Brotherly Love Has Its Limits When Sailing

It’s an old sailing joke that whenever two or more sailboats are within sight and on similar courses, they are informally racing.

Now, imagine that you are sailing in a world-class regatta and your brother owns one of the other yachts.

That is facing Greg and Todd Slyngstad, brothers who are scheduled to race their high-performance catamarans in the same multihull class at this year’s Les Voiles de St. Barth Richard Mille.

The brothers grew up in San Jose, Calif., and learned to sail on Monterey Bay as children, but serious racing came later. Greg, 67, and now retired, moved to Seattle almost 40 years ago and spent his career in the tech industry, including at Microsoft, Expedia and Kayak. Todd, 58, and the youngest of the family’s eight siblings, lives in Santa Cruz, Calif., and he owns a grading and paving company.

Both brothers admit that theirs is a competitive relationship. “It’s in our DNA,” Todd said, adding that he’s the more competitive one. “I can kill him on the golf course.”

Greg doesn’t dispute his brother’s nature but was clear on the score. “In our head-to-head sailing, I am in the lead,” he said.

Todd, left, and Greg Slyngstad at the Caribbean Multihull Challenge last year in Simpson Bay, St. Maarten.Credit…Laurens Morel

To be fair, Greg had a head start, in years and in experience owning raceboats and managing successful crews. This year is his seventh time competing at Les Voiles de St. Barth and his fifth aboard Fujin, his custom-designed Bieker 53 catamaran, which he built in 2015.

By contrast, his brother built Nemo, an HH66 catamaran, in 2020 and said that he has sailed with the same core crew since launching the boat. This is his first time competing at the regatta.

“I wanted a boat that would be competitive with Fujin,” he said of his decision to build Nemo.

While Fujin and Nemo have only gone toe-to-toe a handful of times, all sailboats have their sweet-spot conditions.

“I think sailing in the trade winds generally favors [Fujin],” Greg said. “In lighter winds, Nemo is favored.”

While the weather varies at Les Voiles, the trade winds typically blow 15 to 20 knots in mid-April on the waters surrounding St. Barthélemy.

There are also the regatta’s different racecourses and their underwater obstacles.

“St. Barths has lots of shorter legs around various rocks and islands, which means frequent sail changes and shifting gears,” Greg said. “Fujin has had mostly the same crew racing on the boat for seven years, so we have more experience on our boat, and it is smaller than Nemo, so sail handling is a little easier.”

Nemo’s crew may have logged fewer miles on the boat than Fujin’s crew (Covid-19 didn’t help Nemo’s first seasons), but given that the brothers sail with professional and high-level amateur crews, experience with the regatta can be imported.

“Most of my crew has participated in this event many times and are familiar with the conditions [and] currents,” Todd said, adding that his team had planned on at least 11 racing and practice days before the regatta began.

While Fujin won the Caribbean Multihull Challenge in February, the team did not race again until Les Voiles.

Then there’s the issue of racing boats of different designs. While Fujin and Nemo are racing in the same multihull class — a happy coincidence of the brothers’ schedules, rather than an intentional head-to-head meeting — Nemo’s hulls are 13 feet longer and its mast about 36 feet taller.

This means that Nemo owes Fujin time using the regatta’s chosen handicap system (think golf handicaps); it also means that both teams need to be mindful of the big picture and not just boat-on-boat tactics.

“Tactics play a big role, but we owe them so much time that the clock becomes an important factor,” Todd said.

Still, the brothers were clear about their goals.

“We won the multihull class in St. Barths in 2019, and that is our goal for this year,” said Greg, who also won his class in 2017. “We can’t win our class without beating Nemo.”

His brother, however, remains optimistic. “Hopefully,” he said, “Fujin will get tired of Nemo’s stern throughout the event!”

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