It’s race weekend for SailGP in Bermuda as the extreme foiling catamaran series launches the start of their second (third?) season. Somehow in the COVID-19 scheme of things, Sir Ben Ainslie’s dominant performance, February 2020 in Australia, seems to have gotten a bit ‘lost’ in the record books, but not to the other competitors as SailGP takes to the water again a day earlier than scheduled.
The Schedule in Bermuda
Due to weather conditions in Bermuda, SailGP pushed up Race Day 1 to today — tomorrow’s local forecast called for light winds.
CBS Sports Network will broadcast the races in the United States on Saturday, April 24, at 3 p.m. PDT (delayed from today) and Sunday, April 25, at 10 a.m. PDT (live). CBS will air highlights on Sunday, May 2, at 10 a.m. PDT. The racing will also be available on the SailGP app, SailGP Facebook page and YouTube channels. But, although racing had already begun by the time we finish this piece, the league will release no video today.
“Due to SailGP’s global broadcast agreements, racing on Friday will be pre-recorded and broadcast at SailGP’s allotted broadcast time on Saturday and distributed to all of its global broadcast partners, comprising 175 territories worldwide. SailGP will not be publishing any race results or race content from Friday across its channels,” states yesterday’s memo.
SailGP’s sophomore season will feature crews from Australia, Denmark, France, Great Britain, Japan, New Zealand, Spain and the United States. Denmark and Spain will be embarking on their first full seasons. New Zealand will be making its league debut, led by recent America’s Cup champions Peter Burling and Blair Tuke. For the New Zealand team, it should be like riding a bike again as they hop from Te Rehutai onto an F50 catamaran, minus the cyclers.
Joining Ainslie and the Kiwis on the circuit will be a cavalcade of sailing’s brightest stars, including defending champion Tom Slingsby driving for the Aussies. Luna Rossa’s Francesco Bruni will join Nathan Outteridge on Team Japan. Jimmy Spithill will be piloting a new-look Team USA with American Magic alumni Cooper Dressler and Andrew Campbell. Previous helmsman Rome Kirby stays onboard to assume flight-controller duties.
In addition to Bermuda, new host cities will be Taranto, Italy (June 5-6); Plymouth, UK (July 17-18); Aarhus, Denmark (August 20-21); Saint-Tropez, France (September 11-12); and Cadiz, Spain (October 9-10). SailGP will also make its first visit to Christchurch for New Zealand’s maiden grand prix on January 29-30, 2022. The season will culminate with the Grand Final in San Francisco on March 26-27, 2022, when the champion will be determined in a single $1 million winner-takes-all last race.
Race for the Future
As part of its Race for the Future agenda, the league has begun training female athletes within each of the eight sailing teams.
Joining the USA team will be the San Francisco Bay Area’s Daniela Moroz, a four-time Formula Kite world champion and two-time US Sailing Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year. “We were overwhelmed by the quality of athletes who applied, and our entire sailing team took part in the selection process,” said Jimmy Spithill. “Daniela brings to our team an impressive amount of foiling ability, which is paramount to racing at this level. We’re excited to welcome her to the roster and develop her talent further.”
The league is using their community engagement arm, SailGP Inspire, to introduce youth from diverse backgrounds to the sport and wider marine industry.
A spike in COVID cases in Bermuda almost shut down the regatta, but SailGP was able to get an exception to the lockdown in order to work on their boats and get sea time. “We are extremely sympathetic to the current situation in Bermuda, and our thoughts are with everyone that has been affected by this terrible global pandemic,” said SailGP CEO Sir Russell Coutts. “We thank the government for their assistance and the people of Bermuda for their understanding.”
Because of the pandemic, Iain Murray, the regatta director, is calling the shots remotely from Australia. The umpires are located in England to call any penalties, if necessary.
The (Modified) Boats
The boat used in competition, the F50, derives from the America’s Cup Class AC50 used in Bermuda for the 2017 event. The catamaran’s foils are constructed with high modulus carbon fiber. The lower sections of the rudders are manufactured using high-strength stainless steel to reduce drag. It was the first sailboat to hit 50 knots in competition!
The new 18-meter (59.4-ft) wing came out during training. The installation of the new wing system means the F50s can now opt for the smaller wing in stronger winds, increasing the wind ranges the boats can sail in. This means there is less chance of weather cancellations and a chance of better racing in both high- and low-wind conditions.
Much like the foils and rudder, which can be altered depending on the conditions, the wing is now similarly adjustable. The light-air foils and light-air elevators have increased surface area, which results in increased lift to make the most of weaker winds. The light-air wing also boasts a larger surface area, standing at 24 meters (79.2-ft) to catch more wind to power the boat.
For the USA squad the addition of Jimmy Spithill to the lineup and leadership of the team should go a long way to improving its performance and results on the water.
“We couldn’t be more excited to have not only an amazing sailor, but also one of the greatest competitors, join SailGP. Jimmy brings a massive amount of experience and skill to the US team and even further cements our position as the sport’s pinnacle league,” said Coutts. “Make no mistake, we have the best sailors in the world competing in the most exciting format.”
New Zealand Team
The New Zealand SailGP Team — fresh off a victorious America’s Cup defense — will race in support of its Race for the Future charity partner Live Ocean, the marine conservation organization founded by Peter Burling and Blair Tuke. “All the New Zealand SailGP Team members are passionate about the ocean. We’re excited to step up as champions for a healthy ocean on the world stage. The race for a live ocean is on,” said Burling. The Kiwi SailGP Team is calling its F50 Amokura, the Māori name for a red-tailed tropicbird.
It’s all on. Tune in tomorrow to find out which of the eight teams conquers Bermuda’s Great Sound today! And come back here on Monday, when we’ll post a post-race report.