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Spain SailGP event debriefing, U.S. Youth Championship

by David Schmidt 12 Oct 2021 08:00 PDT October 12, 2021
Great Britain SailGP Team helmed by Ben Ainslie capsize during the final race on Race Day 2 at Spain SailGP Cadiz © Thomas Lovelock/SailGP

While early October is always a great time for racing in North America, last week's sailing news cycle was dominated by the Spain SailGP event, which unfurled off Cadiz, Spain, on the country's southwest coast. The stakes were high for this regatta as Season 2's Grand Final, which will take place off of San Francisco in March, hoves into view, and each team understood that Spain represented an important opportunity to rack up leaderboard points in order to qualify for the three-boat Grand Final (March 2022) and a shot at the season's title and a $1,000,000 USD cash purse.

But while the money and the leaderboard positions are clearly important, this past weekend also opened the door to something much more important: SailGP's Women's Pathway Program.

Some backstory. In October of 2020, SailGP announced that the racing circuit was fast-tracking opportunities for elite female sailors to train with SailGP teams and sail on F50 catamarans before joining the racing squads for racecourse combat.

This combat commenced this past weekend, with Nina Curtis sailing aboard the Australia SailGP Team, Katja Salskov-Iversen racing with the Denmark SailGP Team, Amelie Riou sailing aboard the France SailGP Team, Hannah Mills sailing aboard the Great Britain SailGP Team, Sena Takano racing aboard the Japan SailGP Team, Erica Dawson sailing aboard the New Zealand SailGP Team, Andrea Emone racing aboard the Spain SailGP Team and CJ Perez sailing aboard the United States SailGP Team.

"It is our responsibility as a global league to ensure we create a culture and sporting championship that has gender equity," said Russell Coutts, SailGP's CEO, in an official SailGP release. "It is no secret that there is currently an experience gap among women at the top of the sport and so far this season we have embedded female athletes in each of our teams to gain vital experience. But, we recognize we have to go further to close the gap and work quicker to accelerate change, which is why we are taking this next step. It is imperative to break existing boundaries and create a more inclusive environment."

Not only was the weekend's event inclusive, but it was also extremely competitive, with skipper Tom Slingsby and the Australia SailGP team taking top honors, followed by Jimmy Spithill's United States SailGP team and Sir Ben Ainslie's Great Britain SailGP team, the latter of which delivered a spectacular pitchpole in 20+ knot airs and compensatory seas during the regatta's three-boat final.

This pitchpole ended their regatta but provided serious racecourse drama.

(Unfortunately, the Spain SailGP team suffered a wing-wrecking capsize en route to the racecourse on day two, which cost driver Phil Robertson and his crew their shot at earning more points; as a result, the team finished the Spain SailGP event in seventh place, and they are now sitting in sixth place on Season Two's overall leaderboard.)

Spithill and company narrowly avoided hitting the capsized British boat, but this move effectively handed the win to the Aussies.

"Today was definitely on the edge," said Spithill in an official SailGP release. "You're really in avoidance mode. As we all came off the start line [in the final race] and saw [Ainslie] do a huge nose dive, we bowed out to avoid them, which caused us to crash. It triggered our emergency stop systems, effectively shutting the boat down. While we restarted the systems, [Slingsby] was already far down the line."

The United States SailGP ended up in second place for the Spain SailGP event, and is sitting in second place on Season 2's overall leaderboard.

This left Slingby and his Australia SailGP team standing on the podium's top step.

Importantly, Nina Curtis was standing with her teammates on that top step.

CJ Perez, sailing aboard the United States SailGP Team, might not have had quite as grand a view from the podium's middle step, but she certainly had a great opportunity to experience a SailGP battlefield firsthand.

"It was absolutely unbelievable," said Perez in an official SailGP release. "Sailing these boats is a whole other level. It's what sailing is about. Your heart rate is at its max, your adrenaline is pumping, you're nervous and excited for each tack and jibe and it's some of the best racing in the world in my opinion."

SailGP will travel DownUnda to Sydney (December 16-17) for the penultimate regatta of Season Two before the season's finale in San Francisco (March 26-27, 2022).

Meanwhile, and much closer to home, this past weekend also saw the U.S. Youth Championship (October 8-11) take place on the waters off of Camp Sea Gull, in Arapahoe, North Carolina.

Racing took place in the 29er, 420, ILCA 7 (Standard Laser), ILCA 6 (Laser Radial), and Nacra 15 classes.

Ian Nyenhuis and Noah Nyenhuis claimed top honors in the 29er, Chapman Petersen topped the Laser Radial (ILCA 6) fleet, Daniel Escudero was the sailor to beat in the Laser class (ILCA 7), Kay Brunsvold and Cooper Delbridge controlled the Nacra 15 class, and Thomas Sitzmann and Luke Woodworth shut things down in the 420 class.

"Today was a super challenging; a double black diamond kind of day," said John Pearce, US Sailing Director of Sport Development, of the regatta's second day of racing, in an official regatta communication. "Winds 15 to 25 knots and cross waves made it a very tough racecourse. The sailors really stepped up to the challenge. There were toe-to-toe battles at the front of each fleet, and everyone pushed themselves and learned a lot."

May the four winds blow you safely home,

David Schmidt North American Editor

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