The Inside Track on Professional Superyacht Racing
Superyachts are traditionally built for their elegance and style, designed to the owner’s specification for their personal comfort and enjoyment, not for the high-octane ocean racetrack.
But when an owner experiences the exhilaration of seeing their superyacht perform at speed, adrenaline kicks in. They can get hooked on the thrill and excitement and many want to see what the superyacht racing calendar has to offer globally.
The superyacht race circuit typically starts with cruising yachts up to 40ft doing the Annual Ark Race from Gran Canaria to St Lucia as a taster for the big races. Then Antigua Superyacht for 115ft superyachts, St Barth’s Bucket for invited yachts over 100ft and a small percentage racing Palma Superyacht. But superyachts have to be race-ready and that takes time and planning. That’s where Mo Gray and his trusted team of professional sailors come in.
Mo heads up the running of the global race programme for many superyachts. Starting his career as a pro sailor, Mo was originally selected for the Olympic sailing team in the 2000 Sydney Games. He went from dinghy’s to America’s Cup and spent two amazing years as part of GBR Challenge. With big keel boat experience, he was in pole position to handle the biggest, fastest and most luxurious yachts in the world. There are only 500 professional sailors worldwide, so they’re certainly an elite bunch, but then pro sailing is notoriously hard to get into.
Typically, you might track from dinghy to keel boat, but then you’ve got to build up a wealth of experience and trust from your fellow crew over years, before being hand-picked to take on the most expensive and largest yachts. A superyacht Captain or Owner might bring in 15 crew to race the yacht, every single one selected with absolute confidence that they not only have the expertise and knowledge to carry out their role be it; bowman, helmsman, tactician, navigator or trimmer but also that they can be trusted to behave impeccably on board, 24/7.
The crew often have a few days before racing, to familiarise themselves with the boat. Like any Grand Prix, there will be a detailed de-brief, review of telemetry, target boat speed and rudder angles, not to mention the sails, kite and rigging to set up. The superyacht itself has to be modified, since most haven’t been built for the race circuit. To optimise performance superyachts require various upgrades including; bow sprit, race sails and composite rigging to reduce weight from the mast. The fuel and water tanks are also run down to reduce its overall weight.
It’s not just the vessel itself either, with permanent crew on board, it might take a reduced number up to 4 weeks to get the superyacht into race mode, removing anything that could get damaged during racing, for example; glassware, artwork, crockery, soft furnishings and cockpit furniture. Transferring everything into storage.
Because of an increased fascination with the racing circuit, superyachts are now coming out of the yards more performance orientated, looking sleeker, more lightweight with the built-in performance upgrades already factored in, like composite rigging and bow sprits. Mo explained “Superyacht racing is unique, we get to race these spectacular yachts, in a high-octane environment, show the owner what their yacht is really capable of, travel the world and spend time in the most luxurious of surroundings.”
"It’s a hard industry for race crew to break into though, you’ve got to build up trust, experience and credibility as a professional racer to be able to handle 90 tonnes at 20 knots!"