When Oracle founder Larry Ellison and five-time America’s Cup winner Russell Coutts started SailGP in 2018, they wanted to bring the excitement of Formula 1 to sailing. They decided the boats would be based on the 2017 America’s Cup boats – a 50-foot foiling catamaran capable of record speeds.
“You have the best sailors in the world on these boats, and they are not easy boats,” said Spanish team driver Phil Robertson. “It’s very high tech – more of a machine than a yacht. But it’s one of the best things to happen in yacht racing.”
With the competition in its second season, eight teams are fighting over eight events for the $1 million prize. The series will resume in Spain on Saturday and Sunday. Here are the highlights of this season.
bad luck in bermuda
The final day of racing at the Bermuda Sail Grand Prix in April, the first event of the year, had extreme conditions with wind speeds above 20 knots. Japan collided with a United States boat at 70 mph Japan’s bow came down on the American boat, hitting a mast shroud that nearly cut it. But it did more damage.
“I don’t think we have the rudder,” American driver Jimmy Spithill is heard saying on the radio. The accident had damaged power to the American wing. The boat tried to finish the race, but lost steering function and capsized. Later at the dock, both boats were damaged and the teams penalized, with Japan driver Nathan Outridge apologizing to Spithill.
“I had a good conversation with Jimmy,” he said afterward. “We are obviously wrong. But it is racing at the end of the day. We are pushing too fast boats, and these things are going to happen.”
Crash kills American return
After a difficult race in Bermuda, the American team returned in June to an event in Italy with only three crew members instead of five in light winds. The United States was leading Japan and Spain, which were sailing faster than 6 mph, in the final race on the final stage. With the finish line in sight, the United States struck an underwater object at 30 mph, breaking the hull and causing the boat to leap into the air.
“Extremely hard way to end it,” Spithill said. “We were sailing a really perfect race, and all we had to do was hit the mark and head over. Now I know how a Formula 1 driver feels when you have two corners to go and your Engine fails.”
the dreaded black flag of spain
In Britain in July, Spain drew SailGP’s first black flag, a disqualification penalty for crossing the start line prematurely, putting another team at high risk of a serious collision or overturn. On the first day of racing, Spanish driver Robertson started the third qualifying race in what other sailors said was an aggressive move. With seconds left before the race began, he made the cut in the starting sequence, aiming directly at the US boat before heading to the racecourse. The United States had to make last-minute maneuvers to avoid the accident.
It was the third time this season that Robertson had made a risky move to mixed results. The authorities immediately gave Spain a black flag and disqualified him from the race. Later, SailGP chief umpire Craig Mitchell explained the risk-reward of the move.
“It’s a great move when it goes well,” he said. But it is also a very high-tariff maneuver. And when you get it wrong, it can have disastrous consequences. You can’t get here until you’re a winner. And winners take risks. This time it did not pay. “
Later, in a phone interview, Robertson said that he still stands behind his step. “We thought we could make it,” he said. “I called and we went for it. We knew it would be a bit risky. The second option – crashing – was much worse. We were so shocked by the black flag. I still think it was a bad call. We Caught him on the chin.”
Great Britain sets speed record
Great Britain driver Ben Ainslie set an F50 speed record at 61 mph during a practice race in Denmark in August.
“It was an absolute moment for the team in great conditions, a real team effort to get the boat flying through the turnshandjob So it was almost a surprise to find out later that we had broken our fastest speed and SailGP records,” Ainslie said in an email. “It was one of those days when you dock the boat back in reasonable shape. I am happy to have. If we had a slightly flatter position, it could have been faster. With the constant innovations of the way the F50 operates, it won’t be very long until one of the teams reaches 62 mph.
SailGP officials said the top-end speed of the F50 had not yet been reached, and was expected to increase, possibly breaking next March in San Francisco, which has some of the strongest winds on the circuit.
A broken bone in Denmark
The American team had bad luck for Denmark in August. During a practice race in high winds, the team lost control of their F50, throwing Spithill and wing trimmer Paul Campbell-James out of the cockpit. The team avoided capsizing, and Spithill suffered no injuries, but Campbell-James broke his fibula when he was thrown across the boat as it went airborne. He didn’t tell his team until he had finished the practice race, when he requested a drug.
“I think it was adrenaline,” Campbell-James said in an email. “To be honest, it didn’t really hurt. I could feel something moving in my leg, which felt a little weird, but I was hoping it would just go away. Then running across the boat for the third time. Hue – actually it was like jumping until then – I knew it was big enough, so I tapped out.