For a sailor who has mostly raced the singlehanded one-design Laser throughout his nascent career, Tom Slingsby stood calm and composed when describing the most amazing incident to date of the 34th America’s Cup.
Slingsby was facing aft in the windward hull of ORACLE TEAM USA’s 17 when the mighty AC72 capsized two weeks ago on San Francisco Bay. Slingsby has done plenty of swimming during his training in the Laser, an easy boat to right when capsized. But no one had ever capsized an AC72 before, and no one was quite sure what would happen.
“It was a bit of a weird feeling,” the 28-year-old Slingsby said a few hours after the incident. “No one has been in that situation before, being that high off the water in a capsize. It’s hard to explain, but a very worrying feeling. We weren’t too sure if the wing would snap or how the boat would capsize. There were a few nervous moments for sure.”
That Slingsby was the first team member to speak on the record about the capsize says volumes for how much he has climbed the ORACLE TEAM USA ladder in a short amount of time. Slingsby has raced the Laser for about 12 years, basically since he took up sailing after giving up a promising tennis career due to burn out, but he’s never been part of an America’s Cup syndicate.
Slingsby’s not necessarily wide-eyed in his first America’s Cup experience, but he sees a high level of professionalism that he never had in his Laser campaigns for the past two Olympic Regattas.
“With the Laser, I had a check list; I had to sail, cycle and go to the gym each day, it didn’t matter what time,” says Slingsby. “But you see the logistics and planning that goes into everything here, and it’s a bit of an eye opener seeing how professional these teams are.”
Slingsby’s gold medal effort for Australia in the Laser class at the London Olympics has put him in the running for the Rolex ISAF World Sailor of the Year award, to be named next week. It’s an award he’s previously won, in 2010. Last week he was named a co-winner of the Australian Male Sailor of the Year, an award he has won twice before.
Slingsby’s ability to read the wind on the water has earned him the nickname “the wind whisperer” and a spot with ORACLE TEAM USA as a tactician. His experience with the Cup defender, however, is expanding his knowledge of sailing more than his Laser sailing ever could. Now, instead of worrying mostly about himself, he’s sitting in meetings with the likes of Russell Coutts, John Kostecki, Murray Jones, Dirk Kramers and Scott Ferguson – all previous winners of the America’s Cup and experts in their fields.
“It’s daunting sitting in those meetings, especially when you first arrive,” Slingsby says. “I don’t say too much in meetings – I have two eyes, two ears and one mouth, and I use them in that order. I’m by no means an expert in any area. I’ve done a lot of the racing, but have a lot to learn.”
Slingsby has an easy-going style that has been described as a contradiction from the man who has been seen to beat the deck of his Laser after making an error. He cycles, plays tennis and golf, and enjoys martial arts. But in ORACLE TEAM USA, he’s constantly finding himself in new situations.
“I’m going to foil design and aerodynamics meetings, things I’ve never had to deal with before,” Slingsby says. “It’s amazing how all the guys in the campaign who’ve won it before have knowledge in every area. They know everything from boat design to how the hydraulic pumps work, to the loads on every structural beam. They’ve spent a lot of time working in this atmosphere, and their knowledge is impressive.”
Slingsby won’t commit to the next Olympics, slated for Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2016. Some think it’s time for him to graduate from the Laser and move on to the Finn, but he’s not committing to anything beyond the next year, in which he’ll be immersed in the America’s Cup.
“I haven’t made any decisions about the next Olympics. I’m waiting to see how this goes,” says Slingsby. “I’m getting to work with the best sailors in the world, and some of the best designers in the world are telling me what they’re thinking with the design. I’m using this as one year apprenticeship with the best team in world to learn as much as possible before the next Cup.”
— Sean McNeill