallet tried both a Trimmer and a Grinder model aboard Karibario . It was thought that the speed of the latter would enable him to get the sheet in quickly enough for it not to be a struggle. But it was not the speed that was a problem for his crew; it was the effort required to grind in those final few feet of sheet.

The Trimmer proves so easy it takes away the need to fit an electric winch.

For me this is the most exciting thing about Pontos winches. Their advantage is not just about speed and ease when racing; it is much more about making life easier for cruising sailors.

The Trimmer allows you to winch high loads manually with ease – whether you’re winching a crewmember up the mast, hoisting or sheeting sails, or even retrieving a waterlogged man overboard.

Four-speed is the way to go

The names can be confusing, but if you focus on which type most suits your sailing, there are fundamental benefits to both. The more I look at conventional two-speed winches now, the more they seem needlessly slow, awkward and laborious.

Yes, you may replace winches only once in a lifetime and, yes, Pontos may be a slightly costlier upgrade, but if it makes your sailing safer and easier, and encourages more people afloat more often, it is something to champion.

© Graham Snook Photography Moral Rights Asserted

While the speed of a Pontos Grinder is an obvious attraction to the racing market, I think the big potential lies in the ease both types of winch can bring to cruising sailors. Hunching over a winch to exert effort can be dangerous, off-putting hard work. It pushes sailors towards powered winches, which are a much costlier upgrade and can be dangerous.

Pontos winches are 10-12 per cent more expensive than entry-level Harken or Lewmar two-speed winches. But the winches are cheaper than the Sport or Performer models by the same amount, which is perhaps a fairer comparison. And crucially, they are approximately one-third the price of an electric winch.

Size 40 – Grinder €1,320 (£1,033); Trimmer €1,380 (£1,080).

Who are Pontos?

I first came across Pontos two years ago when the company had a working prototype at the Marine Equipment Trade Show (METS). As nothing further was heard, I feared this was a novelty that had died away, hindered by expense or unreliability. It turns out that the St Malo company had really been doing its homework before officially coming to market this summer.

Start-up company specialists Michel Chenon and Darryl Spurling founded Pontos, and they have implemented an impressive R&D department and quality control process. Design and testing is done in-house, but manufacturing is outsourced to western Europe. We were shown the rigorous testing procedures and numerous cycles the winches are put through.

Among the rigorous tests, the load in the rope is measured versus the yield of the winch to calculate efficiency

Among the rigorous tests, the load in the rope is measured versus the yield of the winch to calculate efficiency

The winches have been designed for the everyday sailor – the user, not the boat, the retrofit not the OEM market. The company is not trying to compete on price with Harken and Lewmar. “We wanted it [the winch] to be simple and robust,” says Spurling, “to look similar and be priced similar, but to outperform the competition.”

For Chenon, it was once they figured that they could reverse the gearing to offer both power and speed benefits that the business looked promising.

He is targeting a €10m turnover in 2015 and thinks they have a three-year head start on Harken and Lewmar.

I travelled to St Malo thinking Pontos might be a novelty idea, but left convinced these winches could bring a major benefit to most sailors. Try four gears and it’s hard to look back.


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