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SailGP Abu Dhabi: Four boats in top cluster after a light day Day 1

by Richard Gladwell/Sail-World.com/nz 13 Jan 05:13 PST
Day 1 - Sail GP - Abu Dhabi - January 12, 2024 © Adam Warner/SailGP

Spain, New Zealand, USA and Canada sit at the top of the leaderboard after Day 1 of SailGP Abu Dhabi.

Sailed in light winds of around 5.5kts, none of the 10 boat fleet was able to foil on any leg of the three races sailed.

In all three races a good start was essential, and generally the team which led around Mark 1 went on to win the race - the exception being Race 2, where Spain hung in around the top three, moving through USA on the final leg to take their first of two race wins, and lead the overnight points table.

Emirates Team New Zealand showed the fleet their transoms as they got the edge at the start of Race 1 and crawled away to lead by almost a 400-500mtr leg of the course.

Against the run of play in Race 2 and 3, Spain helmed by European 49er champion, Diego Botin finished 10th and last in Race 1, but undaunted had a hard earned win in the afore-mentioned Race 2, and backed that up by an end to end win in Race 3 - despite a little lead swapping with New Zealand in the mid-race.

The Kiwis were the only other team to win a race, getting an excellent start in Race 1, and nailed first place at the first Mark and were gone. They got caught well back from the start line in Race 2 and fought bravely avoid the ignominy of finishing last - however their efforts were in vain, and after two race they had 11 points and were in the middle of the fleet overall.

The fledgling USA team in just their third regatta was probably the star performer on the day - having a bad first race, like the Spanish but made amends in the last two races post second and third places to lie in third place overall - one point behind the Kiwis and two behind Spain.

Quote of the day came from Taylor Canfield, the US skipper who was probably more at home sailing at displacement speed than the others. "It was very, very light," he said. "Your head was on a swivel."

Phil Robertson had another bad day with the umpiring team, after he had another close encounter with Tom Slingsby (AUS) at the final turning mark. It appeared that Robertson had kept clear. But in a slow decision by the UK based umpire team, Robertson was penalised as he crossed the finish line, losing a second place to the Australians. After the race he politely expressed the view, that while the decision was a surprise, the competitors obviously had to start seeing the racing the same way as the umpires. Good luck with that one.

After the race Robertson said that the Umpires came to him, admitting that a mistake had been made, however the penalty had to stand in terms of the result.

In with a chance at making the Final are France in fifth place with 17pts - 2pts behind Canada and USA. And Australia with Tom Slingsby back on the helm had a good first race, placing second but diced with the Kiwis in Race 2 for last place. They were mid-fleet in Race 3, and are tied on 16pts in sixth and seventh overall with Denmark - with Nathan Outteridge (AUS) on the helm.

The switch-out of Ben Ainslie as helmsman with Giles Scott as helms of Emirates GBR did not pay a dividend, with the Brits being the most consistent team on the day scoring three seventh places. They are tied with Germany on 12pts, and are unlikely to be able to close the gap to make the Final with just two races remaining. For all the talk about stepping off the boat to focus on the America's Cup, it was surprising to see time-scarce Ben Ainslie sitting in the coach booth in Abu Dhabi.

The Swiss team on 9pts will be looking to lift their performance on Sunday.

On the line as much as any of the competitors will be the venue of Abu Dhabi - or rather the weather - running two days in light airs, with big rigs, four crew, and without any competitor foiling is not the greatest way to open their SailGP account. And even more so given that Abu Dhabi has been confirmed as the venue for the Grand Final in Season 5 and beyond.

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