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SailGP Season 3 Championships and The Ocean Race update

by David Schmidt 9 May 08:00 PDT May 9, 2023
Australia SailGP Team celebrate winning the Mubadala SailGP Season 3 Grand Final on Race Day 2 of the Mubadala SailGP Season 3 Grand Final in San Francisco, USA. Sunday 7th May © Ricardo Pinto for SailGP

While the America's Cup represents the pinnacle of inshore, fully crewed sailboat racing, SailGP just might offer fiercer competition. This is largely due to two important factors: The numbers of teams competing (nine versus six), and the amount of time that each team gets to race their yachts (much more with SailGP). While many of the same skippers and sailors participate in both events, the sailors I talked with at SailGP 2022's Season Two Championships all spoke of the Cup as a long, multi-year grind towards developing a better mousetrap, followed by some great racing; these same sailors describe SailGP as the place to be if the goal is to log a huge amount of sailing and racing time aboard some of the world's fastest foiling yachts.

This past weekend's SailGP Season Three Championships (May 6 and 7), which took place on the waters of San Francisco Bay, is a great example of the level of competition that SailGP has created.

After seven races, including the winner-takes-all Grand Final, skipper Tom Slingsby and his Australia SailGP Team racked up their third SailGP season championship win, collecting the championship purse (over $1M, USD) and etching their names onto the SailGP trophy once again. While this reflects the fact that the top of the fleet is fairly consolidated, with Australia and New Zealand taking first and second place finishes, a look deeper on the results page reveals how competitive this league has become.

Case-in-point: Jimmy Spithill, a two-time America's Cup winning skipper, and his United States SailGP Team finished Season Three in seventh place in the nine-boat fleet, while Peter Burling, also a two-time Cup winning skipper, and his New Zealand SailGP Team finished in second place.

In fact, even Ben Ainslie (GBR), who is history's most decorated Olympic sailor, and his Great Britain SailGP Team had to settle for a third-place finish in Season Three's Grand Final, on the same weekend that his country crowned a new monarch, and a third-place finish overall for the season.

But, as mentioned, SailGP's reigning kings, skipper Tom Slingsby and his Australia SailGP Team, maintained their grip on the trophy, beating both the Kiwi and the British teams to claim the cash and third-time-sweet bragging rights.

Ultimately, however, things almost went pear-shaped for Slingsby when the team came off their foils as they approached the finishing line. This potentially opened the door for Burling and his New Zealand SailGP Team to snatch their prize in the winner-takes-all Grand Final, however Slingby and company were not done fighting.

"The current was picking up and the wind really died off," said Slingsyby in an official SailGP report. "It was a really solid, steady breeze all race and then on the last upwind, it just started flaking out and became more patchy—I guess I didn't react to that as well as I could have."

This called for an immediate tack, which the Aussie's pulled off in the nick of time.

Pop the Champaign, and queue the Season Three celebrations.

(Slingsby, it should be noted, holds American and Australian passports, and was signed by American Magic for the 37thAmerica's Cup in last May.)

Meanwhile, in offshore sailing news, the teams racing in Leg Four of The Ocean Race continue their push from Itajai, Brazil to Newport, Rhode Island. As of this writing (Monday morning, U.S. West Coast time), skipper Charlie Enright and his 11th Hour Racing squad are in the pole position, followed some 25 nautical miles later by skipper Will Harris's Team Malizia and skipper Paul Mielhat's Biotherm.

But, with over 550 nautical miles of brine still left to ply, the ballgame still has plenty of innings left, especially given that the fleet was preparing for rough weather, a Gulf Stream crossing, and upwards of 50 knots of air (again, at the time of this writing).

"I think the whole fleet will get tested," said Amory Ross, who works as the onboard reporter aboard 11th Hour Racing, in an official report. "We're making sure we're prepared going into this and the boat is in good shape. This will be the most wind we have seen all leg. We haven't even had a reef in since we left Brazil."

Similar predictions echo across the fleet.

"We are going into a small low pressure, with very strong wind, probably around 50 knots at one stage," said Team Malizia's Nico Lunven, in an official communication. "Not for very long, but quite extreme. The sea state should not be too bad, I think, because it's a new system so it shouldn't have had time to develop."

While it's fair to say that all teams stand a significant chance of getting shaken, not stirred, as they push for Rhode Island, odds are one-hundred percent that the sailing-obsessed city of Newport stands ready to welcome the fleet with memorable stopover celebrations.

According to reports, the fleet is expected to make landfall sometime on Wednesday (May 10), so sailors who live within reach of Narragansett Bay are advised that this might be an excellent time to start making VMG towards Newport.

STOP THE PRESSES! Roughly 12 hours after this editorial was written, word arrived that GUYOT environnement was dismasted some 600 nautical miles east of Newport. All crew members are reportedly safe. This leaves just three boats racing to Newport, and it adds complication for any team trying to amass scoreboard points. Stay tuned to the website for more on this story, as it becomes known.

May the four winds blow you safely home.

David Schmidt North American Editor

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