Please select your home edition
Edition
Naiad 728x90px_Tourist

SailGP to take flight for the first time on Sydney Harbor

by David Schmidt 12 Feb 08:00 PST February 15 and 16, 2019
SailGP trials of the supercharged F50 boats © Sam Greenfield / AUS SailGP Team

If you love high-octane fleet and match racing played out aboard high-performance, wingsail-powered foiling multihulls and have been thinking that it's been a rather long time since your last satisfying fix (read: the 35th America's Cup, June 2017), you're in luck. This weekend (February 15 and 16) will see the first regatta on the new SailGP circuit - which will be contested aboard one design versions of the AC50s that were used to contest "AC36" - on the waters off of Sydney, Australia. This first regatta will see six teams Australia SailGP Team, China SailGP Team, France SailGP Team, Great Britain SailGP Team, Japan SailGP Team, and United States SailGP Team that will be crewed by (mostly) national sailors, and there are already four other events on the 2019 calendar.

Some backstory. Astute Cup students will remember that in 2007, three-time America's Cup-winning skipper Sir Russell Coutts (NZL) teamed up with fellow Cup skipper Paul Cayard (USA) to create the blueprints for World Sailing League. Unlike the Cup, which is notorious for its on-again, off-again development and competition cycles, the World Sailing League was pitched as a global, year-round, fully professional sailing league; however, fate intervened with a giant dark cloud that arrived in the form of the Great Recession.

Then, on Valentine's Day 2010, Oracle team USA beat Alinghi (the Swiss-flagged Defenders of the 33rd America's Cup) 2-0 in a Deed of Gift America's Cup series that was contested on the waters off of Valencia, Spain. Suddenly, Coutts had the Cup and Ellison's deep financial backing, and while the world's economy was still in tatters, thoughts of defending the 34th America's Cup on the waters of San Francisco Bay (September and October 2013) usurped the World Sailing League in Coutts' mind and the idea quietly faded.

Or so most of the sailing world thought, until, of course, Emirates Team New Zealand's squad of "cyclors" (read: bicycling sailors) arrived in Bermuda with an utterly stunning AC50 that used leg muscles (read: in-situ bikes) rather than arm muscles (read: grinding pedestals) to power the AC50s compression tanks. Moreover, the Kiwis clearly had better control over their AC50's wing, foil and systems than their rivals, not to mention the sailing world's fastest duo (Peter Burling and Blair Tuke).

Not surprisingly, the Kiwi's won AC35, leaving Ellison, Coutts and the rest of the Oracle Team USA brain trust out in the cold.

Until last year in early October, when word broke that Coutts and Ellison were back with a different vision, namely the SailGP circuit, which would use "recycled" AC50s that have been fully one-designed into F50s (read: possibly faster than their original AC50 configurations), and which would be crewed by (mostly) national teams. Moreover, word also broke that the final 2019 event (Marseilles, France; September 20-22) would feature a $1,000,000 winner-takes-all purse: a prize that's sure to help focus each crew's training regime while also giving the crowds something interesting to discuss.

Now, in just a few days' time, the world will see Coutts and Ellison's vision for SailGP unfurl on one of the world's most iconic racecourses.

American interests will be represented by helmsman Rome Kirby, himself a winner of the 34th America's Cup with Oracle Team USA and a veteran of the team's unsuccessful defense in 2017, who will be joined by Riley Gibbs (wing trimmer), Hans Henken (flight controls and tactics), Mac Agnese (grinder) and Dan Morris (grinder) for the 2019 season.

Interestingly, word recently broke that Taylor Canfield (USVI), match-racing phenom and the skipper of the Stars & Stripes Team USA campaign for the 36th America's Cup (Auckland, New Zealand, March 6-21, 2021), has also joined the team. According to an official SailGP press release, Canfield will be working the boat's flight controls and calling tactics and gaining more experience on foils in a win-win situation that should help both the United States SailGP Team and the fledgling Stars & Stripes Team USA effort.

"Taylor is a great addition to the team, not only for his world-class experience, but for his competitive intensity on the water and laid-back style on land. He is a great fit for our team," said Kirby in an official team press release.

For his part, Canfield is also pleased with this development. "This team is a great group of extremely talented sailors, whom I've raced with or against many times," said Canfield. "The SailGP concept is incredible and what this sport has needed for a long time. To be racing at the top level of the sport, at extreme speeds against the best in the world. I can't wait."

Fortunately for Canfield and the rest of the sailing world, this wait will not be a long one, as the SailGP's first guns are set to begin firing on Friday, February 15. If all goes according to plan, the Sydney event will feature five fleet races and a final match race to determine the regatta's winner.

It will be extremely interesting to watch SailGP take flight and to see how Coutts and company's long-term vision for a fully professional, non-Cup-related sailing circuit fares in the sometimes-glaring light of prime time. Moreover, it will also be interesting to see what if any impact SailGP has on the Auld Mug and the sailors who compete for sailing's grandest prize.

But most importantly, for everyone out there who could use a serious shot of high-performance sailing in the midst of a long and seemingly endless winter, the wait is almost up.

Sail-World.com wishes all SailGP sailors and the event organizers the best of luck as they make racecourse debut.

May the four winds blow you safely home.

David Schmidt
Sail-World.com North American Editor

Related Articles

Two additional skippers complete the GGR 2018
Golden Globe Race podium complete at last While it's tempting to get sucked into the latest round-the-buoys results from destinations exotic or far removed, it's also important to celebrate the hard work and dedication of the Golden Globe Race 2018 skippers. Posted today at 4:00 pm
Famous martini
Shaken, not stirred - we're talking about the Sayonara Cup Ah huh. So that would make it shaken, not stirred. Right. Now what we are referring to is the recent running and winning of the Sayonara Cup, which we featured last week in Left Languishing. Posted on 24 Mar
Gladwell's Line: Dinghy trials...Am Cup..18fters
A scan of the Sailing scene from the past week or so - America's Cup, 18fters and Singlehanders A look at the Evaluation Trials for the Single Handed Mens and Womens Single Handed Dinghy to be used at the 2024 Olympics. What was really behind the Applications to the America's Cup Arb Panel? And a look at the Kiwi win in the JJ's in Sydney Posted on 22 Mar
Time starts drawing thin for Cup teams
While 2021 might still seem like a long way off... While the sailing world has been distracted by Caribbean regattas and the unsavory revelation that Stanford University's former sailing coach has pleaded guilty to racketeering and conspiracy charges, the 36th America's Cup is quietly hoving into view. Posted on 19 Mar
An interview with Bill Canfield on the 2019 STIR
An interview with Bill Canfield about the 2019 St. Thomas International Regatta I checked in with Bill Canfield, regatta director of the St. Thomas International Regatta (March 22-24), via email, to learn more about this classic warm-water, bright-sun regatta. Posted on 19 Mar
Left Languishing
Trophies, are somewhat different from boats. They don't tend to deteriorate quite so badly Trophies are somewhat different from boats. They don't tend to deteriorate quite so badly when they get left alone for ages. Case in point, the Sayonara Cup. It has had several periods in its life when it has been left to its own devices. Posted on 17 Mar
The sailor Made for Water
We speak to Alan Roberts Alan Roberts is a wide-ranging watersports enthusiast, offshore sailor, dinghy sailor, SUP-er and kayaker - someone who uses a diverse range of kit while out on the water. Posted on 13 Mar
A spring-cleaning that all sailors can be proud of
David Schmidt's latest North American newsletter Irrespective of one's politics, it's beyond high time that humanity curbs its appetite for single-use plastics. Posted on 12 Mar
Chris Woolsey on the 2019 Miami to Havana Race
An interview with Chris Woolsey about the 2019 Miami to Havana Race I checked in with Chris Woolsey, the race administrator and regatta chair for the 2019 Miami to Havana Race (March 13), via email, to learn more about this intriguing offshore race. Posted on 11 Mar
Nothing wrong with your eyesight
Look closely, and you'll notice it is two Black Jacks, not one superimposed over the other. Look closely, and you'll notice it is two Black Jacks, not one superimposed over the other. The upper one with the rig still in is the world famous, and ever-conquering Reichel/Pugh 100 supermaxi with the heavy bulb, and the other is the modified VO70. Posted on 10 Mar
Gul 2018 October - Code Zero FOOTERRS Sailing 2019 - RS21 Spring Offer - FooterSOUTHERN-SPARS-MISSY-FURLING-BOOMS-728-X-90 Bottom