The sun shone and the stars were bright. Plymouth City was a fabulous venue for Formula 1 on water and whilst the home crowds that thronged the Hoe weren’t treated to a home win as witnessed a few hundred miles away at Silverstone, the Sail GP circuit delivered in fine style.
As a shop window for the next Cup, the richness of sailing talent at this elite level is something to behold and not just in the driver’s seats. There is a real depth of foiling talent emerging with many of the Ineos-linked sailors in key positions across the fleet, sending us all signals that they are a coming force. I have so much hope for the next Cup circuit. It really could be coming home.
We also saw the talent of Tom Slingsby again who had a nightmare in Taranto where he sailed like a drain and ended up propping up the leaderboard. Different story in Plymouth. Slingsby was the class act and he’s one of those mesmerising talents that on his day is nigh on impossible to better. The French looked good too, as did Jimmy Spithill but they were but a mere side-show to the see-sawing roller coaster that is the Slingsby machine. “It was a crazy last race. We went from leading, to coming last, then battled our way to second and then had to push to get over France and we got there. It was so close and heading into that last manoeuvre it could have gone either way but we nailed the perfect foiling gybe and victory was ours.”
And there in a nutshell is Tom Slingsby’s career in sailing. Brilliant one moment. Other-worldly the next. But in brief spells, capable of moments of sheer desperation. He’s bubbly or bust but you’d just want him in your America’s Cup team as when he’s on, he’s red-hot. And his palmares is up there with the very very best: Laser Gold medallist, winner of the America’s Cup, multiple Laser World Champion, winning skipper in the Sydney-Hobart, winner of the Sail GP first series, oh and Moth World Champion to boot. Impressive. Best sailor in the world today? He has to be in the conversation.
But what about the other helms? Well Billy Besson is a rising star and came within a gnat’s whisker of winning in Britain. That French team has talent to burn and it would be just so great to see our Gallic cousins back in the mainframe of the America’s Cup. Any rich industrialists or newly-minted French tech gazillionaire’s now have a ready-made home-grown team performing at the very peak…surely someone in France will step up?
And how about Phil Robertson in the Spanish Team? Okay they finished in last place overall but Phil was the undoubted star of the show on Saturday and his press conference was refreshingly bright, youthful and engaging. It’s lovely to see the younger talent coming through unencumbered by media training and prepared to say it how it is.
Then on the water, Phil’s harshly judged black flag after what I can only describe as a pin-point perfect port tack start on Saturday that put all of our hearts in our mouths and guaranteed him honorary membership of the Cowboy Yacht Racing Association (I’m a founder member btw), was just what this regatta needed. The fact that Phil didn’t get away with it in the eyes of the judges was a shame. It was a VAR moment that ruins sport – a human eye would not have made that judgement – but it set the scene and captured perfectly the zeitgeist for an electric weekend of racing all round.
Russell Coutts walked up and around the Hoe on Sunday to capture the mood of the spectators and he liked what he saw and heard. The knowledgeable British crowd showed up in their thousands and cheered on the local boat, steered like a demon on Sunday by Paul Goodison who is the model professional in this era. A better replacement for Ben Ainslie we couldn’t have wished for and he hands back the boat tied on season’s points with the Aussies – over to you Ben to take it all the way now. The way Goody bounced back from an average day on Saturday to re-group and analyse was pure class and the way he rewarded the Sunday crowds with a commanding win was top drawer stuff…Ineos must sign him. He’s too good to be overlooked and will keep Ben mightily honest in the next Cup run.
The Ocean City of Plymouth can quite rightly pat itself on the back after a tremendous spectacle and festival of yachting. Sail GP was a welcome sporting relief and real highlight of a fantastic summer of sport in the UK. Every box was ticked this weekend and Sail GP proved beyond any shadow of doubt that it is the real deal. The decision-makers in the America’s Cup are well aware of what’s going on with this series and would do well to mirror the template that has been created.
Imitation, as they say, is the sincerest form of flattery.