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SailGP Rewards “the Best Sailors in the World”

On one of most bizarre weather days in recent memory on San Francisco Bay, the Mubadala SailGP showcased its Season 2 finale in front of thousands of enthusiastic sailing fans who lined the shore from Crissy Field to the Golden Gate Yacht Club. Unfortunately, due to freakish winds out of the south, most of the action was far away from those who packed the stands and the adjacent host yacht clubs.

Fans in the stands
The spectators in the sold-out bleachers were bundled up for the weather.
© 2022 Mark Reid

Saturday’s Racing

Saturday wasn’t ideal for Team USA, as Spithill admitted. “We made a lot of mistakes out there, to be honest, but for us the focus is that we take the lessons from today and make sure the F50 is in one piece for that last race, and then put the throttle down.” Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

Slingsby, known by his competitors as “the red mist” for his volatile intensity, threw a little fuel on the barbie, stating that, “I’ve heard on the grapevine that the US team is trying new things, but if I was them, I would cancel those plans and get back to what they know, because they didn’t look too good.”

Sunday’s Races and the SailGP Grand Finale

A wayward whale, likely making its voyage home, threw a wrench into the podium finale, but it served as a reminder of one of SailGP’s pillar purposes, its Impact League and our responsibilities as custodians of our increasingly fragile planet.

“When they spotted the whale [during the podium race], I thought we were being punked! Is this a joke or what?” said Slingsby. “It’s good for us. We know as soon as the pressure’s on we’re going to be hard to beat. We perform better when the pressure’s on.”

Team USA and Team Australia
Unfortunately for Team USA, the first start to the championship race was abandoned due to a whale sighting.
© 2022 Mark Reid

Just in the nick of time before a much-needed rain storm swept through, Tom Slingsby and his Australian Team received that million-dollar check, having won the season championship for a second straight season. Team Japan, skippered by Nathan Outteridge, came in second, and Team USA’s Jimmy Spithill limped home third, doing all he could do to keep his boat afloat after an unfortunate collision with the Spanish boat in Sunday’s first race.

Japan boat
Australian Nathan Outteridge skippered the Japanese boat to second place for the season. Sorry, Nate — no steak knives.
© 2022 Mark Reid

“If it’s the America’s Cup, they’ve got different designs and one boat’s faster than the other, but to be here with all even boats and Australia came out on top, we can call ourselves the best sailors in the world,” said Slingsby. “That’s more important than the money, that’s more important than anything, that we can say we’re the best sailors in the world. Money comes and goes but glory lasts forever. We really feel it is like that!”

Australia team champagne celebration
The Australian Team, led by Tom Slingsby (holding the trophy) with Nina Curtis, know how to celebrate!
© 2022 Mark Reid

This wasn’t the weekend that Spithill expected. Least of all the un-San Francisco-like weather! “At the end of the day you really have to credit the Aussies. They have been the benchmark team all season, and to do it back-to-back, it’s very impressive. They deserve the win,” said Spithill. “I think Tom got off the line well. I think we were going to get off pretty well. We thought at one of the top line gates we were going to have a shot.”

The much-anticipated final race started with Team USA taking the early lead, but the race was abandoned after the whale was sighted on the course. In line with SailGP’s policy to protect marine life, racing was halted for 15 minutes. In the restarted race, Australia dominated, managing to find an area of better pressure on the racecourse. The Aussies opened up an early lead and never relinquished it as the teams battled increasingly difficult conditions and patchy wind.

The Fateful Collision

The first race of the day had sealed the Americans’ fate. Spain, with their untested helmsman Jordi Xammer, collided with Spithill, climbing up the side of the Team USA’s brilliant blue hull as they forced their way inside the Americans at the leeward gate. The Spanish team’s curved hydrofoil slid under, and then sliced a large hole in the sealed back end of the US boat. The team narrowly avoided serious damage. Flight controller Rome Kirby had to jump out of the way of Spain’s red hull.

Spain crashes into USA
The Spanish boat rear-ended the Americans at speed coming into the leeward gate.
© 2022 Louis Kruk

Spithill did not even flinch as the shore team quickly assessed damage and replaced the rudder. They sat out Race 5 to complete the repairs with an eye to compete in the final, while more action unfolded and another collision happened between France and New Zealand.

“The collision wasn’t ideal, that’s for sure, but the main thing is everyone walked away and there were no injuries. We were able to do repairs,” said Spithill.

Shifty, Puffy Winds

On a day when the wind gods confirmed SailGP CEO Russell Coutts and regatta director Iain Murray’s worst fears and presented an enormous challenge, Coutts summed it up by saying, “You couldn’t have asked for a worse day!” The weather did a turnaround. A strong westerly wind that was blowing straight down the course from the Golden Gate Bridge gave way to an unreliable southerly.

In the final race (take 2), Slingsby dominated the start and then found a gust of wind, powering Australia to a massive lead at the first mark. By then it was over. They clinched the million-dollar prize to be shared by the six sailors on the winning boat and their support staff. “We’ve been through a lot of things,” said Slingsby. “Four out of the six [Australian] sailing team were part of the 8-1 [America’s Cup] comeback here in 2013, and a lot of people talk about Jimmy [Spithill, skipper of Oracle Team USA in that extraordinary 34th America’s Cup victory], how Jimmy had this amazing comeback on San Francisco waters, but no one realized that four out of our six sailors were actually part of that.

“I just know that with my team, if things are going against us, we’re never going to give up. We’ve proven it time and time again, and I have faith and confidence in our team,” said Slingsby. “It’s amazing!”

Impact League

In the day’s other historic milestone, Peter Burling and Blair Tuke’s New Zealand team claimed the top prize in SailGP’s inaugural Impact League, presented by marine biologist Dr. Sylvia Earle. At SailGP, athletes race for two podiums, one for sport and one for the planet. The trophy is made from carbon fiber and depicts the Earth balancing precariously on top to represent the fragility of the planet. The New Zealand co-CEOs Burling and Tuke collected $100,000 for their Race for the Future Partner, Live Ocean. The money will go toward funding partner research into kelp forests and their potential to sequester carbon.

Team New Zealand with Dr. Sylvia Earle
Team New Zealand’s Blair Tuke and Peter Burling celebrate their Impact League victory with noted marine biologist Dr Sylvia Earle.
© 2022 Bob Martin / SailGP

“We’re stoked to win the first Impact League,” said Burling. “It’s been a massive team effort from everyone involved, from the shore team, the sailing team, management and our partners.

Tuke added, “Increasing awareness of the vital role a healthy ocean plays in a healthy future has been a massive focus for us this season, so it’s awesome that the Impact League victory will enable us to support this important work by the University of Auckland through our partnership with Live Ocean Foundation.”

See www.sailgp.com for more.

3 Comments

  1. Barry Spanier 8 months ago

    I wonder if it was the same whale that hit our boat (and a neighbor vessel) … in the slip… at Emeryville Safe Harbor marina? That was a few days before the GP. The sizable creature went on to explore the rest of the marina complex and then swam lazily out of the entrance about an hour later.
    The smack was solid, shook the whole boat. We had a diver check us out and all was OK, thank goodness.
    Hopefully that will be the first and last time that happens to us.

  2. Mark Reid 8 months ago

    Interesting comment. We’ll have to check in with the Emeryville Harbormaster. It is not unusual for whales to dip into SF Bay, especially this time of year as they embark on their migration north. It was unfortunate timing for Team USA and Team Japan because they were in the mix for the win until the race was abandoned. The restart was over before it began as the Australians took off! Glad your boat was okay. It’s “whale” proof now!!

  3. Christine Weaver 8 months ago

    We were sailing in the SSS Round the Rocks Race on March 19, on a starboard-tack beat heading toward Blossom Rock when we spotted a whale east of Alcatraz. Fortunately, it was far enough away from us that we did not need to alter course.

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