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SailGP: Burling and Tuke get sailing in Bermuda, but will race a day early

by Richard Gladwell/Sail-World NZ 22 Apr 19:45 PDT 23 April 2021
New Zealand SailGP Team helmed by Peter Burling hit the water during a practice session ahead of Bermuda SailGP, Event 1 Season 2 in Hamilton, Bermuda. 22 April . Photo: Simon Bruty for SailGP. Handout image supplied by SailGP © Simon Bruty/SailGP

A rejigged race schedule means that the NZSailGP will be into serious racing a day earlier than scheduled, after having their first day using their new F50 in practice overnight.

SailGP organisers with two days of TV coverage to fill, and with the breeze being randomly turned off and on Bermuda, have decided to go with the forecast and bring the race schedule forward a day.

In the rejigged schedule racing will get underway on Friday local time, starting at 2.00pm, when good racing winds are forecast. No racing will now be held on Saturday, when light winds are expected, and then the final two races, plus a match race finale will take place on Sunday.

The change in schedule is not new, having been instituted for similar reasons in the America's Cup World Series leading up to the 2017 America's Cup, when extra racing was staged after the published race program, and then broadcast the following day to fit the scheduled TV broadcast slots.

The move makes the series a tough one for the defending America's Cup champions, Peter Burling and Blair Tuke, along with several members on their NZSailGP crew, who will race for the first time in Bermuda - venue for their first America's Cup win in June 2017.

For the NZSailGP team it has been a hard run-in for the start of their Live Ocean backed SailGP campaign. Their new F50 was exported from Auckland needing some finishing work due to concerns with shipping schedules to the archipelago 640nm off the US coast in the Atlantic Ocean. Next the SailGP program was smothered with the COVID19 Lockdown imposed in Bermuda, after several deaths, which have continued at an accelerating rate.

The lockdown caused the loss of some time until SailGP organisers were able to negotiate some exemptions allowing the build to be complete, and for four of the eight teams to be able to practice on the Great Sound.

With the Kiwi F50, named Amokura complete and ready to race, strong winds hit Bermuda, wiping out one of the New Zealand team's remaining three practice days, and now a second has gone with the altered race schedule.

The teams have been able to compensate for the loss of time by swapping boats, and the NZSailGP has been on sailing in Bermuda - with the wingsail on the British platform on one occasion. Plus the Kiwis, along with Ben Ainslie, and Nathan Outteridge competed in the Louis Vuitton Trophy ahead of the 35th America's Cup in Bermuda, with the Kiwis going on to sail in the Match. In terms of race days they have the most sailing experience in Bermuda of all the eight teams - and in boats very similar to the F50 which is based on the AC50 used in the 2017 America's Cup.

The Kiwis also have the advantage of sailing with substantially their same crew as in the 36th America's Cup along with two new members - Erica Dawson and Liv Mackay who will get their first taste of racing in the F50's. The other teams with the exception of Great Britain SailGP led by Ben Ainslie will have to get their teams race sharp after over 12 months of being in COVID19 required isolation.

Along with SailGP USA helmsman Jimmy Spithill - who sailing in the Qualifiers plus the 2017 AC Match, the kiwis come from a testing America's Cup in Auckland just four weeks ago, and is nothing else should be race sharp. However Spithill is with a US crew that hasn't raced in F50's since January 2020. His co-helmsman on Luna Rossa, Francesco Bruni is with Nathan Outteridge (AUS) and former Luna Rossa (2013) helmsman Chris Draper (GBR), on the Japan SailGP F50.

There is no doubt that the line-up of sailing talent aboard the eight SailGP teams is impressive, and certainly worthy of an America's Cup line-up, however the outcome of the 2021 SailGP Series will probably be determined by those crew members who have not yet made America's Cup teams.

All told the various machinations in the race and practice schedule in Bermuda will have only served to even up the racing, and for the lesser known teams there are some very good scalps on offer.

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