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Hindsight is a wonderful thing

by Mark Jardine 20 Feb 11:00 PST
Tom Slingsby, CEO and driver of Australia SailGP Team, inspects the damage in the technical area following the storm after racing on Race Day 1 of the KPMG Australia Sail Grand Prix © Ricardo Pinto/SailGP

The contrast of emotions watching the KPMG Australia SailGP Sydney was stark, even viewed from afar.

Saturday's racing was spectacular, and Quentin Delapierre's France SailGP Team performance simply outstanding. In winds of up to 26 knots, they won all three races, combining great positioning and tactics, with flawless boat handling.

Elsewhere Jimmy Spithill's United States SailGP Team saw a return to form with three second places, Tom Slingsby's Australian SailGP Team, racing in their home event, battled through technical issues to finish the day third.

Emirates Great Britain SailGP Team, sporting their new sponsorship livery, had a frightening moment when grinder Matt Gotrel fell through the fairing of the F50 and was bounced around on his safety line at speeds of 50 km/h before his teammates pulled him back on board. No injury was reported, but he'll surely be bruised after the incident, which can be seen on this video.

Arguably this was some of the best racing yet seen in SailGP, but it was just a prelude to what was to come.

While the racing was held in sunshine, dark clouds were building on the horizon as what the locals call a 'Southerly Buster' approached.

The wind hit at 6.30pm local time and all hell broke loose while the Canada SailGP Team F50 was being craned out. While attached to the crane, the wingsail broke lose and then hit the team tents, before being lowered to the ground while other equipment flew around in the near hurricane force winds. This video sums up what it was like on the ground in the technical area.

SailGP's Tech Team Director Brad Marsh gave his assessment of what happened and what is needed to allow the New Zealand Sail Grand Prix to run on March 18th & 19th:

"The normal scenario for us on the tech side is to put the F50s in the water in the morning and out in the evening, and that's what we did on Saturday. We were trying to align the boats with the breeze during the craning process, and we had a very big change of wind direction in the middle of the process.

"Sailing relies on the weather. We rely on the wind, and we rely on all the weather around us on the racecourse, to operate safely. Yesterday (Saturday) what we had was unprecedented, and it caught us out. As we started the lift we were in comfortable conditions, but as we finished the lift the breeze had increased four-fold.

"We're all friends, mates and colleagues, and we've been through some amazing adventures. We've now got a big adventure to go sailing again. We're in the middle of a big assessment of all the damage that has happened and what we need to do to get the fleet sailing again.

"Of course, I have a lot of pride and passion for an event in New Zealand, I've been waiting for a long time to get there, looking forward to Christchurch and Lyttelton; we've just got to make sure we've got all the equipment and get it there."

The incident has inevitably led to questions, both from fans and no doubt internally within SailGP. The boats which were still on the moorings with their wings up seem to have been largely unscathed, so would it have been wiser to wait out the storm?

Armchair experts have already been commenting on social media that the clouds were gathering, and the storm warnings were in place, and with hindsight there's no doubt that the technical team would have delayed the craning process. But with 20/20 hindsight I'm sure there are many things we'd all do differently, and it's exceptionally easy to be an expert after the event, while far harder to be the one making those calls at the time.

"It was all-hands on deck... but ultimately Mother Nature won," said United States SailGP Team helmsman Jimmy Spithill.

There is no doubt there will be learnings from this, and we must all be thankful that there were no serious injuries sustained. We wish the SailGP team all the best getting the fleet fixed and ready to race in New Zealand in just 25 days. There's a countdown clock to the next event at the top of the SailGP website which will no doubt focus minds, as if they weren't already.

Elsewhere in Australia, our thoughts are with the family, friends, and all those involved in the Lincoln Week Regatta after an incident where a competitor was injured and fell from a yacht into the water. Despite the best efforts of fellow competitors and race management, who provided immediate first aid and support, the competitor passed away. We join the rest of the sailing community in offering our deepest condolences to the family.

Mark Jardine and Managing Editor

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