There’s a moment in the TV coverage of Canada’s debut on the global SailGP circuit that perfectly summed up Fred Pye’s sense of pride.
After finishing second in their opening race in Bermuda this past May, Phil Robertson skippered Canada SailGP to a thrilling victory in Race 2 later that day.
“Indescribable,” said Pye, the team’s founder. “The guy who’s running the reality TV show camera, he pulls off his headset, he’s crying. He says ‘You can’t script this. You can’t script it.’ ”
Four races later, Canada SailGP is fourth in the overall standings heading into this weekend’s event at Saint-Tropez, France. The 11th and final race is May 6-7, 2023 in San Francisco.
Pye, a Canadian entrepreneur, is a longtime sailing enthusiast. His friend Peter Kelly was an avid sailor who donated countless hours to teaching junior sailors and sailors with disabilities.
“[Kelly] unfortunately got a radical cancer and died very quickly,” Pye said. “I said ‘Let’s take his dream to the next level.’ ”
Pye donated to a charity to buy sailboats in an effort to get kids involved in the sport.
“We put some-60 kids on the water last year,” he said. “Our goal is to get thousands of kids on the water in the next five years.”
He was then was introduced to SailGP by Tyler Bjorn, who sailed for Canada at the 2012 Olympics.
“I binge-watched it on YouTube, and absolutely fell in love with it,” Pye said.
Pye then met Formula One icons Ron Dennis, the founder of McLaren, and David Richards, the former team principal of BAR and Benetton Formula One motor racing teams.
“I sat with them one morning and asked them, ‘Would you buy a sports franchise all over again? You were there at the beginning of F1, it must have been a rocky road, and now it’s fantastic. Would you do it all over again?’ ” Pye said.
“They both looked at me and said unequivocally, absolutely they would do it again.”
Pye compares the 10-team SailGP circuit, which debuted in 2018 with six teams, to Formula One racing. But he believes it’s better, particularly amid mounting environmental concerns.
“These boats go 100 kilometres an hour, what we call ‘racing on the edge,’ which would be equated to a car doing 300 miles an hour,” Pye said of the sport.
The F50 catamaran includes a crew of up to five people. The wing towers up to 29 metres above the water, about the height of a seven-storey building. Hydrofoils lift the boat out of the water which reduces drag and allows for the high speed.
The events are fan friendly, with three 15-minute races held in a two-hour period. The entire race can be seen from the grandstand, and feature dramatic lead changes, crashes, capsizes and crazy conditions. And from Singapore’s skyline to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, the backdrops are stunning.
The races draw 70 million viewers from 198 countries.
Canada SailGP has 22 minority owners, including Super Bowl champion and Montreal native Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, who will be in Saint-Tropez for this weekend’s racing.
“Canada is late to the game, but it’s our first step of really changing sailing in Canada,” Pye said. “My inspiration was to get kids away from the TV and the computer screen and get them back into Canada’s most natural resource, which is water. Canada has more shoreline than any country anywhere in the world.”
Pye believes SailGP’s environmental sustainability will be what ultimately draws fans, the media and corporate sponsors to the sport in Canada.
“We’re powered by nature,” Pye said. “This isn’t just greenwashing a sport And don’t get me wrong, I am a very big Formula One fan, but I wouldn’t be buying a Formula One team until they can figure out a lot of their environmental impact.”
The circuit has a trophy for environmental sustainability initiatives. Ocean Wise signed on with Canada SailGP as it’s “Race for the Future” partner, to collaborate on outreach and education on protecting and restoring the ocean.
Pye said he made his money in the investment industry and digital currencies. He’s chair and CEO of 3iQ Corp., which won a landmark decision from the Ontario Securities Commission in late 2019 approving the world’s first public investment fund devoted to Bitcoin.
“But that’s a job,” he said in a phone interview from France, back at his hotel after an 80-kilometre bike ride.
The legacy he wants to leave, he said, is in sailing, and helping make the sport accessible to all Canadians.
Canada hopes to host a race next season, with Montreal, Halifax, Victoria, and Kingston, Ont., on the shortlist. A decision will be announced in the next few weeks.
“I think that would be a great achievement for Canada, and for sailing in Canada for sure,” he said.
The series next heads to Cadiz, in Andalusia in southwest Spain, for the sixth stop, Sept. 24-25.