In his years sailing a fast Olympic skiff, Diego Botin has mastered one fundamental that serves him well as the driver for the Spanish SailGP team. Decisiveness. High performance sailors who do not develop that fail.
Small-boat success is the steppingstone for many of the quick-minded, quick-footed athletes racing 50-foot foiling catamarans in SailGP.
Botin’s 49er Class Olympic skiff is only 16 feet long, not raised on foils, but capable of skimming along little affected by the water’s resistance. Unless it slows down. Then the sails go from driving force to tipping force. In every 49er maneuver, speed is a friend. He who hesitates goes swimming.
That mentality is vital in driving an F50 catamaran in SailGP. Attack. Attack. Attack.
“There is no room for doubt,” Botin said. “Commit and go. It matters that Flo and I have been through so much together.”
Florian Trittel, Spain’s wing trimmer, won the 2022 49er European Championships with Botin.
“Our time together in a small boat is a plus,” Botin said, referring to the sailing they do in an Olympic 49er, pursuing a medal in the 2024 Games. “Florian and I know what the other is thinking and how to get the best out of each other.”
Trittel added, “Diego and I connect on an energy level that is worth more than verbal communication.”
With that, however, Trittel touched upon another quality that sets the Spanish team apart.
Botin added, “We schedule communications for every racing situation. We put a lot of thought into what to say and when. We need a clear channel. Things have to go in a set order so there are not two people talking at once.
“Our jobs are spread through the crew. The wing trimmer calls the angles of the boat. Grinder No. 1 is faced back, so he reports on wing position and boats behind. Grinder No. 2 faces forward, so he helps with tactics and tells what he thinks the next move will be. The strategist is keyed on what other boats are doing and what we should anticipate.
“At the end of the chain, super connected to both the flight controller and the trimmer, the driver is deciding what to do, and maybe we don’t get to the end of the chain. I try to take information from everyone, and they’re trying to paint the view so I can concentrate on speed, but when we have to go, we have to go.”
Decisiveness, remember, in the quick-minded, quick-footed.
In that “go” instant, Botin takes over the mainsheet — the wing control line — from Trittel, who dashes to the opposite side of the boat to take the newly active mainsheet and begin adjusting the wing from there. Keeping the boat stable is the driver’s job in those split seconds.
Team strategist Nicole van der Velden crosses the boat with Trittel, and Botin, still on the high side, touches a foot pedal. That action lowers the idle foil from its retracted position. It will become the working foil, in the water and flying the boat, as they exit the turn.
“When the foil hits ‘lock,’ we start the turn, and Nicole takes the wheel on the low side,” Botin said. “The grinders go to work. I cross the boat, take the wheel and control flight while Joel Rodríguez, our flight controller, crosses to what becomes the new high side.
“When Joel steps in, the maneuver is done. It takes less time to do it than to tell it.”
Botin, 29, had served as a flight controller, adjusting the angles of the foils to control the ride height above the water, before being called back as helm for the event in Chicago in June. The team won the next race, at Los Angeles, on his 20th sailing day at the wheel of an F50. It was a fast ride to a fast ride.
Botin and company can expect an enthusiastic home-team reception as competition returns to Spain. Standing third for the season, they will be the youngest team in SailGP when racing opens in Cádiz, Spain.
Regarding those standings, the helmsman of first-place Australia is the Olympic gold medalist Tom Slingsby. For second-place Emirates GBR, it’s the five-time Olympic medalist Sir Ben Ainslie. From the Olympics to SailGP to airport lounges the world over, the players inhabit a bubble of familiarity, camaraderie and competition.
“There are only 10 driver seats in SailGP,” Botin said. “The key is to be obsessed.”
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