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The Incident We Didn’t See at SailGP

We thought we had SailGP pretty well covered last weekend. We had crew on the press boat and ashore taking photos and notes on the two days of racing; we also attended the press conferences. Despite this, we still missed some interesting moments, and readers captured some of what we didn’t see at SailGP.

Capt. Jon Johnson, skipper of the Pearson 33-2 S/V Invictus, was on the water watching the racing from the sidelines with friends when an incident took place nearby. He wrote to give us his account of what took place. Reportedly, around 20 feet away, the former America’s Cup boat USA 76 was moving through the spectator fleet “right on the edge of the exclusion zone, carrying full canvas (as well as a full boat of passengers) and a great deal of speed,”

A short time later, Johnson’s friend and first mate was facing the stern when he saw USA 76 “barreling through the crowd carrying full sail heading east.” The first mate described the boat as cutting too close to a sloop that was slowly motoring in the same direction, “so USA 76 was the overtaking, and thus give-way, vessel.

“USA 76 then made a last-minute turn to starboard to avoid a collision, but in doing so turned into the wind (which was coming out of the south at the time) and increased his heel angle, which resulted in his mast, rigging and sail colliding [with] the mast and rigging of the other sloop.”

SailGP AC boat torn main
The leech of USA76‘s mainsail displayed damage in the aftermath.
© 2022 Jon Johnson

It appeared to the Invictus crew that no one on the sloop had been hurt in the incident, but Johnson, a professional charter captain, expressed his concerns. “I understand the desire to show your clients a good time and make sure they get their money’s worth. However, this kind of incredibly poor judgment is not only dangerous, but reflects poorly upon the entire sailing community.”

Invictus wasn’t the only boat that watched the incident unfold. Scott Ritter of the M/V Wolke, out of Sausalito, also witnessed the two boats’ tango. “I watched Oracle [USA 76] thread the needle through the spectator fleet and snag the rig of a sailboat under power.” And while he didn’t capture the moment on video, Scott did get a video of the torn-sailed USA 76 going past.

A screenshot from the video sent in by Scott Ritter. 
© 2022 Scott Ritter

You can watch the video on YouTube.

As you can (hopefully) see, this story is not a joke for April Fools’ Day. These are unfortunate situations, but they are also moments from which we can all learn to improve outcomes in our own sailing lives. We did speak with USA 76 owner Brad Webb, who was not aboard that day but shared his regret for the incident and is grateful no one on board the snagged spectator boat or USA 76 was hurt. He said this is their first contact after 11 years and taking 28,000 people sailing on San Francisco Bay. They are in touch with both the Coast Guard and the owner of the other vessel to investigate the incident, take care of any damage, and learn whatever can be learned to avoid future problems. Of course, we were not there or onboard so won’t engage in speculation, and will let Brad and team sort through the details.

Sailing activity continues to ramp up with SailGP creating an explosive sailing weekend on the Bay. We’ll have some more angles on the eventful weekend to share next week. If you have other perspectives to pass along send them to [email protected] and we’ll share them in the magazine, ‘Lectronic Latitude, or our monthly Sailagram feed.

1 Comment

  1. Robert Temple 10 months ago

    It’s nice to see world class racing back in the bay. I viewed from the water on Saturday, and on TV Sunday. The final races were delayed by collisions, low winds, and whales in the racing area.

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