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SailGP: Rookie Canadian team tops leaderboard after first day of racing in Season 3

by Richard Gladwell Sail-World NZ 14 May 11:55 PDT
Canada SailGP Team helmed by Phil Robertson and Australia SailGP Team helmed by Tom Slingsby race near spectator boats on Race Day 1 of Bermuda SailGP, Season 3, in Bermuda. May . © Thomas Lovelock/ SailGP

The rookie Canada SailGP team gave the nine strong fleet a sailing lesson on the opening day of Season 3, and top the leaderboard by a margin of 2pts over Great Britain SailGP.

Canada, won the first start of the day doing a nice job of timing and boat position to cross the line first at speed and close to the favoured leeward position - just to windward of Ben Ainslie (GBR).

The Brits chose to gybe early at the first mark with Canada second, and the Brits retained a handy lead to the finish. Canada had to sail aggressively within the lead group, but managed to break clear from Spain on Leg 4 of the seven leg course, with USA moving into third. The positions remained unchanged until the finish, with almost 30 seconds separating the three boats at the finish line.

The start of Race 2 was a repeat of the first race with Canada and Great Britain swapping lateral positions. Arguably Canada won the start and the leeward position closest to the start pin, with the British to windward. The British were again leaders at Mark 1, but this time elected to keep sailing to make the layline to the next mark. Spain broke through in to the lead for a few seconds after Mark 1, but Ainslie quickly broke back, with the Canadians holding second at Mark 2.

A luffing match after the two lead boats rounded Mark 4, didn't result in a penalty from a incident where Canadian skipper Phil Robertson, claimed that Ainslie as windward yacht didn't keep clear, however the altercation was sufficient forthe candians to sail through to leeward, and used their speed to put the Brits in their turbulent air - dropping the Brits back into the middle of the fleet. Canada held a commanding lead at Mark 5 and was never headed. They enjoyed a margin of 37 secs at the finish over France. New Zealand raced through to be third taking an advantage after another racing incident at Mark 6 to dive between USA and GBR from which the British were penalised.

Canada looked to have the start of Race 3 under control winning the favoured leeward position but jumped the line and were fractionally over and were penalised along with New Zealand who were midway up the starting line. At Mark 1 France lef from Spain, with another rookie crew from Switzerland in third, with the British in fourth.

On Leg 3 the Brits took the lead from France, with Canada starting their recovery to go from last to sixth midway up the third leg. This proved to be the most keenly fought race of the series, with France wrestling with Great Britain for the lead. The Brits rolled over the top of France on Leg 6 going on to take the lead and going on to win by 8secs from France with Season 2 champions, Australia (Tom Slingsby) in third, 17 secs behind the French.

Canada recovered to finish fifth behind Denmark, that position was sufficient to give the Phil Robertson skippered team the overall lead after Day 1.

If SailCanada owner, Fred Pye wanted to give Canadian sailing some inspiration, Canada SailGP's performnce was certainly the result of which he could only have dreamed.

Starts prove crucial

For many of the established teams Day 1 of the Bermuda regatta was a wake-up call, no more so than the NZSailGP team who did not appear to have sorted their time on distance starting woes from Season 2. They copped a starting penalty in the last race for being a fraction early, and were missing in action in the first race- being over a couple of boatlengths behind the line and with USA and Australia to leeward holding them up into the turbulence from Denmark and maybe Spain to windward. Canada got a clean start in clear air and right on the startline at gunfire.

Denmark controlled the startline early in the prestart of Race 2 with the Kiwis Swiss and French on the second row and locked out by the six boats ahead of them. Tom Slingsby (AUS) pulled off a daring dive with just over 12 seconds to go, starting high and sailing across the bows of the second division to pop up just to leeward of the Danes, stealing their spot, and dropping them back into swirling turbulence enjoyed by the backmarkers.

The second division got a slight reprieve right on the line when the others were early, and started slow, with the exception of Spain right to windward, sailing fast, but with a longer distance to travel. A couple including the Kiwis took the escape route of being first to gybe - with the attendant risk that this compounded your woes by committing to the wrong side of the course for Leg 2.

That proved to be the case for the Kiwis who were ninth out of nine after dropping off their foils soon after starting Leg 2. The Kiwis made amends pouncing on the final mark taking advantage of a penalty on the Brits for not keeping clear of USA. the Kiwis moved from fifth through to third.

New Zealand and Canada had the start of Race 3 under control - both well forward and at the leeward end and holding up the group to windward. But the Kiwis dropped their bows just a fraction early, copping a penalty along with Canada - dropping both back to the rear of the fleet. The Kiwis recovered somewhat mid-race, but dropped back, while Canada was able to move up into fifth - avoiding turning the race into a complete disaster.

Increase in the fleet size added to the turbulence on the race course, placing a premium on winning the start and being in a strong position exiting Mark 1. Once in the van of the fleet it was very hard to recover, other than to effect some damage control and retrieve a fifth place or better. Overall the standard of the fleet has improved - with less handling mistakes being made, and the pressure really being applied by the worlds top sailors sailing in one-design foiling wingsailed catamarans. In this company any mistake was severely punished.

When Nathan Outteridge and the crew of JapanSailGP rejoin the series, the standard will only lift again. A commercial decision had to be made on allocation of the limited F50 fleet, with two new teams joining the circuit and buying full franchises - entitling them to an F50. With Japan still being carried financially by SailGP and lacking full sponsorship they were not on the startline. Canada SailGP got the Japanese boat which finished second in Season 2, and also picked up the services of wingsail trimmer Chris Draper (GBR). The other members of the Canada SailGP crew were all Canadian nationals who performed outstandingly in their first regatta.

For a full and exclusive interview Canada SailGP skipper, Phil Robertson telling how the team and program was assembled and trained click here

For full results sailgp.com/races/season-3/bermuda-sail-grand-prix/results

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