Lucky Man
Yachting World|January 2022
Tom Slingsby is on a roll. He talks to Helen Fretter about sailing at the very top of the sport, and how he got there
By Tom Slingsby, Photography by Matt Knighton for SailGP, Sam Greenfield for SailGP

What is the mark of a truly great sailor? Is it an Olympic gold medal, an America’s Cup win, offshore racing victories – or something else? Because Australian Tom Slingsby has all of those, but it is the sailing he does for fun, his downtime dinghy racing on his own boat, which is perhaps his most impressive.

In September, 2021, Tom Slingsby won his second International Moth World Championship. In the foiling class that’s a considerable achievement. But the manner in which he did it – 13 race wins from 14 starts – and the ridiculous talent trailing behind him, was truly remarkable.

The results table reads like a who’s who of sailing, of America’s Cup crews, Olympic Gold Medallists and World Champions. Paul Goodison in 3rd, Francesco Bruni 5th, Nathan Outteridge 7th… It’s a fleet made up of his great friends, and greater rivals. But Slingsby dominated them all.

From Garda he travelled to France, then Spain, to compete in SailGP, where his Team Australia leads the series, winning the Cadiz event. To fill a gap in his diary caused by travel complications getting back to Australia, he joined Comanche in the RORC Middle Sea Race, where the 100ft Maxi demolished the course record and won overall.

Next was Palma for the TP52 World Championships. He carried the momentum that a slightly magical unbeaten run gives onto Phoenix, where he gave a masterclass in light winds tactics to take 1st in the first two races – ahead of another stellar fleet, many of whom have been racing 52s for decades. In just a few weeks he delivered top flight wins inshore and offshore. Dinghy, multihull and big boat. Foiling and conventional. It was, by any standards, a very good end to an exceptional year.

Slingsby leading the International Moth Worlds fleet all the way at Lake Garda

PASSION PROJECT

The Moth is a bit different to Slingsby’s many professional sailing gigs. “I do the Moths just out of passion for sailing. It’s really the only sailing I do that isn’t for my livelihood. I do it because I just love it. I spend all my own personal money on the boats and development. So it is really nice to be successful in that part of my sailing.

“I did the 2017 Worlds in Lake Garda, and I finished 4th. But it was the most enjoyable regatta I’d ever done in my life, and I said if ever there’s another Moth Worlds in Garda, I’d do anything to be there. So even with everything happening with Covid, when all Italy was shut down, I still packed up my boat and sent it to Europe on the off chance it might happen.”

Like many sailors, Slingsby was able to devote time to tinkering with and sailing his Moth from his home in Sydney when lockdown curtailed the professional racing circuit last year. Once events resumed, he blocked out weeks between regattas to go back to Garda.

“I just love the development side. I love always improving the boat. And I was sitting out the last America’s Cup, and so I guess I had a bit more time. I love the sailing, and I love the spirit of the class.

“The development never stops. I’ve changed designs again, for the third year in a row. I really enjoy trying different boats and trying to see how to make them fast.”

That drive to extract the fastest possible speed from every single boat is what has built Slingsby probably the most complete sailing CV of his generation. But it hasn’t been an entirely straightforward progression.

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