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Winter Solstice, SailGP news, Cup news, Youth Sailing World Championships

by David Schmidt 21 Dec 2021 08:00 PST December 21, 2021
The Japan SailGP Team helmed by Nathan Outterridge shows damage to the bow after a collision with Great Britain SailGP Team © David Gray/SailGP

If you're anything like me, you're acutely aware that today marks the Winter Solstice and the shortest day of the whole year in the Northern Hemisphere. While it can feel as though the ceiling of available daylight is pressing down atop our heads right about now—especially at 48 degrees north latitude, where we get a measly 8 hours and 15 minutes of daylight on December 21—the great news is that we've technically already started putting daylight back into the bank. Granted, this is measured in seconds per day, at least at first, but there's a wonderful snowball effect that will kick in soon enough. And the future dividends are wonderfully predictable: a return to weeknight racing, generous late afternoons and evenings for distance racing, warm(er) temperatures, and that great feeling of knowing that the entire sailing season is in the windshield. Soon enough!

In the meantime, as we patiently wait for seconds to wax into minutes, and, eventually, into extra hours of daylight, we can take our cues from our friends in the Southern Hemisphere, who are enjoying their longest day of the year. While SailGP's Australia Sail Grand Prix event (December 17-18, 2021) didn't unfurl precisely on the Summer Solstice, the regatta racecourse action was worthy of a solstice celebration, especially for the home team.

CEO and driver Tom Slingsby is no stranger to racing on the waters of Sydney Harbor, and the 2012 Olympic gold medalist was in top form, leading his Australia SailGP team to a regatta win. The Aussies were joined on the winner's podium by CEO and driver Jimmy Spithill and his United States SailGP team, as well as driver Phil Robertson and his Spain SailGP team.

Results aside, the news cycle at the Australia Sail Grand Prix event was dominated by a collision that occurred between the Great Britain SailGP Team and the Japan SailGP Team just before the start of the third race. The collision was violent enough to chop the starboard bow section off of the Japanese-flagged boat.

"We were coming back in the final moments of the start fighting for the top of line in a defensive mode against the Americans," said Ben Ainslie, driver of the Great Britain SailGP team, in an official SailGP release. "We just didn't see [the Japan SailGP team] at all, which was devastating for both teams."

Fortunately, no one was hurt, but both the Japanese and British boats were heavily damaged. The Brits were penalized six points in the regatta rankings, plus two additional points in their season championship. While the collision marked the regatta's end for the Brits (due to the event's contact and damage policy rule), Ainslie and company rightly made their boat and equipment available to CEO and driver Nathan Outteridge and his Japan SailGP team so that they could continue racing.

"Everyone was OK, which is the most important thing, but sadly it probably means the end of our season as we receive hefty penalty points for the damage caused," continued Ainslie in the same release. "It will also impact [Team] Japan, which is not what we want, and as is only correct we are giving them our F50 and any support they need to hopefully get them back out racing tomorrow."

Impressively, Outteridge and company rebounded with wins in the fourth and fifth fleet races (they also won the second race), however their seventh-place finish in race three meant that they were mathematically out of contention for the regatta's final race.

All eyes are now on the United States Sail Grand Prix event, which will unfurl on the waters of San Francisco from March 26-27, 2022, and which will determine who will take home Season Two's $1M winner-takes-all prize purse and final bragging rights. Both the Australia SailGP and the United States SailGP teams have already earned their berth in the championship race, with the third and final team earning a place on the starting line during fleet racing, which will take place ahead of the season's grand finale.

"Right now, the championship is Tommy's to lose," Spithill said in an official release, referring to Slingsy and his Australia SailGP team. "It's great for us to be an underdog coming into San me. That's the great thing about sport; the favorites don't always win."

SailGP isn't the only high-profile sailing event to be earning headline ink as we foil towards 2022. News hit last week that two-time America's Cup winner Ernesto Bertarelli and his Alinghi squad are returning for the 37th America's Cup, this time with co-sponsor Red Bull added to the team's moniker.

"Ernesto and Alinghi have been sitting on the sidelines since 2010 and watching the America's Cup through a number of class designs and iterations," said Grant Dalton, CEO of Emirates Team New Zealand. "Now that they have chosen to launch back into the America's Cup, partnering with Red Bull, is a true testament to the success of the AC75 class and the boundaries of innovation, design and speed which appeals to a far wider audience than has been seen in the past."

Interestingly, Luna Rossa also confirmed their entry in AC37 in early December, and there's heavy speculation that Ferrari is involved in the challenge. If confirmed, this would bring the list of F1 affiliated teams up to three, with INEOS Britannia partnered with the Mercedes AMG F1 team.

Finally, some good news for fans of U.S. Olympic class racing. The 50th edition of the Youth Sailing World Championships recently concluded on the waters off of Al-Mussanah, Oman (December 11-18, 2021), and American sailors took home three silver medals and a single bronze.

While the U.S.-flagged team posted ten Top Ten finishes at this Worlds, Charlie Leigh and Sophie Fisher collected silver in the Women's 29er, Vanessa Lahrkamp and Katherine McNamara took second place in the Women's 420, and Kay Brunsvold and Cooper Delbridge took home silver in the Mixed Nacra 15. Ian and Noah Nyenhuis earned a bronze medal in the Men's 29er class.

"This group of athletes sailed so well this week," said Anna Tunnicliffe, team leader and the Olympic gold medalist in the Laser Radial class at the Beijing 2008 Olympics. "Coming away with four medals is a great result. We'll bring this experience back home to keep raising the level for the rest of the team."

May the four winds blow you safely home.

David Schmidt North American Editor

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