Students enjoy chance to get close to World’s fastest boats

The fastest sailboats on the planet are back in town this week for two days of high-speed, high-tech, and high-impact racing with the SailGP international competition.

Sailing on performance F50 foiling catamarans, SailGP teams compete across a season of multiple grands prix around the world, and this weekend will showcase the event’s season four grand final on San Francisco Bay.

Besides the sheer excitement that the racing incites, the SailGP event has a community component known as Inspire which gives kids an opportunity to get up front and close to the F50 catamaran as well as the professionals who work with these intense boats at SailGP’s tech site near Pier 80 in San Francisco.

Inspire has two major components: a learning program, and the Inspire x WASZP racing program.

Several groups of Marin kids will get an opportunity to participate in the Inspire learning program which is STEM based and has kids participating in an array of activities relating to sailing and how the F50 works, explained Renee Corpuz-Lahne, local Inspire program coordinator.

Marin kids participating include a group who take sailing as part of the physical education program at San Rafael High School, Galilee Harbor (Sausalito) home school kids, and Spaulding Boat Works youth apprentices.

“Starting on Tuesday and running through Thursday, with up to three sessions per day, the Inspire learning program mostly targets kids who have not previously had access to the world of sailing so we’re literally trying to inspire them about how sailing works,” Corpuz-Lahne explained. “We connect with local schools around the event tech site, which is where all the teams and their boats live, and this year we have about 10 different schools from that area who will be participating in addition to the Marin groups.”

Heather Richard, a board member at Spaulding Boat Works in Sausalito, connected with SailGP early on to take the Galilee home school kids to the Inspire program but she also wanted to include the youth attending Spaulding Boat Works apprenticeship program. In all, she’ll accompany six young adults ages 18-28 from Spaulding Boat Works who are apprenticing in marine technology, and eight home-school kids ages 8-16 years.

“Our apprenticeship program is fairly new, but I thought it would be a good learning experience to see how the industry is evolving with technology and boat building,” Richard said. “The kids are super excited, and I have a lot of volunteers who want to come as well. They want to do the field trip, too!” Richard laughed.

She added, “The apprentices can check out the new technology coming down the pipeline in boat building and design, and observe how things are engineered and put together, and how SailGP as a traveling program problem solves in terms of setting up temporary shops, how they set up everything they need to work on the race boats on site and be mobile around the world. For the younger kids, it’s about STEM science and physics, we’ll focus on how the boats work, what makes them fly, the concept of hydro foiling and some of the materials that the boats are constructed from and why those materials are used.”

CJ Healy, a high school physical education teacher who teaches the San Rafael High physical education sailing class will accompany some 35 of her students currently on roster and seven teaching assistants to attend the Inspire program this week.

“We’ve watched videos about the racing and the kids kind of understand it, but I think until you actually see these boats sailing you don’t really understand what it’s all about, especially for those who aren’t sailors yet,” Healy said. “Most of them have never seen sailboat racing in their life so we’ll be learning about the racing, the technology and engineering behind the boats, hull, and sail design.”

Healy noted that last year her students got to watch the SailGP racing from the shore, which was an invaluable experience for them, and this year weather permitting, she hopes to get her group of kids out on the water to watch the racing, or alternately, they will watch shoreside from Crissy Field.

“It was such an amazing experience to see the boats actually racing and I think that is why I have so many teaching assistants coming back this year, they just got so excited about sailing after that event,” Healy said. “It is just so thrilling; these are the fastest boats in the world with the most highly paid
professional sailors in the world and it’s here in our backyard.”

This year’s event is well-timed for Healy’s sailing students who are just learning how to sailboat race.

“We’re about to learn some basic racing and we’re going to have the Bulldog Cup Regatta on May 20, where the students will race each other in very short races and there is a perpetual trophy at stake!” Healy smiled. “We’re working on learning the rules of racing right now so this opportunity to know more about racing through SailGP is special.”

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Henry Vare, 14, a freshman at Redwood High, finished second in the youth (under-19) division, and sixth overall in a 60-strong fleet at the inaugural Spring Wingding Pacific Coast Championship held recently on San Francisco Bay, followed by a first place in the junior division and second overall at the 2023 Wingfoil Racing North American Championships held in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

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