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SailGP preparations underway as Cross Island comes to life

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SailGP Preparations (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Sailing fever is now in full swing at the West End ahead of the opening races of SailGP this weekend.

Behind the scenes at Cross Island, headquarters of the Bermuda Grand Prix, the sailing teams and their technical support are immersed in preparations.

Brad Marsh, technical site team director, said even minute changes in weather factored into the job of readying the vessels for racing.

SailGP Preparations on Denmark’s F50 (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

“I consider SailGP not only the leading-edge sailing event in the world – it’s also an event, with an event village, which comes with setting up the site for it.

“First we set up the site, and then we set up the sailing. The last two weeks have been about setting up the bases.

“All the bases are portable, build-around containers and using tents. Now, in these last couple of days, we’re assembling the boats that we sail.”

The man-made island off Dockyard was abuzz with activity when The Royal Gazette called yesterday, with cranes fitting sails onto the giant F50 foiling catamarans.

Mr Marsh said: “Fine-tuning is the key term. The boats here are configured to a very high degree to the sailing conditions.”

He explained that Bermuda’s unique local conditions, down to the water temperature and the air density, factor into the laborious detail put into every feature of the high-tech boats.

A carbon-fibre hydrofoil, a crucial component of the racing catamarans, gets wheeled from Cross Island’s machine shop (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

The wing-shaped foils that get mounted to the catamaran’s hulls are mainly carbon fibre with titanium reinforcement, and the intense work put into the hydrofoils was in evidence all around the team bases.

Foils were being wheeled across the grounds with a two-person team: one pushing the cart and the other up front, clutching the hydrofoil to steady it.

The work is delicate: the tiniest design flaw can scupper a team’s chances at the races this weekend on the Great Sound.

Mr Marsh likened the catamarans to “a high-end race car – they’re set for the track they’re racing on”.

Nicolai Sehested, the helmsman leading Team Denmark, said the quick decisions he had to make on that racetrack were “80 per cent focusing on the sailing, and 20 per cent on the area”.

A frequent visitor to Bermuda, starting with the Bermuda Gold Cup, Mr Sehested said the team had been on the island for four days, with yesterday as their third day out on the water getting to grips with how their boats perform.

“It means multiple things,” he said. “It means getting a feel for the area, getting the steering, getting the boats faster.”

Six of the SailGP F50 foiling catamarans in Dockyard (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

For the helmsman, who is “basically driving the boat”, the familiarity with the behaviour of the water and wind is crucial.

Ten teams are set to compete: Switzerland, Canada, Australia, Denmark, France, Great Britain, Japan, New Zealand, Spain and the United States.

With fickle weather throughout this week, everyone involved in the Bermuda Sail Grand Prix has been watching the skies.

“Weather is a lot of it,” Mr Sehested said. “It’s a completely different set-up on the boat whether it’s windy or if there are light winds. We want to go out with the best setting for the day.”

He added: “So far, the weekend looks nice.”

SailGP Preparations: Nicolai Sehested, helmsman for the Denmark SailGP team (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Joel Marginson, head of department for the boat building and machine shop, explained that in the repair and upkeep of the foils, “we use the same process on everyone”.

The standardisation in effect levels the playing field.

SailGP Preparations: Denmark’s mainsail is prepared (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Sustainability and environmental impact feature highly in SailGP, which launched its Impact League in season two to track the carbon footprint of each team.

With so much attention devoted to the water and weather, sailors take an interest in the natural environment of places where they compete.

A representative from each team explored Bermuda’s unique marine habitats yesterday with an early trip out to the nature reserve on Trunk Island in Harrington Sound, where seagrass beds are being coaxed back to life.

The Seagrass Restoration Project gets explored by SailGP athletes on Trunk Island in Harrington Sound (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Cages placed in the shallows there in 2020 and 2021 protect the seagrass from overgrazing by turtles.

Complicated factors play into the decline in seagrass meadows in Bermuda: a successful rebound in turtle populations, a crash in shark numbers, and the relentless human impact on a delicate habitat.

Alison Copeland, biodiversity officer at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, told the group: “Seagrass meadows are incredibly important as a habitat because of the wide variety of animals they support.”

But she said they had undergone “a pretty spectacular collapse over the last few years – and what’s causing this decline, to put it bluntly, is us”.

SailGP athletes take a detour to Trunk Island in Harrington Sound to visit the Seagrass Restoration Project (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

The sailing group’s jaunt to explore progress on environmental restoration goes with SailGP’s commitment to make sustainability integral to the sport.

As stated on the SailGP website: “There will be no sport without a planet to play it on.”

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Published May 11, 2022 at 7:48 am (Updated May 11, 2022 at 7:39 am)

SailGP preparations underway as Cross Island comes to life

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