Please select your home edition
Edition
Selden

SailGP poised to usher-in a new era of international Grand Prix sailing

by David Schmidt 8 Oct 09:00 PDT 8 October 2018
The F50 is claimed to be significantly faster than the AC50 © SailGP

If you share my love of incredibly fast sailboats that leverage the latest technology and forward-leaning thinking, then you'll probably share my interest in the AC50 class of fully foiling, wingsail-powered catamarans. These boats, which have been described by some of the world's best yacht designers and naval architects as the fastest inshore sailboats to have ever been built, were used to contest the 35th America's Cup, which unfurled in June of 2017 on the waters off of the island nation of Bermuda. And while the America's Cup has moved on to 75-foot "monohulls" for "AC36", the sailing world learned last week that the six AC50s that were built for the last Defense will see a second life as a One Design class that will be used to contest the newly announced and fully professional SailGP sailing league.

Some backstory. The sailing world's rumor mill has long been churning out whispered reports that Sir Russell Coutts (NZL), the three-time America's Cup-winning skipper (1995, 2000 and 2003), and Larry Ellison, the billionaire technology mogul who won two Cups (2010 and 2013) with the Kiwi-accented "RC" leading the charge as CEO of his Oracle Team USA, were considering launching a Grand Prix sailing league. In fact, the origins of SailGP harken back to 2007 when Coutts teamed-up with fellow Cup skipper Paul Cayard (USA) to create the World Sailing League, an idea that never took flight thanks to looming financial problems.

Still, the idea of a fully global, fully professional sailing league somehow kept its head above water during the years of litigation between Oracle Team USA and Alinghi, the former Swiss-flagged Cup custodian, as well as the three Cups that were sailed in high-performance multihulls (2010, 2013 and 2017) on two continents and off of one island nation.

Now, after a long and quiet 16 months since loosing the Auld Mug to the significantly faster Emirates Team New Zealand squad and suffering the humbling loss of the world's most (in)famous sports trophy, RC and Ellison are back with a new vision of Grand Prix level sailing that has "recycled" the AC50s at Core Builders in New Zealand (which Ellison owns) into a One Design class, dubbed "F50s", that will be used to contest a new, World Sailing-sanctioned Special Event series.

The 2019 SailGP series will be comprised of five events, starting in Sydney, Australia (February 15-16) and continuing on to San Francisco (May 4-5), New York (June 21-22), Cowes, UK (August 10-11) and finishing in Marseille, France (September 20-22). According to a World Sailing announcement, each event will feature two days of competition that will involve five fleet races and a final match race to determine the overall event winner. As a sweetener-cum-crowd-pleaser, the final 2019 SailGP event in Marsaille will feature a $1 million dollar, winner-takes-all championship race between the top two teams.

"SailGP distills all of the most successful, exciting and relevant elements of high-performance, professional racing, while adding the extra edge that comes with nation-versus-nation competition," said Coutts, SailGP CEO, in the official World Sailing press release. "We are aiming to be pioneers of new technologies, boat design, commercial partnerships and global audience engagement. But with every crew on the same groundbreaking F50 catamaran, this isn't a tech arms race, rather the ultimate test to establish the best sailing team in advanced foiling catamarans."

While there are far more question marks than answers remaining about the long-term vitality and sustainability of SailGP, World Sailing's press release describes an "11-year partnership". Furthermore, Coutts has suggested that a reasonable operating budget for a year of SailGP campaigning could fetch $5 million U.S. dollars, which is a tiny fraction of the cost of a competitive America's Cup campaign.

There are currently teams from Australia, China, France, Japan, the UK, and the USA listed on SailGP's official website, but only one team has publicly announced (Great Britain SailGP Team), so it will be interesting to see if this new series hits the starting line at pace and on its foils, or if unexpected headwinds present themselves.

That said, the combination of a relatively low barrier to entry, the fan-centric nature of the racing, and the amphitheater-like settings of the selected venues, coupled with the blistering speeds of the F50s and the national nature of the teams, could prove to be serious competition for the America's Cup, which of course is exactly SailGP's intended vision.

Still, Cup history reminds us that while the World Sailing League also started with the best of intentions and under the sunny skies of a pre-Great Recession economy, the combination of the worst downturn since the Great Depression, followed by Oracle Team USA's success against Alinghi both in court and on the waters off of Valencia, Spain in 2010, spelled doom for RC's original vision for a Grand Prix sailing league. It will certainly be interesting to see if SailGP is able to find its foils in 2019, and - if so - what sort of impact this new professional series has on the sport of sailing as a whole.

May the four winds blow you safely home.

David Schmidt
Sail-World.com North American Editor

Related Articles

Attrition and drama rates climb in the 2018 GGR
Attrition rate of 55% is evidence that Mother Nature is in charge While some sailors scoffed at a 'retro race', the 2018 Golden Globe Race's attrition rate of 55% is evidence aplenty that, while modern sailors are clever, the challenges put forth by Mother Nature remain utterly unconvinced of mankind's superiority. Posted on 22 Oct
Jeff Johnson on the SDYC's Lipton Challenge Cup
Jeff Johnson on the San Diego Yacht Club's 104th Sir Thomas Lipton Challenge Cup I checked in with the Jeff Johnson, the San Diego Yacht Club's Waterfront Director, via email, about the SDYC's 104th Sir Thomas Lipton Challenge Cup Posted on 22 Oct
Keith Jacobs on the Eastport YC's J/70 Fall Brawl
One great example of late-season sailing psyche I checked in with Keith Jacobs, race committee chair of the Eastport Yacht Club's West Marine J/70 Fall Brawl, via email, to learn more about this late-season regatta. Posted on 17 Oct
Staying atop the Singles Chart
David Henshall looks at the future - and history - of the singlehander Singlehanders are such a part of the sailing scene today, but what does it take to stay at the top of the Singles Chart? If there is one bellwether that gives us a indication as to the health of the sport, it has to be the singlehanded scene. Posted on 17 Oct
SailGP reveals the details of two more teams
American and Australian national teams revealed The veil has been lifted from two more SailGP teams, the United States SailGP team and the Australian SailGP team. Not surprisingly, given the speeds and technologies involved with the powerful F50s, both teams include former America's Cup stars. Posted on 15 Oct
Ailsa Angus on the 2018 Hong Kong to Hainan Race
An interview with Ailsa Angus about the 2018 Hong Kong to Hainan Race I checked in with Ailsa Angus, the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club's sailing manager, via email, to learn more about the 2018 Hong Kong to Hainan Race. Posted on 15 Oct
The next steps for Project Scaramouche
We speak to Jon Holt and the team Project Scaramouche has been inspiring, not just for the sailing world, but also in the wider community showing what can be done with a lot of hard work, leadership, courage and drive. Posted on 11 Oct
Changing the face of your sailing gear
Zhik's Volvo Ocean Race journey Setting out to work with two Volvo Ocean Race teams was always going to be a challenge for Zhik's first official involvement with the race. Yet, it was the pinnacle opportunity to put the company's ocean yachting range to the ultimate test. Posted on 10 Oct
Butch Ulmer on the 2018 J/109 North Americans
An interview with Butch Ulmer about the 2018 J/109 North Americans I checked in with Butch Ulmer, principal race officer for the 2018 J/109 North Americans, via email, to learn more about this highly competitive One Design regatta. Posted on 8 Oct
Electric Carrot Cake
Almost thought I was dealing with an undiscovered and posthumous Hendrix album there… Almost thought I was dealing with an undiscovered and posthumous Hendrix album there… The other option was Wild Summer, but that seemed a bit too much like the Corrs or something, so walked away from that. Posted on 7 Oct
1DSailing FooterZhik 2018 Dongfeng 728x90 BOTTOMMarine Resources BOTTOM