We’re not sure why we were cynical about the arrival of SailGP in San Francisco this weekend, but we were. As the second stop of the five-leg global circuit made its way onto the Bay, the event was simply an unknown. “What is SailGP, exactly?” people asked us — we weren’t entirely sure how to answer. Is the event supposed to compete with the America’s Cup? Is it part of Larry Ellison’s continued attempts to make sailing a mainstream, TV-accessible sport?
In the end, none of those questions mattered, because all you had to do was just watch the boats sail, and everything made sense. We have had mixed feelings about the America’s Cup too, but, as we’ve said before, we always watch, if for no other reason than to root for sailing itself.
As for the racing, Japan Team dominated day one on Saturday with three bullets. Led by Australian helmsman Nathan Outteridge, the chatty skipper of the 2017 Artemis syndicate, Japan had been looking fast and polished while practicing this week. But Australia Team, who dominated the first event in Sydney, was hot on Japan Team’s heels. After Great Britain won race one on Sunday — the UK’s first bullet of the SailGP circuit — the Aussies took the second race, then beat Japan in the match race that closed the day. Australia Team took the event win for the San Francisco stop, and has a four-point lead over Japan in the overall standings. The next event will be on June 21 in New York, followed by Cowes, Great Britain, in August, with the final event in Marseille, France, in September.
The venue on the Cityfront — with the boats starting, finishing and occasionally flying by the Marina Yacht Club Peninsula — was objectively spectacular. A healthy crowd filled bleachers, while droves of people shuffled through the open-to-the-public SailGP village and crowded along the waterfront for the races. We brought binoculars to the event, which was totally, comically unnecessary; the boats could not have been closer.
When the fleet ripped southward toward Alcatraz, all you had to do was watch the giant screens that displayed those awesome graphics we’ve come to enjoy. (Some of our staff missed the first day, but watched a few races on Facebook live. Thanks to Stan Honey’s innovations years ago, and the giant team of producers that have carried the torch, sailboat racing on TV has become more than just watchable — it is incredibly exciting.)
There was a fleet of boats lining the racecourse on the Bay, making it a busy, boat-packed weekend on the water. There was also real-time play-by-play throughout the race that was scored with background music. It might sound a bit over the top, but the vibe on shore was undeniably electric, and it was impossible not to get caught up in the excitement as the cats foiled around the Bay.
We were, in other words, completely — and happily — seduced by the production and fanfare. When the last race was over, it all seemed too fast, and we were sorry it was over. As we shuffled through the Marina District later that day, we spotted several “sailing fans” — wearing their team colors with flags stuffed into their backpacks — strolling the streets. This might be a common sight in France, New Zealand or Australia, but here in the US, not so much.
Among our readership, there has, of course, been a long-running debate about what makes a good sailboat race. Is it the fastest, most technologically advanced boats in the world? Is it multiple sail changes and skilled, well-coordinated crew work? Is it monohulls, only monohulls, instead of catamarans? We don’t have any answers, Latitude Nation, but we enjoy the debate.
What did you think of SailGP? Were you skeptical, as we were, but ultimately swept up in the energy? Did you think it was going to be awesome from the start? Are you boycotting all things that foil and don’t have spinnakers? We’d like to know. Please comment below, or email us here. And please be sure to include your Boat Name, Make and Port of Call.