Trimming the wing of an F50 is more about harmony than power. It requires concentration, acute attention to detail and fast reflexes.
“Being a good wing trimmer requires a lot of concentration and attention to detail,” said China SailGP Team wing trimmer Paul Campbell-James. “You have to be able to feel the boat very well, and you’ve got to be good at making the boat go fast.”
Although the wingsail is built for speed around the racecourse, the wing trimmer’s job is focused on staying in sync with every single team member onboard. This requires working closely with the helmsman, who makes the tactical decisions to power up or de-power, the flight controller, who manages lift and differential based on the speed, and the grinders, who provide power to trim the sail.
The wing trimmer on each of the F50s is taking in information from the rest of the crew and keeping the F50 in tune and most importantly, keeping the boat flying flat and stable.
“You have to have a really good relationship with the helmsman and the flight controller,” says Iain Jensen, of the Japan SailGP Team.
Kyle Langford, Australia’s wing trimmer agrees, “You’ve got to have a conversation with the flight controller about how high the platform is going to be, so if I make a trim change on the wing it affects the flight controllers’ position and the way that he controls the foil.”
The last two events have seen the wing trimmers with their work cut out. In New York, teams battled up and down breezes that varied directions coming off the cityscape. In Cowes, windy conditions kept teams on their toes to stay upright and in one-piece. If the F50 and its team is a symphony orchestra, with the helmsman in the first chair, the wing trimmer is the conductor.
“If one of us makes a move, often the others are pushed to adapt themselves accordingly, so it’s a three-person job that we are continually learning and building,” said Matthieu Vandame, wing trimmer for the France SailGP Team.
The job doesn’t come without its tribulations. It’s up to the wing trimmer to decrease the sail’s power if something goes wrong during a maneuver, or bleed off some speed when the F50 becomes unstable.
“Quite often when the performance of the boat is down, the tactician and the other guys on board are looking directly to you so you feel quite a bit of pressure to make an effective change and improve the performance again,” says Langford. “But on the flip side, when you have the boat set up perfectly and you know that no other team can match you and your untouchable – that feels pretty good.”