With high winds, broken pedestals, dented helmets and a broken nose plus the 50 knot barrier smashed at the SailGP Cowes the atmosphere was electric!
This was not Bermuda where the six former America’s Cup catamarans had wowed the sailing world two seasons earlier. All eyes were on the Solent where the 40+ knots of breeze had abated to allow these thoroughbred race horses to entertain thousands lining the beach. Gybes between the American and Australian teams skippers prior to racing about hitting the 50 knot barrier in practice went south for the USA when the latter on the approach to the first gybe mark saw them dig their bows in deep and unable to recover gradually keel over in slow motion.
The United States SailGP Team capsized within 30 seconds of the start of race one, but surprisingly was able to compete in the rest of the day’s racing with quick assistance from the SailGP tech team. Despite a tough day, Kirby’s American team was able to climb the leaderboard for third place overall.
Tom Slingsby and his Team AUS went onto win the race and follow up with a hat-trick of firsts. Multi-Olympic and AC sailor Slingsby spoke candidly after racing that despite having been invited to compete in the next America’s Cup he wanted to try the SailGP with its regular racing, country vs. country, thrilling, it will build in the esteem of the racing world. “Hopefully they (AC) can support us and we support them. It just makes sailing more exciting” Tom commented, “and hopefully we bring new fans to the sport. To see all these fans watching today has been encouraging. When we came across the finish line at 50 knots there was a huge roar from the crowd. It was amazing.”
Nathan Outteridge helming Team Japan has this to say about the racing. “There were massive waves.The sea state was making the boats extremely difficult to sail. You could see everyone nose-diving. There’s a big difference between training and racing. In training you do it at your own pace, you work your way into being comfortable, in racing you’re thrown into it. We didn’t have the best first start. There was a lot of traffic in our way. The USA went over and the Chinese almost went as well. We watched the Aussies sail off into the distance. Then we gybed and the boat broke and it was a whole battle from there on in for us.”
Commenting on Team GBR’s nose dive and accident and the capsize of Team USA he added “Guys, GBR has just crashed, don’t do it ourselves, we can pass another boat here. It reminds you to manage your risk levels. Sometimes you feel scared once you’ve got back to the shore but out on the water we just knew what was involved and to manage your risk and how hard to push it. All it takes is one small error and you can do a lot of damage on these boats.”
The Great Britain SailGP Team wasn’t as lucky. On the penultimate leg of the first race, the team dug its bow into the water, sending flight controller Chris Draper tumbling over Stuart Bithell in a dramatic crash. No injuries were sustained, however, the boat was too damaged to sail for the remainder of the day. Fletcher was massively disappointed, having had high hopes at his home event after breaking the 50-knot barrier and winning two of two practice races earlier in the week.
SailGP’s final stop for Season 1 is in Marseille. Fans can expect the racing to be fierce, with three full days of competition planned, an ultimate winner-takes-all match race for the SailGP championship trophy and $1 million purse.
Cowes SailGP Results
- Australia, 30 points
- Japan, 25
- China, 24
- France, 22
- United States, 18
- Great Britain, 14
Season 1 Leaderboard (after four events)
- Australia, 169 points
- Japan, 165
- United States, 123
- Great Britain, 120
- China, 117
- France, 115
Words and photos by Ingrid Abery