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Rockwool Sail Grand Prix makes Canadian debut in Halifax this June


The Rockwool Sail Grand Prix will make its Canadian debut in Halifax this June.

SailGP’s F50 racing boats will cut a course in the Halifax harbour between Georges Island and the MacDonald Bridge.

Billy Gooderham, whose hometown is Halifax, will be the flight controller for the competition.

“SailGP is really tail boat racing reimagined. They turbo charge the speeds,” says Gooderham. “It’s rally sort of racing on the edge.”

His team includes four people, led by driver Phil Robertson.

Gooderham says Halifax will be a great spot for the race because the city really supports its sports teams and events. He adds SailGP is a huge spectacle.

“When you have 10 boats, all of them are 50 feet long, speeds up to a 100 kilometres an hour, it really is a Grand Prix weekend,” he says.

FILE - Skipper Jimmy Spithill, left, and tactician Ben Ainslie, second from left, run to the other side of Oracle Team USA after rounding the first mark during the ninth race of the America's Cup sailing event against Emirates Team New Zealand, on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013, in San Francisco. Star skipper Jimmy Spithill says he is leaving the United States SailGP Team because it has been sold to a new group and that he plans to start a new Italian team for Season 5 starting in late 2024. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

According to Gooderham, part of what makes the race interesting is that every team has the same “piece of machinery on the start line.” They also share the same information as the race goes on. Collectively, the boats transmit up to about 30,000 data points a second, and every boat has access to all that information.

“It’s really hard to keep secrets, so it means that the team that wins at the end of the weekend, it’s done so based on the skill of the athletes and not the size of the pocket book,” he says.

His position as flight controller is very unqiue to SailGP, says Gooderham. Using 43 dials and buttons at his control, he sits in what he calls a “fox hole.” His goal is to fly the boat somewhere between a meter and a meter and a half out of the water so it can reach up to 100 kilometres an hour.

Billy Gooderham speaks with CTV News on Feb. 19, 2024.

The driver physically steers the boat, Gooderham says.

“He’s the one who decides where we’re going to be on the race course, how we’re going to interact tactically with the nine other teams, whereas I’m in charge of making sure that he has the horsepower and the boat speed to be able to put the boat where he wants to put it,” says Gooderham.

“Basically, I have the gas pedal and (the driver) has the brakes,” he says.

Weather conditions

In case of bad weather, the boats can adjust to the amount of wind they get, says Gooderham, and there are multiple ways to reach the speeds the sailors want to reach.

“We’re not just fair weather sailors. If it’s cold, we have warm gear. If it’s warm, we have cooler gear,” he says. “And then we also have a ton of technical clothing that makes it so no weather’s a problem.”

USA SailGP Team helmed by Jimmy Spithill capsizes during a practice session ahead of the France Sail Grand Prix in Saint-Tropez, France, Friday, Sept. 8, 2023. (SailGP via AP)

Gooderham says a wind speed of 35 kilometres an hour is the sweet spot, where the boats are at maximum speed but very controllable.

“So we’ll hope for that,” he says.

Growing up sailing

Gooderham says he grew up in a sailing family — his grandfather went to the Olympics multiple times and his father was involved in cup programs, including one that happened in Halifax in the 80s.

A national team member for four years in his early 20s, Gooderham says he’s been a professional sailor for nearly a decade now.

“It’s kind of the family business,” he says.

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