The Brits did it first. The Aussies hold the record. That’s the usual world order in sport and in Sail GP it’s pretty miraculous that these foilers can break the 50 knot barrier. Tom Slingsby lays claim to the official record, smashing through sailing’s equivalent of the sound barrier in Cowes of all places (everything happens in Cowes), when he guided the Aussie GP boat across the line in the first race of the UK leg of the tour in August 2019. The Brits did it in a practice race. Bragging rights secured.
Those were heady days. Larry’s vision for what the Cup could and should be was the apex of the sport. It still is today as the Cup goes into its ridiculous hibernation from such a glorious hiatus. Sponsored by Rolex, held in cutting-edge foilers with an App developed in Manchester bringing grand prix sailing to totally new audiences in a format that is appealing, interactive, understandable and diverse – yes you read that right. Female athletes onboard – in fact they are the story and it can’t be long before they are on the wheel. That’s got to happen.
Sail GP kicks off in the pitch-perfect setting of Bermuda at the end of April and the Cup circus has decamped from Auckland, chasing the sun and dollars around the planet. The big established names are there – Ben, Jimmy, Pete, Blair – and then there’s the ones with something to prove having been sidelined for Auckland – Tom and Nathan – whilst the French, Danes and Spanish all want to put themselves on the radar.
Catch one of the big boys’ eyes and who knows, an Ineos contract could be on the table. Build your reputation, stay out of the pub, be a team-player, make some right calls, win on the water and quack like an AC duck and you could well be on the next Cup ticket. This is the proving ground. This is the rocket league and everyone is watching. Crews are mixed up – Leigh MacMillan is sailing for the French, the grinders are spread across the fleet and they’ll all be reporting back to the powers that be – “he’s good, she’s brilliant, sign them now” etc etc…
Like Formula One, Sail GP is the ultimate testing arena where talent emerges regardless of where you happen to be sat. Whilst there’s an expectation on the ‘works teams’ of Ineos and New Zealand, they are there to be beaten which is the big difference to Formula One and that makes it exciting. The Aussies (Slingsby) and Japanese Aussies (Outteridge) will be laying it all down to secure a Cup gig. It will be white-hot racing with a beautiful sub-text running through the season.
And there’s more. The Sail GP team are throwing everything at the circuit – it’s the wish-list of the Cup: There’s the ‘Inspire Racing’ programme which encourages youths to come and sail their Waszps and get foiling – (I’ve applied and simply lied on the form. Yes I am under 21. Prove that I’m not!) – and there’s also an eSailGP championship that’s a truly global event for those of a virtual mindset. Sir Russell has also managed to shoehorn in an environmental strategy that they are hashtagging as #raceforthefuture which goes beyond having a zero carbon footprint and a diverse staff into clean energy and inclusivity. Wow. Good stuff all round. Boxes are ticked.
Is it the America’s Cup? Um no. But it’s a very good second and Larry’s vision and mega bucks (chump change) combined with Russell’s unrelenting drive puts SailGP on the calendar as a pinnacle showpiece. Foiling catamarans are perfect for shipping globally and perform somewhere on a par with the Cup boats for outright speed without the technical headspin (and cost) of foil cant systems and an army of Tesla, Boeing and Airbus technicians shoreside – and that’s a good thing. But does it strike the same emotion when the ‘ugly ewer’ isn’t up for grabs? No. But it’s a hell of a show.
The Bermuda round kicks off over the weekend of 24-25th April before tripping off to Taranto in Italy, Plymouth (why?) in July, Denmark in August, France in September and Cadiz in Spain. Then it’s off to New Zealand in in January 2022 with the grand final being in Larry’s backyard in San Francisco in March where the $1million cheque will be awarded.
The sailing world will be watching.