Push Harder

Alongside sporting triumph, the spectacle of defeat or disaster makes the voyeur return. We like our thrills, spills and crashes as much as we enjoy execution of sporting excellence. We watch action sports to hold our collective breath when things go wrong whilst not wishing ill on those involved – it’s compelling and thrilling. Seeing the extraordinary in elite sport drives fan engagement and propels the sport forwards. This weekend did just that.

©Bob Martin for SailGP

Even at our own level, the odd capsize around a gybe mark through distinct lack of talent – guilty as charged m’lud – makes the Sunday sail more than just a blast around the cans. You’ve got something to talk about afterwards, you feel exhilarated, damp and alive to the sport and the world around you. As that great cowboy actor John Wayne once said: “Courage is being scared to death…and saddling up anyway.”

And at the very top level, who can forget in recent times the Team New Zealand capsize of Te Rehutai on that blast reach whilst training against Ineos Britannia in the last pre-Cup. Or the TNZ pitch pole against BAR in Bermuda. How about that near capsize in San Francisco in 2013 when Dean Barker almost lost it against Oracle in Race 8? And of course, we will never forget the American Magic catapult crash-size whilst a country mile ahead of Luna Rossa in the Challenger series.

©Thomas Lovelock for SailGP

Capsizing is a fact of life for the pros as much as it is for us amateurs. At the Olympics it was almost embarrassing to see how many of the world’s finest dinghy sailors stacked it with alarming regularity. But the simple fact is that they capsize, and we capsize, because they and we are pushing it.

If you’ve ever sailed a single-hander in big conditions, it’s all very well trundling along upwind with everything hunkered down, a ton of cunningham wound on, the kicker bending the boom like a banana and the sail flatter than your mother’s ironing board but bear away onto a run and everything changes. Suddenly the waves are no longer predictable friends, minute body positions make a significant difference and woe betide letting that mainsheet out too far and pretending you’re Giles Scott.

And as we all know, stuff (to be polite) happens. In my Laser, I can still rely on the mainsheet getting caught on the transom right at the moment when it shouldn’t. I can guarantee a birds nest in the mainsheet on the bear-away. When I release the kicker it’s like I’ve put money into the greasy palms of a gypsy for a gamble on a rickety rollercoaster. And shorn of kinetic and athletic ability, in waves the boat seems to enjoy, almost delight, in folding in on top of me. You know the score.

©Bob Martin for SailGP

So when I see Ben Ainslie stacking it at warp speed in the SailGP it’s a kind of affirmation that all is okay. You can see just how hard they were pushing it and can only imagine how marginal the tiniest of errors cascade into a drama.

I’ve pored over that footage, read the race reports, listened to the analysis and Ben’s own words and I’m left in awe at how a simple mis-timing of an easing of a sheet and a slight angle on the rudder produces such a devastating result. This is sailing on another level and it’s how it should be at the pinnacle. It’s Formula 1 on the water where the most minuscule of differences produces catastrophe. The ragged edge of possibility is just fantastic to watch and witness. It’s everything.

©Thomas Lovelock for SailGP

And I very much enjoyed Hannah Mills’s assessment afterwards where she took all the positives from the weekend, learned a lot and brushed the capsize off as “we just buried the bow” – nothing to see here.

As racing incident’s go, it’s just another day in the office, all part of the sport and the spectacle and that’s just how it should be. The chase boats were in quicker than a Tyson Fury uppercut and the mast was pointing skywards in about four minutes – pretty impressive from the shore crew.

And will Ben back off in Sydney? Well you can bet a barn-door to a banjo that backing off won’t be in his lexicon if it’s blowing in the harbour, his favourite place to sail on planet earth. He’ll be pushing harder than possible and taking the fight squarely to secure that golden shot in San Francisco and the $1m prize pot.

Riveting, enthralling, exciting. What a sport we’ve got…

13 thoughts on “Push Harder

  1. The last pic with Ben and Hannah is reminding me of how before actually seeing some of the SailGP athletes in the flesh in New York, I didn’t realize just how TALL they are, even the ladies. (When they’re just among each other, there’s nobody short around for scale!) I’m 1.55 m so they were really towering over me.

    While trying to take a selfie with Mr. Coutts, I even mock-shouted “Why are you all so tall?!?” because it has hard to get both faces in the frame. He was a good sport and said “We can fix that.” and knelt down.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Did they go through? The comment isn’t showing up. I hope the URLs didn’t make a spam filter catch it.


      1. They’ve been on my public blog (a-solitary-sea-rover.tumblr.com) for upwards of two years, I have no problem at all with sharing them (or any other pics from that photoset) here as well.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Magnus,
    Since Ben & Chris Bake recently bought the SailGP GBR Team Ben won’t go anywhere. I still hope they can reach the 1M$ Race in San Francisco next year but even if they don’t I hope they try again in Season 3.

    And as Ben & Hannah get more comfortable with each other they will become one formidable Team going forward I think. That 1st Day on Saturday must have been pretty intimidating for Hannah. These building Relationships between a Helmsman & Tactician need time see Giles Scott & Ben Ainslie who raced with each other since 2014.

    The Aussie ain’t unbeatable. Ben correctly pointing out that they have to eliminate these little mistakes that costing them. They are going well accross the wind range so that’s the silver lining.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Magnus,
    Given how this Female Athlete Program is going in SailGP expect Russell Coutts might try 2 Females in each Team in Season 3, 3 Females in Season 4 and then a complete Female Crew like they are aiming by Season 5.

    What do you think?


      1. I am saying this BECAUSE
        Denmark (Anne-Marie Rindom & Katja Salskov-Iversen)
        France (Helene Noesmoen & Amelie Riou)
        Spain (Tara Pancheco & Andrea Emone)
        New Zealand (Erica Dawson & Liv Mackey)
        USA (Daniela Moroz & CJ Perez)
        Japan (Wakako Kajimoto & Sena Takano)

        have already 2!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I think if you want a truly integrated sport, mixed teams is best. As great as teams like SCA have been, I feel like if there’s one designated “women’s team” it makes the other teams throw up their hands and decide that absolves THEM of needing to look for female crew.


  4. Magnus,
    I do think that Ben & his Squad is the only Team Tom Slingsby & the Aussies are really fearing in SailGP. Outteridge is 1 – 5 in combined Match/Podium Races (lost 3 of the 4 Match Race in 2019 and had no chance in Podium Race in Denmark) and if the USA make it to the 1M$ Race Tom will play “Chicken” with Jimmy.

    Slingsby is the best on captilizing on Opponents mistakes but when you really put the pressure on him he cracks see Sydney 2020 and Bermuda 2021. Two of the three Event Wins this year Slingsby faced no pressure at all. In Aarhus the Umpires basically took the pressure away from him and in Cadiz GBR capsized, USA had to avoid them and by the time Jimmy got the boat going again the USA was 1000M+ behind.


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