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SailGP shakeups, America's Cup preliminary racing, ultimate Ultim racing

by David Schmidt 5 Dec 2023 08:00 PST December 5, 2023
USA SailGP Team lift the USA flag as they celebrate onboard after winning the Spain Sail Grand Prix in Cadiz, Spain © Bob Martin for SailGP

While the world is enjoying some fantastic offshore racing, with concurrent events - including the Global Solo Challenge and the Ocean Globe Race - unfurling around the world, we find ourselves with a borderline embarrassment of riches with great inshore action at SailGP and on America's Cup starting circles as well.

First to SailGP.

If you're a North American fan of this professional racing circuit, it's no secret that the U.S. team has struggled over the past few years. Yes, they have made it to the $1M Grand Final race (Season 2), but they finished in third place.

The team was led by skipper Jimmy Spithill, himself a two-time America's Cup winner, but no team event is won by a single athlete, even one as great at his or her respective sport as Spithill is at sailing.

Change was inevitable, both given the team's lackluster results, and given the fact that the U.S. team was still owned by SailGP, rather than private owners.

From its start, SailGP founder Larry Ellison promised to support the league for some years (first five, then, after Covid, longer), but he maintained that teams would have to become financially independent so that SailGP racing could continue long after Ellison's last check cleared the bank.

Enter Ryan McKillen, Margaret McKillen, and pro sailor Mike Buckley, who recently stepped up to buy the American team from Sail GP, and skipper Taylor Canfield. While the McKillens, along with other investors, are a chunk of the money in this deal, Buckley, who is a co-owner, is also the team's CEO. Canfield, of course, is the guy that they picked to hold the steering wheels. According to reports, and to an official SailGP video about the deal, the purchase was contingent on the change of drivers.

Spithill leaves the U.S. team in a strong position for Season 4, and he is reportedly decamping to launch and lead an Italian SailGP start-up.

"This is a momentous day not only for the league, but also for the sport as a whole," said Russell Coutts, a five-time America's Cup winner and SailGP's CEO. "We welcome Ryan, Margaret, Mike, Taylor, and our new investors to the league and wish them every success for the future."

The next SailGP event is set to start on December 9 in Dubai, and it will see Canfield on the helm of the U.S. team's F50.

This won't be an entirely new role for Canfield, as SailGP fans will remember that he has sailed aboard the boat before as Spithill's flight controller. (It also helps that Canfield is one of the world's best match-racing skippers.)

What's less clear is who will be aboard the U.S. boat with Canfield. The conservative move would simply be to swap drivers, but it's unclear (as of this writing, Monday morning, December 4) if this is the thinking. A visit to the U.S. SailGP webpage reveals little, other than to mention Canfield's name.

SailGP rules limit the amount of time that each team gets in an F50, however new teams are given extra practice time as logistics afford. While Canfield is a seven-time world-champion sailor and a proven talent, just like Spithill, he needs the rest of his team to be firing on all cylinders, likely soon, in order to see the bright side of the podium.

After all, few things attract sponsors faster than racecourse wins, and there's few things that most new teams need more than sponsorship. Deep pockets are wonderful things, of course, but even Mr Ellison has a limit to what he will underwrite.

Sail-World wishes Canfield and the U.S.-flagged team good luck in their ramp-up to Dubai, and we thank Spithill for his time behind the wheels.

As Spithill famously quipped at a 2013 America's Cup press conference (I think I was sitting 20 feet away), "It's better to be the rooster than the feather duster."

While crystal balls (or tomorrow's feather dusters) are in short supply, it will be interesting to see which teams finds their hydrofoils faster - Canfield's new U.S. squad, or Spithill's soon-to-be Italian concern.

Speaking of fast foiling monohulls, the second of three America's Cup Preliminary Regattas unfurled on the waters off of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, from November 29-December 2. If it seems offensive to have an America's Cup event in a country that ordered the state-sanctioned killing of journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi on October 2, 2018, you're not alone in that thinking.

I personally boycotted watching the event, which was hard, as I'm a lifelong moth to the America's Cup flame.

But, given that this is a sailing newsletter and not a United Nations referendum on human rights, the germane details are that Emirates Team New Zealand took top honors, followed by Luna Rossa and Alinghi Red Bull Racing. American Magic finished in fourth place, ahead of the Brits and the French.

The final Preliminary Regatta is slated for August 2024 on the waters off of Barcelona, Spain. Somehow, I doubt I'll have any moral quandaries about tuning into this next AC event.

Finally, don't miss the latest news from the SSL Gold Cup, which Sail-World publisher and managing editor Mark Jardine has been covering, as well as the latest offshore news from the Global Solo Challenge, and the Ocean Globe Race.

And, for anyone who might find themselves sniffing around the internet for inspiration on this early December day, check out the Arkea Ultim Challenge. This singlehanded-nonstop-around-the-world race is set to begin on January 7, on the waters off of Brest, France, and will see six skippers set off in Ultim-class trimrans on a course that will take these brave souls around the world's three great capes.

May the four winds blow you safely home,

David Schmidt
Sail-World.com North American Editor

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