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SailGP racecourse challenges and Season 4 leaderboard changes

by David Schmidt 26 Mar 08:00 PDT March 26, 2024
The SailGP F50 catamaran fleet in action on Race Day 2 of the ITM New Zealand Sail Grand Prix in Christchurch, Sunday 24th March © Brett Phibbs/SailGP

For a two-day regatta, a lot of action went down at last weekend's SailGP Christchurch event (March 22 and 23), which took place on the waters of New Zealand's Lyttelton Harbour. The first (tail?) flap arrived on Saturday, when protected dolphins swam into the racing area, putting paid to the day's competition, while the second series of incidents took place on Sunday and triggered the first leaderboard change that fans have seen all season.

While there's not much anyone can do to salvage a sailing event when protected (and much beloved) charismatic megafauna enter a racecourse, event organizers made the call to add an extra race to Sunday's schedule.

"It was a really challenging day today and disappointing for the capacity crowd that turned out," said Andrew Thompson, who serves as SailGP's managing director, in an official communication. "We have a marine mammal plan, and that plan was in place and unfortunately it meant we couldn't sail today.

"It was a tough day for the league and our super passionate Kiwi fans," Thompson continued. "The athletes were ready to go, the conditions were epic, and we were looking forward to some really fast racing."

Fortunately, the dolphins found more enticing waters on Sunday, leaving the racing area ready for high-performance sailing. And, as it turned out, some crashes and split-second judgement calls.

The first of these incidents unfurled before the start of Sunday's first race, when the Denmark boat, the Canadian Boat, and the American boat suffered a gear- and boat-bashing pile up that left all three boats in varying states of disrepair.

All three teams were able to keep racing, even if the Americans had some heated words for their rivals.

"The Danish and Canadians both had to know that there were eight other F50's through their wings when they recklessly came ripping down the start box and crashed into us," said Mike Buckley, who is a new owner as well as newly minted CEO and strategist for the recently acquired American-flagged team. "We are lucky that no one was seriously injured."

Then, moments later, driver Tom Slingsby and his Australian SailGP team faced a split-second decision: Risk colliding with the Canadian boat or instead hit the turning mark and sacrifice their F50. Slingsby chose the latter, avoiding athlete injuries but wrecking his boat and incurring a significant scoreboard penalty for hitting a mark.

"It all happened so quickly but at that moment I knew that we were going to hit Canada, so I had a choice to make, and I wanted to keep people safe so I turned the boat as hard as I could into the course mark," said Slingsby in a team communication. "I knew the mark was there, but it was either that or go straight through Canada."

While Sunday was marked by racecourse mayhem, it was also marked by hometown celebrations—and some 11,000 cheering fans—as the New Zealand SailGP Team won the event.

"Today has been the best day in SailGP history and to come out on the right side of it after such a battle to get into the final is something I am just blown away by," said New Zealand driver Peter Burling. "Being able to sail in front of our home crowd is something we have been looking forward to all season, and to take out today in front of them has been incredible."

New Zealand now tops SailGP's Season 4 leaderboard, followed by the Australians and the Spanish-flagged team. (For North American SailGP fans, the USA is currently sitting in sixth place, while the Canadians are in seventh place out of 10 competing teams.)

According to SailGP's Season 4 calendar, there are three more regular-season events—Bermuda (May 4-5), Halifax (June 1-2) and New York (June 22-23)—before the Season 4 Grand Final, which will take place on the waters of San Francisco Bay from July 13-14.

Meanwhile, in other news, the last of the five competing Ultims crossed the finishing line in the Arkea Ultim Challenge last week.

Skipper Anthony Marchand, sailing aboard Actual Ultim 3, finished racing on March 11, while Eric Peron, sailing aboard the non-foiling Adagio, was the last horse home to the barn. (N.B., Adagio, it should be noted, was the only non-foiling Ultim to contest this epic race.)

All told, Peron and Adagio finished the race 16 days and six hours astern of the race winner, Charles Caudrelier, who raced aboard Maxi Edmond de Rothschild.

Sail-World congratulates Marchand and Peron for finishing this adventurous race—alone—aboard such wildly powerful boats, and we have our candles lit for more round-the-world Ultim races.

And while it's fair to say that there's been plenty of celebration over American Cole Brauer's fantastic second-place finish in the Global Solo Challenge, skipper Andrea Mura, racing aboard his Open 50 Vento di Sardegna crossed the finishing line on March 17 to take third place.

In total, Mura spent 120 days and 44 minutes at sea. He finished about 22 days astern of race winner Phillipe Delamare, and just shy of 12 days astern of Brauer.

Fittingly, Brauer was on hand to present Mura with his third-place trophy.

Sail-World raises our glass to all sailors who engaged the Global Solo Challenge, and we wish safe passage home to the four skippers who are still racing.

May the four winds blow you safely home.

David Schmidt North American Editor

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