North Sails NEWS

DOUBLEHANDED DREAM

Sam Fitzgerald Has Been Cutting His Teeth in the Class40 With Paris 2024 Aspirations In Sight

With nearly 20-thousand miles under his belt, Sam Fitzgerald is no stranger to the challenges of going offshore, especially with only two sets of hands onboard. A naval architect and seasoned Class40 racer, with accolades in races like the New England Solo Twin, Bermuda 1-2, Atlantic Cup, and Defi Atlantique, Fitzgerald has sights set on being a part of the latest event added to the Olympic Games, doublehanded offshore sailing. 

Read on below as Fitzgerald talks about his introduction to shorthanded sailing:

How did you get your first opportunities in doublehanded sailing?

I didn’t really get into doublehanded sailing until my early twenties and growing up in Connecticut, there weren’t a lot of opportunities to try it out either. I hope the discipline continues to grow in the US. More yacht clubs are providing opportunities for younger sailors to get into shorthanded sailing.

What was your first shorthanded sailing experience like? 

My first shorthanded experience was one of those magical experiences you see in movies. We had a bomber run from Charleston to NYC in our Class40 during The Atlantic Cup and ended up fourth on the leg. We finished just before sunrise with our A2 up, screaming past the Statue of Liberty. It was truly amazing! After that, I was completely hooked and knew I wanted to pursue a career.

What maybe not so obvious skills did you need to learn or develop to be able to shorthanded sail? 

Something that might not be so obvious to some is the need for organization and foresight. If you can’t organize your boat properly and be able to foresee your next step-up or step-down gearchange, then your maneuvers are going to take forever. Shorthanded sailboats are set up to easily complete tasks around the boat, but it also means there are about four times the number of lines you need to manage. On top of that, being able to use brute force to complete a task won’t work. This leads to winches always being used which leads to being locked out quickly. It’s really important for a shorthanded sailor to know exactly what needs to be done to step up and step down because if you see a squall line coming through and you call your co-skipper the last thing you have time for is to explain what to do next. 

In the US, where shorthanded sailing isn’t as popular, how have you made a name for yourself? 

Shorthanded sailing has begun to gain traction in the US, however, it isn’t nearly as popular as other disciplines. In order to make a name for myself, I have tried to look for every opportunity there is to compete doublehanded, whether small local regattas, deliveries, and traveling often for overseas events. The shorthanded sailing community is obviously even smaller than the sailing community, so getting to know people is really important. I’ve used my network through the years to find racing partners overseas. 

What are your Paris 2024 aspirations? What are you doing to prepare? What do you think of the format? 

 2024 might be far away for some, but for the small community of shorthanded sailors in the US like myself, it’s right around the corner. With the newest sailing discipline added last year, everyone is scrambling to find the right co-skipper, training platform, and funding. As of now, I am continuing to train on my Class40 whenever I can, even if it means doing some maneuvers around the bay for a few hours. Off the water, I have a workout regime and I cycle as much as possible. The format of the event is fairly straight forward, a three-four day offshore race out and back. 

In terms of offshore sailing, this is on the short side, so teams will be able to go all out. What will be interesting to see, besides the platform they choose, is the equipment allowed and/or supplied to the competitors? Will routing be allowed, or will the World Sailing take a page out of the Mini 6.5 class and make it illegal? If routing is allowed, to what extent and what equipment is supplied if any? Only time will tell. 

What advice would you give someone who is interested in doublehanded sailing?

If you’re interested in doublehanded sailing, I say go out and do it! You don’t need an offshore racing sailboat to try it out, find a friend, and a boat. Take turns trying to sail it with two people and see how you like it.