Mar 2, 2022
A few months ahead of the Canada SailGP Team kicking off its first season, Phil Robertson has been named driver for the squad. “On Deck” conversation with the sailor from New Zealand.
Congratulations on your appointment as driver for the Canada SailGP Team! How does it feel to be put in the position of leading the Canadian team?
I am really looking forward to leading this team. I’ve spent the last two SailGP seasons building teams from scratch, but this one excites me the most. There is a real opportunity for this team to make a huge impact on the development of sailing in Canada and we will be working very hard to make it a success.
Tell us a bit about how you got into sailing.
I started sailing at a very young age. First, with my family in boats my dad had built. This lit the fire for me and I started to race competitively around the age of 10. The World Match Racing Championships we won in 2016 is my most cherished title. It was the realization of a long-term goal following many years of hard work. The campaign we put together peaked at the right time, which is always satisfying. It was the first of many great wins and one I will never forget.
What is your goal for this first year with the Canadian team?
First, this is a project that is so much bigger than what can be seen from the outside. A huge amount of groundwork has already taken place to get the team to this stage and a solid foundation has been put in place. On the sailing side, from here we have a lot of learning and skill development to do. Realistically, we can’t expect too much for the first few events, but I am going to be pushing hard to make sure we are competitive as soon as possible! Being competitive is the first goal, then we will reassess.
For those unaware of SailGP rules, the teams are not only made up of athletes from that team’s country. The nationality rules are in place to make the racing fairer and more competitive. What is your plan regarding the Canadian team in that respect and when will we know more about who will also be part of this team?
Our goal is to have a Canadian team that represents Canada in SailGP. We want to be a national team, so we are working hard to develop skilled Canadians who will be able to sail these boats competitively. Safety is a huge concern in these boats and that is always at the forefront of our minds. We are going to be smart about it and try to have a combination of experience and eagerness in the wider team, and build from there. We are well underway with trialing and training Canadians, but we are still a few months away from announcing our sailing team.
What are you looking for in building the crew?
The roles onboard all require different skill sets and backgrounds. We’re looking for people with experience in foiling and high performance boats to take on the flight control, wing trimming and driving roles and then some big, heavy and strong people for the grinding positions onboard. This is the base and then we are really looking at personality, character and other added skills, because we are really focusing hard on building a great team.
What do you think you will enjoy most about sailing for Canada?
I am really looking forward to leading this team for Canada. I’ll really enjoy the challenge of developing Canada’s sailors to be competitive against the best sailors in the world. This motivates me and I’m sure it will inspire all Canadians sailors to do the same.
Did you have a chance to try any Canadian food during your recent visit to Montreal?
Poutine! That was heavy.
Do you like to play ice hockey? Lacrosse? Go ice boating?
I would love to play ice hockey, but I can’t stop when I skate. It is one of my dreams to try ice boating. I’m in the market for a boat and waiting for the chance to get on the ice!
What is your favourite hockey team?
Tre Kronor, the Swedish National Team, mainly because I live in Sweden and they are quite good. I guess my preference for hockey teams might change fairly quickly though…
Can you think of two similarities between New Zealand and Canada?
Culture and nature. I really think the cultures are quite similar and we conduct ourselves in a similar way. Both countries have masses of untouched nature which is enjoyed and utilized by Canadians and Kiwis who have active lifestyles.
What’s up next for you?
First on the card is to wrap up Sail GP Season 2 with the Spanish team, making sure we finish strong next month at the grand final in San Francisco! Then we will go full steam ahead into trialing, training and getting our sailing team up skilled for our big debut! It’ll be exciting, that’s for sure!