Fuelling ambition

We speak to Australian sailor Kyle Langford as he prepares for his latest Ocean Race campaign.

Written by Jack O'Rourke
Photography by Volvo Ocean Race / SailGP

05 May 2020


Australian sailor Kyle Langford has just come off an Australian sailing season that saw him compete in the Moth Class in December, join Comanche for the 2019 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race campaign, and return to home waters for the second season of SailGP.

But Kyle is not content with sitting idle so, for the European summer season, he has relocated to Sweden where he will focus his attention on preparing for The Ocean Race in 2021–22. This gruelling 38,000-nautical-mile round-the-world race will see both IMOCA 60s and VO65s take part this year.

Sails spoke to Kyle from his new base in Gothenburg as he adjusts to life in isolation.

With professional sailing suspended for the foreseeable future, how have things changed for you?

I had signed up with 11th Hour Racing for the next Ocean Race – we have a test boat in Lorient (France) that has just had a big re-fit over the winter so we were going to launch that. We’ve got new foils there, some new control systems on board as well as new systems.


I was meant to be sailing there now but that is obviously on hold because the facilities in France were shut down. They have just started to re-open, so hopefully in the next few months we’ll be able to get that boat out of the water and get sailing again.

With enforced downtime, how are you keeping fit during lockdown?

I’ve been doing a lot of bike riding! I’ve bought a bike trainer because obviously you can’t be outside, and I’ve got a computer program that links it up to the computer.

I’ve got a bunch of mates all around the world who have the same program. It’s a bit nerdy, I guess, but together with guys in France, Spain, America, Australia and the UK, we set a time to meet and go on a virtual ride together. You’ve got the earpiece in and you’re chatting away and it’s quite nice. When there’s a hill, everyone puts themselves on mute so we can’t hear each other panting away!

The great thing about being in teams is that you’re always there pushing each other.

It’s nice to be able to still train with your mates and have that social interaction, even though you’re isolated, and be able to push yourself and have some competition. 

Have you found any inventive ways of continuing your training specifically for sailing?

For the Ocean Race team, I have a simulator that’s quite an important tool for development. I use a laptop and a PlayStation steering wheel. It looks like a computer game, but what I’m really doing is testing and developing the boat as well as different foil shapes.

Fortunately, we’ve got a good design team that is still working full-time on coming up with different ideas and concepts, which I then test on the computer. So despite not going on the water, I’m still learning a lot and staying very engaged.

It’s a painstaking process because you need to be quite methodical when you’re testing. It’s very similar to the way Emirates Team New Zealand tested a lot of their stuff in the last America’s Cup; they did it all on the simulator.

When I was with Oracle, we didn’t have a simulator; we were testing stuff on the water. It would take us over a year to test five different foils so a simulator is a very effective way of learning quickly, developing, and getting the process moving along.

Are you excited about rejoining The Ocean Race?

It’s super exciting. The difference between this race and the last one is there is now a new class of boat in the race – the IMOCA 60s.

For me, personally, I love developments and collaborating with the team to come up with new ideas that perhaps haven’t been thought about before.  I love the challenge of the design and development process leading up to the race. We need to spend a lot of time on the water developing the equipment and making sure that it’s reliable and the boat is going fast.

The race itself is incredibly tough. I’m hoping that by the time the race comes around again I will have forgotten how painful it is and be ready to go again for another lap!

How do you prepare for such a gruelling race? Is it just hours on the water or is it mental preparation as well? 

It’s quite hard to prepare because there’s nothing else like it. For me, in the last race, it was all mental. Having to motivate yourself to keep performing at 100 percent when you’ve been at sea for 18 days and you’re tired and don’t want to be there can be quite difficult. The only way we can test ourselves is to be out there racing.  

With Season 2 of SailGP rescheduled to 2021, are you keeping up communication with the rest of your Australian SailGP teammates?

It’s very hard to stay super focused on that as the season has been put on hold for this year. Our coach Philippe Presti has been sending through videos and different playbooks to think about though.

What effect do you think SailGP has had on international sailing? 

I’ve had a lot of young kids send me messages and come up and ask me about it – SailGP provides something for young kids to look up to and aspire to do.

For the sport of sailing, it’s created an annual event that’s in the global spotlight. Anybody can watch it; you just download the app. It’s the kind of platform that can keep going. It’s very important for the sport of sailing to have something like that. 

What advice do you have to young sailors out there who want to improve their sailing while the yacht clubs and the regattas are off?

It’s very difficult to improve your physical sailing skills when you’re not out there on the water, but my one piece of advice would be to look at the other skills that you might need to go sailing.

If you’re a young sailor and want to go sailing on larger yachts, there are a lot of skills you need that add value to the team. On Comanche, for example, there are dedicated sailmakers, mechanics and people who know their way around the hydraulics and the electronics. There are so many different skills out there and you can learn most of them online.


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