SailGP Was Way Cooler than We Thought It Would Be

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.

The San Francisco SailGP event is finished. Will it be back next year. We’ll have to wait and see.
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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.

Did we mention that the boats were close?
© 2019 Latitude 38 Media LLC / John

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.)

The view from the bleachers was pretty sweet.
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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.

It was pretty much a packed house yesterday.
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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.

 

5 Comments

  1. John McNeill 4 months ago

    Excellent viewing of good tactical racing, and I hope they generated enough audience to keep this going. However, I was truly disappointed that the final match race was run with one boat carrying a critical gear failure, that being Japan with instrumentation out of service. That made the race unfortunately predictable.
    Last of all, it was too short a program. I hope they might consider more match racing in future, perhaps with an elimination or ranking series on one day filled with a couple of hours of matches run in rapid tandem.

  2. Mike Grant 4 months ago

    Loved it and have a nice sunburned face from Saturday to prove it! Anything to get more people hooked on sailing is good by me and this event was spectacular (but way too short).

    I like the differences between SailGP and America’s Cup. It’s not the team that spends the most, keeps secrets the best or wins in court since all data is shared and they race in equally prepared boats. One more thing to add and that is that the teams should be from the country that they race for. I heard that the teams have 3 years to make this happen but I don’t know this for a fact.

    Only thing that I would love to see would be sail changes, spinnakers, etc. that show off the sailing team more but it looks like they sail very well with just a “handkerchief” jib anyway. I guess America’s Cup can do that.

    • Ross Angel 3 months ago

      I agree; crew work and coordination, team work execution is strong, but with monohulls, it’s more than just racing around a course at lightspeed. It’s the full experience of all the complexities of yacht racing that makes it what it is. To further the experience of SailGP, a more extensive use of onboard GoPro-type spectator viewing almost becomes interactive and in-your-face racing experience. The general public still has the misconception of teetotaling darlings viewing with disdain the amount of money spent on such nonsense as yacht racing and rich preppy men with their expensive toys.

      The solution to smashing this image in San Francisco is simple in-your-face camera work so aptly perfected in the Volvo ocean race and Vendée Globe. Let’s not lose that great evolution of filmwork! Make it up close and personal for the spectator rooting for his team and naming the crew mwembers as they perform impossible tasks at 40-50 knots on inconceivable “boats” that fly. You have my attention — can’t wait for the next round!

  3. Craig Russell 4 months ago

    I watched the races on TV on Saturday and on the water on Sunday. The coverage on TV was awesome and you got a feel for how fast and dangerous these boats can be. We the graphics and the expert commentary you were there. From the water it was not as good. Many times you could not see them if they were coming your way. We did listen a bit on channel 20 but it cut out during the second race. All in all a little short but very cool to see these boats flying at over 40 knots.

  4. Sam 4 months ago

    We went to day two on our, what is the term for a Westsail 32… Oh yeah Westsail 32.

    The entire SF city front was a no loitering/anchor area. Too bad as Aquatic Park and the small basins to the west were empty with no paying Custer’s the masts would interfere with on the shore.

    The Sail GP site showed them as excluded from the no loitering zone but the SFPD politely told us differently.

    The racing we saw from the boat was exciting but pretty far away. My 400mm lens did help get some ok shots.

    It would be nice if they could make a place for people to watch from their boat.

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