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Emily Nagel makes smooth transition to commentary

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Professional Bermudian sailor and self-confessed “data nerd” Emily Nagel has made a smooth transition to the analysis booth as SailGP’s newest international commentator, but her journey to the mic has been anything but straightforward.

It began in 2016, when Nagel was part of the island’s Youth America’s Cup campaign and keen to get involved with the main event. She successfully lobbied Canada wing trimmer and SailGP veteran Chris Draper for an internship with Cup challenger Softbank Team Japan and spent her time split between the design arm and the shore team.

After the Cup, Nagel competed in the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race with the AkzoNobel team, counting Denmark driver Nicolai Sehested among her team-mates and New Zealand’s Peter Burling and Blair Tuke, and Australia’s Kyle Langford among her competitors.

Following that race, Nagel began to hear rumours of a new racing league named SailGP and remained 100 per cent committed to chasing sailing on a professional level. She sent out feelers to get involved in the league but, getting little response, Nagel decided to start her own sailing-focused data analysis company.

Her passion to get involved with SailGP remained and, ahead of the Championship starting in February 2019, she offered her services for free.

“I decided the only way to make an opportunity happen was to make it myself,” she said. “So I flew out to Sydney and offered to work for free for two weeks. They probably thought I was mental but I just wanted to learn and get involved.”

Her role included creating data reports for individual teams and the value of her analysis was quickly noticed by the Great Britain team, who hired her on a full-time basis for the rest of the season and the Sydney Sail Grand Prix in February 2020.

Ahead of Season 2, Nagel was offered the chance to trial as a female athlete with Great Britain or to continue as a data analyst. She chose to race and began freelancing for the British Olympic Sailing team as a data analyst, but was then surprised with a shock opportunity to join SailGP as a commentator.

Incredible experience: Emily Nagel, who was part of the Great Britain team during the inaugural SailGP global series (Photograph by Matt Knighton)

“I’ve sailed with Freddie Carr [five times America’s Cup sailor] on a few big projects and I know Stevie Morrison [SailGP commentator] through my work with the Olympic team and both of them suggested I try it,” added Nagel.

The next step was to shadow Carr during the Bermuda Sail Grand Prix at the start of Season 3 and undertake commentary practice on Zoom, which involved Nagel commentating on the same race repeatedly.

“It was a new challenge but one I actually quite enjoyed,” she said.

The purpose of Nagel’s commentary is clear. Unlike Morrison, who is described as a colour commentator and tasked with conveying the excitement of the race, Nagel’s role as a technical commentator is to incorporate the vast amount of data being generated by the F50 catamarans.

While commentating, Nagel has access to multiple screens displaying data on all the competitors, while also keeping an eye on the racing itself.

“I’m trying to combine the two worlds of what people are seeing on the screen and what is happening with the data,” she added. “I guess I’m doing the data analysis but talking out loud at the same time.

“The aim is to unlock the audience’s understanding of the data and ensure that even an audience that has nothing to do with sailing can tune in and start to understand the technical side. It’s not that an audience can’t understand these concepts, it’s just that no one has ever explained them before.”

Behind the scenes though, it’s not as simple as Nagel suggests.

While watching the racing from SailGP’s remote broadcasting studio in Ealing, London, she must also talk to the producers about which data graphics she’d like to appear on the screen before jumping in and explaining why those numbers are important.

“There’s a whole lot more going on than I ever imagined.” she said.

“I imagined that I’d have a microphone in front of me and I’d just talk, but the reality however is that I have a full headset linked to a switchboard with about ten other people on it. I’m easily distracted and having five voices in my head is the hardest part for me.”

Nagel has sailed with, or against, multiple SailGP athletes, including Jimmy Spithill, Jason Waterhouse, Luke Parkinson and Tom Johnson and can offer unique insights into their styles.

“A lot of them have pretty distinctive sailing styles and you can see that through the data,” she said. “I know the individuals, what makes them tick, what annoys them and how they sail the boat, and that really helps when it comes to talking about them.”

While sitting in a booth in London as part of SailGP’s remote broadcast is great, Nagel does not get the chance to visit the incredible locations on tour.

“The set up just blew my mind,” she added. “While I regret on a personal level not attending the events in person, you can’t ignore the sustainability impact of not flying 40 people around the world.”

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Published March 15, 2023 at 7:52 am (Updated March 15, 2023 at 7:52 am)

Emily Nagel makes smooth transition to commentary

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