There are few wing trimmers on the SailGP circuit with the depth of knowledge and experience that British sailor Paul Campbell James has accumulated over the last decade of racing high-performance catamarans.
After winning the Optimist UK national championship at the age of 12, Campbell-James was active on the international Olympic circuit in the 49er class and on the World Match Racing Tour.
Following an overall season victory in the Extreme Sailing Series he and fellow Brit Chris Draper were recruited by the Italian America’s Cup syndicate Luna Rossa who were hungry for experienced multihull sailors in the lead up to the 34th America’s Cup in San Francisco.
When his buddy Draper got the nod as helmsman on the Italian AC72 for the Louis Vuitton Series, Campbell-James became a performance analyst – a role in which he was able to gain an understanding of how everything worked aboard the complex flying catamaran.
For AC35 he switched teams to sail with Ben Ainslie’s British America’s Cup team as wing trimmer where over weeks and months of training sessions he honed his skills and knowledge of how to coax the best out of the towering wing sails.
Soon after that Cup cycle finished Campbell-James joined the fledgling SailGP circuit – initially as a coach and then sailor with the Chinese team, and later as coach for the Spanish syndicate.
When the circuit returned after Covid he was set to sail with the French team – before being recruited by Jimmy Spithill to race with the American team for the remainder of Season 2 and into Season 3.
I caught up with Campbell-James in San Francisco at the closing event of the SailGP circuit’s second season to quiz him about the intricacies of F50 wing trimming role.
Keep the comms coming….
“The wing trimmer is kind of the speed guy,” Campbell-James tells me. “So it is my job to make sure that the boat is going on the target numbers the whole time. If we are fast I have to tell Rome [Kirby, flight controller] to bring the boat down and Jimmy [Spithill, helmsman] to round the boat up a little bit.
“If we are slow then it’s the opposite: Rome will lift the boat up, I will bring a little more windward heel on and we will try and increase speed.”
“There’s a tactical loop,” he explains. “On our boat we have a tactician [Andrew Campbell] – which isn’t the case on every boat. I have to make sure that when Jimmy needs to focus on speed he does that. When he isn’t able to focus on speed, it is then my job to make his life easy.”
Sailing by numbers…..
In his role as wing trimmer aboard the American F50 foiling catamaran Campbell-James is constantly monitoring the blue boat’s performance relative to its standard polar numbers. But that’s not to say there is no room for experience and gut feel.
“There is a suggested boat speed that you can sail at all times,” he says. “But there is a little bit of interpretation around that.
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