In this second installment of “Leo’s View,” Japanese-born, Kiwi-raised young gun Leonard Takahashi leaves Covid-free New Zealand for locked down Bermuda and the Season 2 opener of SailGP. As one of the top young sailors in the world today, and a key member of the Japanese SailGP entry, Tajima Direct catches up with Leo to hear his thoughts post-event, and views going forward.
Tajima Direct: You just finished a wild season opener of SailGP in windy Bermuda that saw your bow land on USA’s stern, essentially causing your bow to get cheese-wired off by their carbon shroud. How the heck did this happen?! Take us through the incident and the resulting damage that knocked your team out of the event when in such solid overall position.
Leo Takahashi: It was an epic event and I really hope the viewers and sailing fans enjoyed what they saw. For us it was such an unfortunate ending to what was a really good 2 weeks for us. We had great preparation going into the event but that all turned to custard with one small tactical error that cost us points and a shot at the title. Being professional sailors we push these boats to the limit, for every team in this series they have seen nothing like the racing we did over that weekend. Boundary racing with foiling catamarans doing 30+ knots because of the small wings has never been done before so the tactics have completely changed. Therefore the crosses, dips, tacks we were able to do in season 1 are just not possible due to the ongoing technological advancements that these boats have been through over the covid break.
TD: Lot’s of changes to the event and competition have been implemented for Season 2. What are some of the stand-out developments made that you like and add to the racing and appeal of the event from your perspective? As a follow up, how does this style of SailGP racing compare to any other racing you’ve done or currently doing?
LT: Well, these boats have gone through a lot during the break. We have three new wings that are 18, 24, and 29 sq. meters. They are fully hydraulic and we can fully manipulate the wings to our liking. The small wings allow us to race in conditions over 25 knots where most foiling boats would struggle to stay upright due to having too much power and hard to control but the small wings allow us to depower massively and let us handle the boat in the conditions so we can race. The racing we had in the Bermuda SailGP was unlike anything I have been a part of, it was intense, so close and the level has been raised since Season 1. Every team is good enough to win a race now so one small error will drop you down into the mid pack.
TD: Can you tell us what it’s like to be in such a confined environment (on land due to Covid restrictions in Bermuda) and racing course structure (on the water) with an astounding group of the world’s best sailing talent all in one place … living together, sailing identical, ridiculously fast, twitchy machines on a tiny track with big breeze and limited practice time for the sport’s most aggressive jockey’s as adrenaline is pumping and cameras are rolling?
LT: SAILGP is always intense work for all the teams, we basically get into the venue and we go sailing 3-4 hours a day, eat every meal at the base. If we are not sailing we are helping the shore team prepare the boat, boards in and out which requires 5-6 guys. When we are not helping to get the boat ready we are debriefing the previous sailing session and crunching data that comes from other teams to see what they are doing differently. Bermuda was so different due to the covid restrictions, we hardly saw other teams due to our bubble restrictions. And our training time was so limited because of the many logistical issues with Bermuda going into lockdown, it was really important to make use of all the training time we were given to maximize our performance when it came to the racing.
TD: Last season you were the flight controller on the Japanese boat. This season you have some new additions to the team and you’ve been kicked forward grinding. Tell us about your role on the boat and what you actually do and see?
LT: This year we have Francesco Bruni and Chris Draper joining our team as flight controller and wing trimmer. Amazing sailors who are among the greats of our sports so for me it was very cool to hear they are part of our team . Back into the grinding team I went, being the G2 position (aft grinder and facing forward) I control the jib functions and trim the jib sail. Due to these new wings having such good twist functions, the grinding team do less on the wing sheet front. So this allowed the G2 position to have more heads out looking out for the breeze and race software we are then able relay this information to the rest of the team. I think in the future and coming forward you will see more G2’s becoming tacticians and I know that the American’s have already implemented this in their playbook.
TD: With the speeds, splash downs, crashes, etc, how do you guys see where you’re going and what’s important when it’s that breezy…are you really looking up the course reading breeze or just focusing on boat handling, positioning and staying out of trouble while weaving through the carnage? With high speeds, spray and all the protective armor and gear you’re wearing, how important is eye protection?
LT: I think when it’s that windy it is really important to be on the safer side. We are really conscious of making sure the boat is stable before maneuvers and definitely staying out of trouble is a big one. The scariest part of having 8 boats on the start line is when there is a boat directly in front of you. You are feeling their wake disturbance on your foils, the spray is going directly into your eyes and you never know if they will nose dive and we go into the back of them. The teams that had a jump on the field in Bermuda were the ones that were able to balance pushing the boat and then holding back when necessary. But to answer your question since you’re going from boundary to boundary and the maneuvers being so costly you are basically not worrying too much about the shift, if you do get on the good side of a phase then that’s great. But it’s all about moding, having clear lanes to breath executing good maneuvers. You can see most guys on every team wearing goggles with plenty of windex on them to repel all the spray. I think eye protection is super important because in my own experience it’s about impact protection from hi-speed accidents as well as keeping my eyes open whilst pelted by spray.
TD: Will your boat be back in action for the next SailGP in Italy and is there a chance Francesco Bruni has his own Prada entry at that event or will he be back on your boat? Do you expect further changes to your team or your role?
LT: Our boat will be back in action and our team will be hungrier than ever. No chance that he will (Bruni have his own entry). We will be working on our mistakes and making sure we come out strong for the Italian event. I don’t think we will see any changes to our line up this year but it will be great to have some more time back on the flight control position just to keep my skills fresh.
TD: We’re catching up with you as you pass through LAX on your way back to NZ from Bermuda. What’s on your schedule until next month’s SailGP in Europe as you also have the Tokyo Olympics to prepare for in the 49er?
LT: For now it’s time to go home and do the 2 week quarantine in NZ. This will be a time for me to relax and catch up on rest as the next 2 months will be the busiest time of my life. We will be doing intense training blocks in NZ and then to Australia for a coaches regatta. Then onwards into Japan for the build-up for the Olympic Games which will be super exciting and can’t wait to get stuck in!
If you missed the first Leo’s View, you can read it here.