A Whale of a Practice Day for SailGP

A gang of Latitude 38 staffers boarded the Red & White Fleet’s new plug-in hybrid ferry Enhydra to view the first SailGP fleet-wide practice racing yesterday afternoon. A Bay full of ebb chop and stiff, freezing cold winds, with AC-generating fog hovering off to the west, greeted us. San Francisco Bay had donned her full-on summer mantle. The Media Day onlookers could duck into Enhydra’s pretty interior, but the 30 race crew aboard six foiling 50-ft catamarans had to cope with the cold, the gusts and even… a whale!

Japan and Australia SailGP boats
Australia Team nearly capsized in the strong breeze and rough water.
© 2019 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Chris

Practice Race #1

Principal Race Officer Iain Murray and his team had planned for three fleet races. The first started at 12:35. The boats only made it through about one and half legs before racing suddenly stopped. The race committee had spotted a whale in the racing area. (The race course lay between Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge, north of the Cityfront, with a finish line off Golden Gate Yacht Club.) Murray called for a 25-minute postponement. During that time, the wind direction shifted slightly, and the RC reset the startline, moving to farther east.

While waiting for start of the second race, the F50 cats flew back and forth on the race course, and Team China came crashing down off their foils, nearly capsizing. Kiwi skipper Phil Robertson, 31, called it “the scariest moment I have ever had on a yacht. We went into a bear-away, the conditions were fairly fresh, the boat speed built, and I just didn’t get enough rake off in the moment. The boat literally leapt out of the water and nosedived. We destroyed most of the wing.”

China Sail GP pearls
China Team buries the bows, damaging their boat and ending their day on the water.
© 2019 SailGP

Team China would thus sit out the second race of the day.

Practice Race #2

On the upwind legs, the competitors tended to seek the flatter water on the Cityfront side of the course. Team Japan, with Aussie Nathan Outteridge, 33, at the helm, dominated that two-lap race, winning the start and never giving up the lead. Outteridge, you may recall, skippered Artemis Racing in the last two America’s Cups, and medaled in the 49er at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.

Japan and USA boats with St. Francis Yacht Club in the background.
Japan Team and USA Team sailing in Race #2.
© 2019 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Chris

Race #3 never made it out of the starting blocks. Because Race #2 ended after 2:10, the RC called it a day. The races take about 15 minutes.

Post-Race Meet and Greet

The newest addition to the Latitude crew, Monica Grant, nabbed an interview with her countryman, Tom Slingsby, skipper of the all-Aussie Australia Team, which won the first SailGP event in Sydney in February. “Australian conditions, but I wasn’t that comfortable out there if I’m honest,” Slingsby confessed to Monica. “The main ebb current coupled with 20 knots of wind, in any sailing boat in the world this is a handful, those conditions, and in an F50, it’s another level. San Francisco, I don’t think we can get any crazier conditions.” Slingsby, 34, served as strategist for Oracle Team USA in the 2013 America’s Cup on SF Bay. A Laser sailor, he won gold at London 2012.

After racing, the Australian skipper, Tom Slingsby, chatted with the Latitude crew.
© 2019 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Monica

“In both those races today, we were in last place, and then we sailed a good second half and got two third places,” he told us. “The top two boats, GBR and Japan, were very clean and didn’t make the mistakes we did, so they deserved to beat us.”

The SailGP skippers
The skippers boarded Enhydra to meet the press. Left to right: Nathan Outteridge, JPN; Phil Robertson, CHN; Tom Slingsby, AUS; Dylan Fletcher, GBR; Billy Besson, FRA; and the big guy, Rome Kirby, USA.
© 2019 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Chris

Friday-Sunday at SailGP

Friday, May 3, will be the official practice day, with sailing from noon to 2:30. Weekend racing is slotted for 12:30-2 p.m. The event will conclude on Sunday afternoon with the top two teams pairing off for a match-race finale. Organizers scheduled the weekend races for slack tide, so the teams will not have to deal with the brutal ebb-whipped whitecaps they encountered on Tuesday. We’ll continue our preview of SailGP San Francisco in Friday’s ‘Lectronic Latitude. See https://sailgp.com/races/san-francisco for details.

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