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Henri-Lloyd Fathers Day 2024

The greatest event that almost never was

by Mark Jardine 15 Nov 2023 12:00 PST
SSL Gold Cup 1/32 Finals Day 4 - Fleet 2 Race 3 © Martina Orsini / SSL Gold Cup

It's been a very hard week for personal reasons, but I am very glad I made it to Gran Canaria to cover the SSL Gold Cup.

For those that don't know about the event, it's the World Championship of Sailing Nations, where countries compete in identical SSL 47 yachts, and it could well be the most important event in the history of sailing.

The first round finished on Monday and was hugely successful. To get this event off to a good start was no mean feat, and it almost never happened. The scope of the SSL Gold Cup is huge and the logistics daunting. It lasts nearly a full month, requires over ten thousand hotel room nights, has a small army of people behind the scenes, and is reaching every corner of the world.

So why is the event so important? Sailing is dominated by a few countries, but as a sport we need to become bigger globally, and understood by a far wider audience. What World Sailing call 'emerging nations' have the potential to be the largest sailing viewership, and if they start watching sailing, they'll soon aspire to take part, and then compete.

The SSL Gold Cup very much styles itself as the 'Football World Cup in Sailing'. National teams wear national jerseys, each team has a nickname and an identity. This enables fans to really get behind their sailors, and the atmosphere within the teams is simply incredible.

We're only a few days into the event, but already I'm totally immersed in it and sold on the concept. While I'm naturally hoping the British team will win, in the first round Tahiti have become a favourite, my 'second team' if you will. They are the most chilled bunch ashore, but lightning quick on the water, winning all four of their races. Their team nickname is 'The Black Pearls', and I'm happy to go seek them out for an interview in the event village.

What will I do if they progress to the round where Great Britain enters the competition and they go head to head? May the best team win, as they say...

Talking of nationalities, the SSL Gold Cup teams are really made up of sailors from that nation. The America's Cup nationality rules have been watered down and tightened up on various occasions, but we've got Australian and British Olympic gold medalist helms for American Magic, just for an example. In SailGP the teams carry a national flag, but again the sailors are from various countries.

The other thing that is really working well is the livestream. We may be living in the foiling world, but the displacement SSL 47 yachts are spectacular to watch. With foilers it has become hard to see what the crew are actually doing, as they're cocooned in pods, wearing helmets and visors, and generally hidden from view. In the SSL Gold Cup we're getting to see the emotions, the actions, the elation and the disappointment close up from the on-board cameras. This event is all about the sailors, not the technology.

This doesn't mean the yachts aren't spectacular. As you can see in the photos, they're wrapped in gold, which makes for quite incredible photography. It helps that we've got the likes of Martina Orsini taking the photos, but seeing the hiking crew reflected in the gold wrap really works.

Talking with national media around the world in the past week, it is quite clear that they're buying in to the SSL Gold Cup. The event is getting front page photos and serious column inches, in traditional print media, online, and on the television networks in countries such as Malaysia and Lithuania.

In Malaysia the Royal Family is taking a keen interest, with His Highness Tengku Amir Shah coming to Gran Canaria for the first round. With Malaysia progressing in the competition it was obvious that he was reviewing his travel plans to see if he could stay on...

Getting this kind of high profile interest of course increased the profile of the event in the country, and plans are already being formed to hold an SSL event in the region in 2025.

So why did it almost not happen? The event was scheduled to be this time last year, but things weren't ready in time on a number of fronts. It would have been easy to give up at that point, but perseverance won and it's happening, albeit a year later.

After a quick trip to The Netherlands for the METSTRADE marine business show I'll be back in Gran Canaria to cover next stage of the SSL Gold Cup. I highly recommend watching the livestream, reading the reports, and taking a look at the stunning photos. It won't take long before you're hooked.

This is why I think the event could well be the most important in sailing. The vision is bold, it's exciting, it's groundbreaking and it could change the scale of the sport globally, which has to be a good thing for us all.

Mark Jardine
Sail-World.com and YachtsandYachting.com Managing Editor

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