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SailGP Shines in Chicago

This weekend’s exciting SailGP event in Chicago was first and foremost a game changer on many different levels as the high-speed foiling catamaran series comes of age.

SailGP fleet start
The fleet of foiling 50-ft catamarans is all lined up at the start.
© 2022 Ricardo Pinto / SailGP

The turnout and crowds were massive on a glorious weekend in the Windy City, where the winds are anything but predictable, but the results were. Tom Slingsby and Team Australia dominated the event — again.

The track in Chicago has been described as a “NASCAR bullring,” with an outer harbor entry for the start past the break walls and lighthouse into the inner harbor racecourse. Half the fleet opted to stay inside for a tactical placement advantage rather than the alternative, where maybe only one or two of the flying F50s can build for speed.

The finish line was right in front of the packed grandstands at the end of the historic Navy Pier. The boats literally have to tack and splash in a heartbeat, to the complete amazement of the crowd.

Chicago's Navy Pier
The setting off Chicago’s Navy Pier is perfect for stadium sailing.
© 2022 Mark Reid

Day 2 at Chicago SailGP

On the second day of racing, the 29-meter wings were snapped in for light airs. Race director Iain Murray opted to move the racing outside the break walls on a lumpy and windier course on the turquoise waters of Lake Michigan.

While the America’s Cup lies dormant, the sailing superstars continue to take advantage of SailGP’s growing popularity. Slingsby has as many passports as SailGP championships, and has been able to sign up as helmsman for American Magic.

He continued to smoke the field on the racecourse, capturing his third straight event, though the new kids on the block from Canada dominated the weekend’s headlines.

“I knew mathematically that it was possible to make the final race. Sure enough the points worked our way,” said Slingsby. “[The crowd] want a new winner but our job is to win events.”

On the pivotal second day of racing, the Aussies, who were lurking in fourth place just a few points behind New Zealand, didn’t get off to the start they were hoping for in the first race.

“The mood was terrible, and that was on me,” said Slingsby. “I had overruled our wing trimmer, Kyle Langford, on making a tack. It turned out to be a really bad mistake, as we lost three positions on the final leg of the first race.”

Slingsby, who is known as the “Red Mist” for his passion (temper), quickly took a few moments between races to reset.

“The guys know I am fiery, and I was so frustrated. I stew over bad decisions and I’m always thinking about what I could have done better,” explained Slingsby. “In the past we had about 30 minutes between races. Now we have about eight! We got off to a good start in the next race to capture the win and the final spot in the podium finale.”

The New Zealand team were stunned to be knocked out at the last minute, as they splashed down one too many times, in a minefield of wind holes on a patchy racecourse. (Sound familiar?)

Slingsby made the most of the three-boat final against the Canadians and Sir Ben Ainslie’s GBR team. He darted in front at the start to capture the favored pin end of the line. As in the last several podium races, it was over before it started.

AUS SailGP crew
For Tom Slingsby and his triumphant Australian team, it’s all handshakes, high fives and autographs.
© 2022 Ricardo Pinto / SailGP

The Canadians, who inherited Team Japan’s fast boat when the latter came up short on sponsorship, have made the most of the opportunity by bringing Phil Robertson on board as skipper and borrowing flight controller Chris Draper.

Canada, whose hockey teams fell short in this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, has been infused with SailGP fever. The country sent multiple delegations from Halifax, Vancouver and Kingston to vie for hosting rights for an event next year. The Canadian cities should get a shot to host, as they had much to cheer for — Robertson and his crew proved hard to beat all weekend until the final podium race, when it counted the most.

Canada SailGP boat
O Canada! I think skipper Phil Robertson and the Canadians “own” Chicago now.
© 2022 Mark Reid

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for San Diego’s Jimmy Spithill and his largely West Coast Team USA crew. Spithill has been on his back foot for the most part ever since an untimely collision with the Spanish team in San Francisco during the Season 2-ending podium finale earlier this year.

It was a disappointing weekend for the Americans as they gave the home court away to the exuberant Canadian crowd. “One of our biggest challenges all weekend was just getting around the reach mark in decent shape. We were always in the back of the pack,” said Spithill. “We are not sailing well, and we are making way too many errors. We are not going to hide from it. We literally have no excuse. There is nothing wrong with the boat.”

USA SailGP team splash
It was a splashdown reality weekend for Jimmy Spithill and Team USA. It will get better!
© 2022 SailGP

I had the privilege of photographing Race Day 1 on Candela USA’s all-new computer-controlled foiling power boat, which was being delivered to its new owner in Chicago. Its pilot/driver, Tanguy de Lamotte, lives in Sausalito.

Candela foiling
The new all-electric foiling powerboat from Candela.
© 2022 Mark Reid

SailGP moves across the pond to Plymouth, England, next month for Season 3’s third event on July 30-31.


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