“These boats are impossible to sail without teamwork”

Jonathan Turner
28 March 2020

It’s been a whirlwind few months for Denmark SailGP Team helm Nicolai Sehested.

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The 30-year-old Dane, who has competed in two round-the-world races in an illustrious career, leads his country into its first ever SailGP campaign – and kicked off the season with an exhilarating racing in Sydney last month.

With just 20 hours training on board the boat, the Danish team faced a huge challenge to compete with the world’s best sailors on a tricky race course Down Under.

We catch up with Nicolai to find out what he’s learned from that first event, how it feels to be racing a flying boat at almost 100km/hr, and look ahead to the rest of the SailGP season.

What have you been up to since the end of the Sydney event?

We’ve been at home, but working a lot and debriefing as a team. We’re analysing all of the action from Sydney and there's so much stuff to learn.

We’re improving all the time but we have a lot of work to do and we’re definitely not struggling to fill out our time – we have a lot of data and knowledge gathered in Sydney.

From the team launch event in December 2019, your calendar was pretty full-on…

It has been crazy to say the least. We started putting the team together and learning about the boats in November and in January we actually had to implement it ourselves on the boat, training for a few days in New Zealand.

From there, we pretty much jumped straight into Sydney, where we suddenly had to race against six other F50s on a really tight race course. So it's been full on the whole way but we’ve been trying to hang on and learn as quickly as we can.

For sure, Sydney was exciting and lining up on the first start line at almost 50 knots is an experience I’ll never forget. I think you really have to experience it to understand just how full on it is and how much you have to work together as a team to make it happen.

You went into the first event with just 20 hours training on board the boat, compared to years in the case of some of your rivals. How tough was that?

It was a big challenge. In reality, there was no way we were ever going to be fully prepared in the circumstances, and we're still far from the potential of these boats.

In that situation, you have to accept pretty early on that you can only do as much as you can do and you’ve just got to run day and night to catch up, because every minute you put in to learning about these boats and how to sail them, you will gain speed.

What’s the most important element in sailing these boats fast?

It all comes down to teamwork – these boats are impossible to sail unless you work 100% and become really coordinated. For me, it’s like driving a racing car, but you’ve only got control of the steering wheel, not the accelerator or the brake. Everything has to work together.

Watch or re-watch the full interview below.

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What’s is like to race these boats on the edge at such exhilarating speeds?

You don't really have time to think too much and have too many emotions, everything goes so quickly. You’re racing at almost 100 kilometres an hour and you’ve got to react with your instinct what you think is the right decision at that moment.

It’s very loud and your heart rate is at the maximum. You have to be really switched-on and 100%.  We know that if we make a small mistake, it could not only hurt us, but it can also damage the boat. We understand the responsibility we have, and I think that sailing around the world a few times helps me in dealing with that responsibility and making good decisions under that pressure.

How important is it to you that the team has a Danish DNA, and how is that reflected in the culture that you encourage as a leader?

The Danish DNA is an important part of the whole team, and we're really trying to carry that with us in everything we do. Being Danish, but also having a great Danish sponsor in ROCKWOOL, is a very important thing for us.

At the core of everything we do is sustainability. We obviously enjoy racing, but there's a bigger goal behind this and that’s to raise awareness in all of the cities we visit around the world. We’re not just here to sail fast, we're here for something bigger and to create awareness of some of the issues we're facing now and in the future.

ROCKWOOL is the main sponsor of the team – how is it to work with them, and how does the team showcase their values?

It’s very easy to work with ROCKWOOL. They are very clear in what they aim for, and why they’re here. We know we have full support from ROCKWOOL in everything we do. They are using this platform to raise awareness around sustainability issues, and showcase solutions that already exist – we just need to use them and make the right choices.

Sailing around the world, you definitely see the impacts of big cities and what we're doing to the planet. You can’t really sail for a day without seeing plastic in the oceans plus fishing nets, oil and dirty water.

What’s your plan of attack for the next event?

We’re spending every second that we have together analysing and learning from our mistakes. It’s also about learning from the other teams, what did they do that worked for them, and why we weren't able to do the same thing. The open data sharing in SailGP is so key to us as a new team – it really allows us to catch up with the others

The top teams just don't make many mistakes, they're very clean. You can see that they’ve spent a lot of hours in these boats and they know exactly what they're doing but for sure, that gap will close as we go forward.

Finally, a message to the fans during this unprecedented time globally – and a reaction to the cancellation of the San Francisco SailGP event?

First and foremost, we hope that everyone is staying safe and looking after each other. This is a tough time globally and we need to stick together in these times and do the right thing. We fully understand and support the decision to cancel the San Francisco event. It's the right call to keep everyone safe and protect each other. We’ve just got to do what we got to do now to get on top of this virus and then we can look forward to a brighter future.