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SailGP suspends operations on Cross Island, Kiwis' boat yet to be finished

by Richard Gladwell/Sail-World NZ 13 Apr 05:53 PDT 14 April 2021
USA SailGP Team helmed by Jimmy Spithill in action during a practice session ahead of Bermuda SailGP © Dani Devine /SailGP

The COVID-19 lockdown, starting Tuesday morning in Bermuda has caught out the teams assembling and training ahead of the start of the first regatta in the second round of Sail GP.

The Government of Bermuda appears to have stayed true to its commitment that public health is paramount and that no exceptions will be made.

In an interview published in the Royal Gazette, SailGP CEO Russell Coutts confirmed that the racing facility on Cross Island in the Royal Dockyard is now off limits, however it seems that discussions between SailGP and the Bermudan Government are continuing.

The core of the situation created by the lockdown is that SailGP has been shutdown for over a year and has used that time to upgrade the F50 wingsailed catamarans used by the teams, and expanding the fleet to eight teams/boats.

The F50 intended to be used by the America's Cup champion sailors in the new NZ SailGP team has been sent to Bermuda unfinished, due to the uncertain situation with shipping schedules - in the expectation that the build could be finished by the SailGP support team in the racing facility on Cross Island.

Coutts told the Royal Gazette: “The problem is if we lock our staff down for a week or even a few days, we’re almost certainly not going to get that boat finished in time for racing in the event, which would be obviously not the desirable position."

However all crews are now in a difficult situation as the F50s have been changed substantially since the last regatta, and need to have proper sea trials before they can be cleared for racing.

Parallels to AC36

The situation has a number of parallels to events that occurred during the just completed Prada Cup and America's Cup regattas in Auckland, where two lockdowns were imposed in the space of four weeks, delaying the start of the America's Cup by five days and compressing the race schedule.

Despite Auckland being placed in Alert Level 3, the second most severe level, the America's Cup teams were able to train on the water, and work was able to continue on the A75's. However the regatta could not proceed at that level, and it was only when Auckland was put into Alert Level 2, was the America's Cup able to proceed albeit without any fans being allowed in the America's Cup Village.

The eight strong NZ SailGP crew, which includes six members of the America's Cup champion crew will leave New Zealand on Thursday.

In the Semi-Finals of the Prada Cup, the rapidly repaired American Magic AC75, Patriot tried to compete in the Challenger Selection Series with just two days of sailing in the AC75 which was badly damaged in a capsize. Patriot suffered ongoing issues particularly on the first day of the semi-finals where the AC75 had control issues, as well as setting the top speed for the regatta of 53.31kts, just before wiping out.

If the situation became completely unworkable and crew safety was being compromised then Coutts made it clear that the regatta, due to start in 10 days on April 24 would be called off.

“We wouldn’t be able to hold the event if we can’t get enough time on the water,” he told the Royal Gazette.

“What you got to remember is in the America’s Cup racing there were two boats racing at any one time. This championship all eight teams race at the same time in a fleet race, so you’ve got to be on your toes even more, so to speak.

“Worst-case scenario, if we lost too many days we would not be able to safely hold the event and we’d have to cancel, which of course none of us want to do. We all want to turn this into a success."

The SailGP regatta in Bermuda will focus the attention of the sailing world on Bermuda, venue for the 2017 America's Cup. Three skippers from the 36th America's Cup, Ben Ainslie, Jimmy Spithill and Peter Burling will compete. Also in the mix is a fourth America's Cup skipper, Nathan Outteridge who skippered Artemis Racing in the Challenger Final in Bermuda ahead of the 35th America's Cup.

Eight teams from Australia, Denmark, France, Japan, New Zealand Spain and the USA are due to compete in Bermuda. The fleet has 10 Olympic Gold medals amongst the competing teams, which each have two women sailors for the first time.

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