Will the SailGP rival the America’s Cup as was hoped?
The first ever edition of the SailGP was held in Sydney Harbour early in Feb. The SailGP is a spin off of the 35th America’s Cup, and is sailed on updated F50’s. The changes to the F50’s mainly include a revised hydraulics system making them the world’s most technologically advanced catamarans. There’s no doubt that these ’50’s are fast, but is it a case of we’ve seen this before?
Sydney Harbour provided the perfect amphitheater for the season kick off to almost 20000 people. It was clever to start the series off in Sydney, Australia, where sailing is one of their national sports. This almost guaranteed a massive following and spectator support from the start. It will be interesting to see if the same level of interest and support carries through to the other venues. The SailGP doesn’t carry the prestige of the America’s Cup, but it would take decades of brand building to come even close to rival one of the world’s oldest sporting challenges. One also has to get used to seeing the boats as National teams in their country’s colours as opposed to a combined National and commercial team as is the case in the Cup.
Six National teams battled it out to get the first points on the leaderboard and closer to the $1million Season 1 prize. In front of cheering crowds, the green and gold F50, Australia SailGP, helmed by local hero Tom Slingsby, won the final race of the day to earn the title over Japan.
The Olympic gold medallist and his crew of flight controller and tactician Jason Waterhouse, wing trimmer Kyle Langford, grinders Sam Newton and Ky Hurst, and Kinley Fowler gave a masterclass to the rest of the fleet. Though it was pre-race favourite Nathan Outteridge and his Japanese team who were leading going into the final day and who looked set to upset the home crowd, Slingsby and his team were quick off the block on the second day, winning the first race and following it up with another race win.
A second and a third for Outteridge’s Japan team guaranteed their place in the final match race and a chance to go head to head against the home team and line up against a close friend and fierce rival. The Australian team’s practice sessions over the last few weeks paid off, and they lead the Japanese off the start and never looked back. “We don’t take losing lightly and that first race of the event really shot us into gear,” Slingsby said. “I couldn’t be happier with how today went. I hold my team to a high standard and they really over delivered. Japan finished the first event with 45 points, three behind the Australians.
“Compared to the Australians, we’ve only done five days as a sailing team and I think that was what showed against them. But the fact we were even racing was incredible and to make the match race was just awesome. I am really proud of the whole team and what we have achieved in such a short time,” said Outteridge.
Third overall on the leaderboard with 36 points was Great Britain skippered by Dylan Fletcher. The British team under the command of Olympian Chris Draper was quick off the start and showed moments of promise but admitted they would be studying the data to ensure they were faster and more polished for San Francisco.
SailGP CEO Russell Coutts concluded, “A huge congratulations to Tom, Nathan and their teams. It has been a fantastic event and I want to say thank you to Sydney for supporting the event. It has been a great venue to launch SailGP.”
Next stop for the SailGP is San Francisco, from May 4-5, 2019. The young guns of the United States Team will be hoping to emulate Slingsby’s success and score a victory on home waters. It will be interesting to watch the SailGP sailed in the hallowed grounds of the 34th America’s Cup where the stunning victory of Oracle Team USA is still fresh in the minds of the most ardent sailing fans.