Tom Slingsby – on the America’s Cup (Part I)

America’s Cup final - Oracle Team USA vs Emirates Team New Zealand
Olympic Gold Medallist and Oracle Team USA 34th AC strategist Tom Slingsby confirmed to Sail-World last week that he will return to Oracle Team USA when it mounts its defense of the 35th America’s Cup.

Tom Slingsby (ORACLE Team USA)
Sail-World talked at length with Tom in recent weeks. Here is the first part of our three part interview series with him.

We started by asking him about the changes on the boat after the initial losses, with Ben Ainslie taking over the tactician’s role from John Kostecki.

Tom said ‘I have been a tactician for ten years whether it is on TP52s, Etchells, and Farr 40s but was very comfortable with the strategist role. Ben has always been a skipper but he took on the tactician role well. He knew exactly what he would want someone telling him whether it was wind, what they were thinking, and plans ahead up the course. He just said exactly what he would want to hear from his tactician and it worked perfectly.

Oracle Team USA tactician Ben Ainslie Race 17 - 18
‘Sailing with Ben was awesome. We clicked well and the communication flowed really well and just the conversation between us, because we were able to talk over the communications channel, the whole crew knew what we were thinking of doing before we did it. It worked quite well that way and it did lift everyone.

‘The grinding load was heavy. I think maybe at the next America’s Cup they should be monitoring and put up the heart rates of the crew but yes my heart rate was always right up there. I listened to a couple of races and it sounds like I am talking quite normally but I remember during the races there were times it was hard for me to talk.

‘The rule was that the tactician basically never had to grind. It was only if they felt that they could help they would. Ben was really putting hard on the handles. He was really strong but there were times there where he felt he had a better view from the middle of the boat at the opposition so he would jump out of the cockpit and he would move around the boat a bit more than JK did.

‘For me basically Ben and Jimmy and the crew just wanted me talking about everything that I saw, everything that I was thinking and so whether that was wind on the water, I think we have got a knocking path and then it is going to lift in 10 seconds, whether it was I think the wind is better on the right but the current is better on the left or whether it was I think we have to protect the left hand side from the opposition, I think we should tack here or tack there.

‘I was always talking and Ben always made the final decision. Every race it got better between us. Obviously when you are learning to sail with a new person in the team it just takes a few days to gel and once it gelled it went really well.

19/09/2013 - San Francisco (USA CA) - 34th America's Cup - Oracle Team USA's Jimmy Spithill and Emirates Team New Zealand's Dean Barker

‘Jimmy was psyching the New Zealanders into believing were making a lot of changes.

‘We were making very small changes but obviously if you have got an opportunity there to get the other team thinking you are doing something special to the boat that no one knows about, as you say with Australia II in 83 it’s obviously a good thing. You can play with their minds.

‘Instead of them worrying about the technique of how to sail the boat, which is 90% of what the change was, they were thinking we had done something extra to the boat. We got them off the trail of what we were actually doing. In that regard it was pretty successful.

‘We made a couple of small changes to the wing tune. We tried changing the mast rake on one of the lay days but it didn’t work. We didn’t like the results so we went straight back to the normal mast rake. We made a couple of very small changes that you wouldn’t be able to notice and I don’t know if they made any difference.

‘The big thing was the wing tune and that was probably 15% and the way we sailed the boat in my eyes, everyone probably has their own opinion, but that was everything.

‘The way we learned how to get on the foils upwind was the key. The way we moded the boat once we were on the foils. It would have been easy to try and chase these magical numbers of 30 to 35 knots upwind but the actual fact you had to do too many tacks and your VMG to the top mark wasn’t quite as good.

‘We found how to mode the boat really well upwind, we found that magical sweet spot of foiling upwind and still having the right amount of height. In my opinion that was the game changer.’

Asked about Jimmy Spithill’s press conference mantra ‘we can win this’

‘For me when we were down 6-1 was probably my lowest point in regards to thinking we could win. I certainly did not share Jimmy’s confidence then.

‘I think that was the day we made the wing tune changes. But then we went out the next day and we lost the next two by ten seconds and I really noticed a step up in the performance of the boat.

‘I realized how close we were in foiling the boat upwind, stably. We would pop out every now and then and I realized foiling upwind was really a possibility here and then we were down 8-1.

‘Other than the light wind race where we sailed very poorly and they just missed the time limit, I think we sailed really well for the next five races.

San Francisco 34th AMERICA’S CUP America’s Cup final Oracle Team USA wins the 34th America’s Cup James Spithil

‘Jimmy won all the starts. Ben was picking all the right lanes, making all the right calls and during those times, those five races we just sailed better than the other guys. There was no speed advantage. We just sailed better.

‘We started developing our technique. We started learning this is actually working. If we keep doing this the boat is going to get faster and faster and that’s what happened.

‘Come the last three races we were the faster boat and even though New Zealand sailed a lot better for those last few races they were just outdone by a quicker boat.

‘Going forward, for me my main focus is on America’s Cup 35. I want to sail with really good people. I want to be part of a really good team that can win the Cup and for me that’s the most important thing.

‘I had a really good experience last time and Oracle was great to me as a team. I know how good the people are who get involved in with this team, from the designers to the sailors,'

Signing with Oracle gives me the best chance of winning another America’s Cup which is what I want to do.'

(In Part II Tom talks about the kind of boat that could be sailed in AC35)
(In Part III Tom talks about Iain Murray’s Wind Speed calls and his Olympic plans.)