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SailGP: Australian team capsizes US F-50 during practice session in 34kt breeze

by Richard Gladwell/Royal Gazette 16 Apr 21:55 PDT 17 April 2021
Australia SailGP capsizes in the Great Sound, Bermuda - Friday,April 16, 2021 © SailGP

The Australian SailGP crew capsized the US SailGP F50 foiling catamaran during a practice session on Bermuda's Great Sound on Friday.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions in Bermuda, only four boats are allowed in the water at a time, and the Jimmy Spithill led US Sailing Team had already been on the water for their practice session, and loaned their F50 to the Australians for the session.

The SailGP organisers made an on-board video available after the incident.

"There was clear damage to the top of the wing, likely caused when it hit the surface of the water with some force and ended submerged - with the Aussies all taking cover on the raised starboard side of the upturned F50," SailGP reported.

The incident appears to have been similar to Emirates Team NZ's pitchpole on Day 2 of the Challenger Semi-Finals for the Louis Vuitton Trophy ahead of the 35th America's Cup in Bermuda. Then, the Kiwis suffered extensive damage to their wingsail and cross-beam fairings, but it would seem from images of the boat that the US boat has escaped serious damage.

The Royal Gazette, an authoritative Bermudan newspaper reports that "the SailGP champions capsized in choppy seas and 34 knot southwesterly breezes while training on-board rival United States SailGP Team’s wing-sailed F50 foiling catamaran.

There were no injuries reported, while the boat is believed to have sustained minimal damage during the mishap.

“Today, the Australia SailGP Team capsized during training on the Great Sound. No injuries were sustained,” SailGP said in a statement.

“The Australia team was training on the United States F50 at the time. The boat is being towed back to dock to assess the damage, but minimal damage is expected.

“The capsize today reiterates why it is so essential that the world-class athletes have time to train on board these boats and the importance of on-water safety trials taking place prior to racing,” the SailGP statement added.

United States SailGP Team took the social media network, Twitter, to poke a bit of fun at their rivals after learning that their crew was safe and their boat had only suffering minimal damage.

“Our team is happy to hear that all crew are safe and accounted for and damage is minimal,” the team Tweeted.

“Apparently Tom Slingsby [Team Australia helmsman and CEO] wasn’t used to going that fast.”

The Australians responded on social media: "Oi James Spithill sorry about your boat mate, I know we promised we'd return it on one piece

"We had our first capsize today on the Great Sound whilst training on United States SailGP Team F50. All crew are safe and sound

"Jimmy, we believe we owe you a beer....or 10"

Slingsby told Associated Press that the Aussies were on the first lap of their first official session in 14 months when the boat capsized while going 45 knots in wind of about 25 knots, with gusts up to 35 knots. The boat rolled over onto its port hull, with the tip of its 79-foot (24-meter) wingsail resting on the water. The six-man crew was suspended high above the water in the cockpit in the starboard hull.

“I guess this capsize shows how important it is for us to get out there and do some training before the event starts,” Slingsby said in a phone interview with AP's Bernie Wilson. “Especially after a 14-month layoff, we’re all going to make mistakes.”

Spithill said that in the top end of the wind range, “the boats are a handful. That proved it. Those guys are the defending champions so for them to go over meant it must have been pretty tough.”

Spithill said he wouldn’t be surprised to see more than one capsize between now and the end of the regatta. “You’ve got the throttle down,” he said.

“Obviously it’s not ideal capsizing and damaging someone else’s boat but he understands how it is,” Slingsby said. “I think we owe him a few alcoholic presents and thank-yous, but we’re going to be over there helping wherever needed and also to get their boat on the water as quick as possible.”

Said Spithill: “They'd better be cold. They better be high-end beers, too. No cheap light beers.

“Until our boat’s ready to go, we’ll obviously be borrowing the Australian boat,” Spithill said. “I’m looking forward to having a go on the Australian boat.”

The Australian team is led by Tom Slingsby, and Olympic Gold medalist and a key member of the Oracle Racing team which successfully defended the 2013 America's Cup in San Francisco, usually racing in conditions that were close to the upper wind limit. Slingsby and Spithill again collaborated in the 2017 America's Cup in Bermuda, losing 8-1 wins to Emirates Team New Zealand.

Slingsby's team won the inaugural SailGP series in 2019. In the only regatta sailed in 2020, four-time Olympic Gold medalist, Ben Ainslie (GBR) have the fleet a sailing masterclass, winning all but one of the races in the Sydney event. The remainder of the second round was cancelled due to the COVID19 pandemic.

The level of the SailGP competition will lift yet again, for the coming Round (entitled Round 2), with the addition of two more America's Cup skippers, defending champion Peter Burling and twice America's Cup champion Jimmy Spithill. They join 2017 America's Cup competitor Nathan Outteridge (AUS) who helmed for the Swedish Artemis Racing in the 2017 Louis Vuitton Trophy, losing to Emirates Team New Zealand in the Challenger Final. Jimmy Spithill (AUS) joins the SailGP circuit this year having helmed for USA in the 2010, 2013 and 2017 America's Cups. He was the co-helmsman for Italian Challenger Luna Rossa in the recently concluded America's Cup in Auckland.

Eight teams from Australia, USA, Denmark, France, Great Britain, Japan, New Zealand and Spain are competing in the 2021 round of the SailGP championship, which is eagerly awaited by the sailing world.

The SailGP regattas consist of a week or so of Practice days, followed by five fleet races leading to a Final match race between the two top teams. The Final regatta in the SailGP circuit will see the winner take $1million prizemoney in the winner-takes all Grand Final.

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