SailGP: Butterflies about Opening Night
Published on February 12th, 2019
by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt
With lessons from the past, Sir Russell Coutts seeks to finally put ‘his show’ on the stage.
Since 2007, when he revealed his vision of the World Sailing League, to the America’s Cup in 2013 and 2017 which saw the template take shape, Coutts has been wanting to produce a commercially viable spectator extravaganza.
Failed funding kept the WSL from launch, while America’s Cup regulations limited the latitude needed to execute his plan. But now with funding from billionaire Larry Ellison, and complete freedom to deliver the concept, the inaugural SailGP season is set to launch February 15-16 in Sydney, Australia.
Spectator interest in the America’s Cup World Series preferred fleet racing to match racing, short course harbor venues provides fan-friendly competition, while high speeds proved both provocative and precarious. Include the newly developed broadcast tools, and the ability to secure long term commercial partnerships, Coutts has corralled all the previously elusive variables.
However, the only thing no sport can control, even Coutts, is good competition. The anticipation of a closely fought battle attracts us, and the mystery of the outcome holds us. Speed is only sexy when mixed with substance. For the six teams that line up on Sydney Harbour, it is now on them to deliver a show worth watching.
And that has a few people worried.
In the absence of sufficient training on the uber-complicated F50 foiling catamarans, let alone any pre-season competition to test the teams, when the curtains rise on opening night, the burning question is whether we will see enough to want to see more.
As always, time is the enemy. Crews are learning how to work together in the most advanced machine ever conceived, and doing so at speeds no one has ever experienced on a race course. Nothing is simple in these boats. Every turn, every maneuver, has risk.
“My hunch is we’re going to see a lot of teams make plenty of mistakes in this first event,” said Rome Kirby, skipper of United States SailGP Team.
“We are able to watch in real time on the water what is happening on any given boat and after sailing, can download and analyze all of the data from all of the teams,” explains Tom Burnham, coach for the United States SailGP Team. “While right now it presents a challenge of finding good information from all of the data available, it can help speed learning and should make the level of all the teams very even in time.”
Most are betting that the good data will be coming from Japan SailGP Team, led by Nathan Outteridge, a 2-time Olympic medalist, 8-time world champion, and the only helm in the field on the wheel for the past two America’s Cups.
Australia SailGP Team skipper Tom Slingsby, himself an Olympic medalist and America’s Cup winner, unequivocally said when asked about the favorite, “Nathan.”
“It’s a long way to go, we haven’t done a race yet. I wouldn’t say I am confident as being a favorite, as there is a great line-up within the five other teams. But I do have confidence from the past experience of driving these types of boats, and from my involvement in the development of the F50. However, I am equally confident in how the others will work it out and the racing will be tight.”
Sydney Schedule: There will be three races on February 15 (4-6pm local) and three races on February 16 (3-5pm local). This translates to very late hours in North American (and a day earlier) or very early hours in Europe. For time conversion in your area, click here.
Established in 2018 and headquartered in London and San Francisco, SailGP seeks to be an annual, global sports league featuring fan-centric, inshore racing in some of the iconic harbors around the globe and culminates with a $1 million winner-takes-all match race. Rival national teams from Australia, China, France, Great Britain, Japan, and the United States battle it out in identical wing-powered, foiling F50 catamarans, engineered to exceed 50 knots.
Sydney, Australia (February 15-16)
San Francisco, USA (May 4-5)
New York, USA (June 21-22)
Cowes, UK (August 10-11)
Marseille, France (September 20-22)