SailGP steps forward in San Francisco
Published on May 5th, 2019
by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt
The second event of the 5-stage SailGP circuit got what it was looking for when six national teams went full-throttle May 4-5 on San Francisco Bay. Good crowds, good wind, and iconic scenery delivered an excellent landscape for this newly developed international sports league.
Here are some notes:
Competition: The format is five fleet races with the top two teams having a single, knock-out match race for the win. Japan dominated day one but Australia took day two and won the finale. Click on the linked text for daily updates and video playback.
Haves and have nots: While SailGP is full of talent, there is still a short list of people with skills in boats like the full foiling, wing-powered F50. With limited training, there is a pecking order at this stage with Japan and Australia holding the cards. Great Britain is the first team to press the leaders, with USA making significant progress too. France and China were MIA in San Francisco.
Broadcast: A better combination of commentators brought the show to life, with big props for bringing in Aussie Jody Shiels for play-by-play and USA’s 2-time Olympic medalist Charlie McKee for post-race review. Shiels supplied his smart but fun attitude we’d seen over the years at Bangin’ The Corner, while McKee delivered A+ analysis born from his years of coaching.
Breakdowns: The training in San Francisco pushed the teams and their F50s as winds touched 20 knots, and the weak links began to show. Both race days had delays as teams dealt with problems, magnified in the final race when Japan sailed with no electronics. For a time it was feared Japan wouldn’t be able to race, which harkened memories of those embarrassing one-boat challenger races before the 2013 America’s Cup Finals.
Live spectating: You can sit in one place to see the race, but only the broadcast allows you to really watch the race. The boats are too fast, the course is too big, and it is too hard to know who is always leading. But live spectating gives you that feeling of “being there”, and if the food and foam are flowing, and there is broadcast screens and commentating to fill in the blanks, it provides 90 minutes of fandom.
Next stop: The road show crosses the United States for a Friday and Saturday schedule on June 21 and 22 in New York. The course will be in the Hudson River, similar to where the America’s Cup World Series was in May 2016. That event suffered through light winds and epic current, so hopefully the conditions six weeks later will prove more favorable.
End game: The fifth and final event of the season will be September 20-22 in Marseille, France. The plan is for there to be 8 fleet races and those scores to be added to the overall season points, with the top two placed teams facing-off in a US$1 million winner-takes-all match race final to determine the overall season winner.
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)