Golden Times

Take just one step back from the thrilling crescendo that’s building in San Francisco and it’s abundantly clear that sailing is winning, sailing is advancing and sailing is promoting itself as the most vibrant, photogenic, healthy, aspirational sport on the planet. It’s quite simply phenomenal what we are witnessing and all my timelines are filled with gracious, professional, happy pro-sailors not only performing and tuning up to the nth degree but also giving back, helping out and offering vital glimpses to youth of the big time. As a festival of sail, and all that’s good in our sport, it doesn’t get better than SailGP in its natural home of San Francisco.

©Ricardo Pinto for SailGP

If this was the vision that Larry Ellison had, then the man’s a genius. Personally I think it is exceeding even his wildest dreams. The Moet Cup in 2003 was the first realisation of the Larry Ellison desire for short-course racing off the shore of San Francisco with bleachers, hot dog stalls and the biggest firework display I’ve ever seen. It was greeted with feint bemusement by the locals and complaints that the City was under attack when he stuck up a million bucks of gunpowder into the night sky and his son dive-bombed the fleet in his jet. But nearly twenty years later, it’s a whole different story. SailGP is turbo-charged on enthusiasm, colour, speed, the art of the extraordinary and it’s a…whisper it quietly to the naysayers…a major sporting event.

©Ricardo Pinto for SailGP

Luckily for Larry, when he poached the greatest Cup skipper of all time for his failing Oracle syndicate that was stuck in a gear borne out of adversity in the Sydney-Hobart race, what he found was not only the winning formula but a fellow visionary with the same dream.

Russell Coutts gets what he wants and gets the job done – and my, oh my, this regatta is not only the crescendo of a brilliant global series, it’s the crescendo of the boldest vision imaginable. All credit to these two greats of our sport. What’s being achieved is moving the dial, changing the perception and presenting our awesome athletes in the most stunning, extraordinary fashion.

©Bob Martin for SailGP

And the sailors, so often the pawns in the game, are showing themselves to be the finest ambassadors for our sport. There’s a vibrancy and professionalism in the air that you simply would love to bottle and sell for five bucks to tourists under the Golden Gate Bridge.

In twenty years’ time these sailors will look back on this, a magical moment in our sport where everything came together, with rose tinted spectacles and reminisce about the good ol’ days when money was no problem, the boats were fast, the shoreside was buzzing, the weather was good and the competition was white hot. You can almost hear it now: “oh man, San Francisco in 2022 was off the scale…you had to be there.”

Sailors and SailGP staff attend a Save the Bay initiative whereby they will help remove invasive species and plant new plants in the wetlands surrounding San Francisco Bay ahead of San Francisco SailGP, Season 2 in San Francisco, USA. 21st March 2022. Photo: Jed Jacobsohn for SailGP. Handout image supplied by SailGP

Make no mistake, this is a cross-over moment in our sport. SailGP may well build to an even greater crescendo. It may wither on the vine as the Cup paymasters call back their star players. Who knows? But what’s before us now is something very, very special that doesn’t often happen in our sport.

Getting every single one of the established stars all in one place with a subtext of a tantalising winner-takes-all million dollar prize race, is simply breathtaking and then throw in all the sub-plots of sustainability leagues, the Waszp Grand Final for both Men & Women’s disciplines, diversity actually onboard the F50s, the whole Inspire programme that gives such incredible opportunity to the next generation and wow, we have gold-dust on our hands.

©Jed Jacobsohn for SailGP

SailGP is knocking this one out of the stadium like a San Francisco Giants slugger at Oracle Park. Their social media and overall marketing both locally and globally is so on-point that it puts every other regatta in our sport to shame. No one is even close.

And the sailors too, they’re bringing the action to our iPhones with a smile on their faces and real enjoyment coursing through the pixels. And then the pictures come through from the very, very best photographic professionals, snapping in the most perfect venue in the world for sailing and everything’s alive. Sailing at break-neck speed amidst plumes of spray, the sailors doing the impossible (don’t even for one second think you could handle an F50) and this is so much more than Formula 1 on water. So much more.

©Jed Jacobsohn for SailGP

For the sponsors, this is the dream ticket. Mubadala, the always-on, visionary investment vehicle of Abu Dhabi, must be salivating at the delivery before them. Hopefully it’s the gateway to greater involvement right through our sport, perhaps even explicitly with supporting the next gen Waszp sailors to be the best they can be and light that pathway for the future? But as a spectacle, as a showcase, as a marketing platform, a connections gold-mine, it simply doesn’t get better than this and the future opportunities to tap into our brilliant, sustainable, hyper eco-aware sport are second to none.

It’s a majestic, scintillating, thrilling scene before us and SailGP as an entity, as a franchise, as a spectacle is delivering on its promise with outstanding execution. This is the apex for now of our sport and it’s very, very special. San Francisco is beyond question the perfect amphitheatre. The boats are electric. The sailors are brilliant. The sport is alive and kicking.

Roll on the weekend. Can’t wait.

10 thoughts on “Golden Times

  1. If it wasn’t that I agreed with you about the F50 SailGp franchise I might be thinking that you have really gone over the top this time! Almost like for were spreading fake news like Putin.

    However I think the AC foiling monohulls are more spectacular and offer closer racing than the cats.

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  2. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways . . . Our majestic, scintillating, thrilling, brilliant, sustainable, hyper eco-aware sport . . . second to none

    Liked by 1 person

    1. When it is at its best, there is nothing better.

      My friend Reggae showed me an essay recently that argued that one of the appeals of following sports is that at its best, sport offers a vision of an ideal society— a world of fair play, teamwork, and peaceful competition.

      “Sport for a better future” programs build on that ideal, and with the educational programs, the youth development and coaching, the diversity initiatives, and their environmental programs, part of what I enjoy about SailGP is that it does feel, in a sense, utopian.

      Obviously the original meaning of “utopia” is a place too perfect to ever exist, and SailGP and its participants are as flawed as any human beings and any human project. I am aware of when they fall short of the lofty ideals and you’ve all seen my critiques of Russell Coutts along those lines.

      But the power of utopia is as a vision that we *strive* towards, and the notion that in trying to bring about those ideals we can create a *better* society, even if it isn’t a *perfect* one. Here’s to SailGP and the Race for the Future!


  3. Interesting to see Glen Davies has now joined Team NZ. By the time the next AC comes around, the SailGP sailing crews are going to be so well practiced and sharp – do you think those currently on the outside, like American Magic should be worrying?


    1. Hi Chris, well Ray ‘Razor’ Davies is a big coup for Team New Zealand to get involved in SailGP. Glenn Ashby was training them in Sydney but he’s now got the Land Speed Record on his mind. Ray’s involvement is definitely significant and TNZ are doing everything to keep ahead of the pack and learn wherever they can. Yes I think it is of concern that Magic are not in this. Alinghi too. They should be…


      1. We’ll have to see just how much crew overlap there is between Alinghi and SailGP SUI next season. According to that one Franck Cammas interview from the early days, Ernesto was offered the opportunity to be part of SailGP from the beginning but the negotiations fell through somewhere before the league launch. Understandable that there might still be bad blood between those parties, sad to say.

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  4. San Francisco as a venue, I would give Ellison credit for, yes, but looking at SailGP overall and tracing it back to the World Sailing League proposal that Ellison wasn’t involved with, I think more of the concepts did originate with Coutts.

    Of course, we shouldn’t forget that Paul Cayard was both part of the WSL proposal AND has advocated for San Francisco as a venue for major sailing events for decades. Although he didn’t end up being part of SailGP, in the videos from the 2019 San Francisco event, he seemed ecstatic to see his dreams come true. Hopefully Cayard is involved this weekend as well.

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  5. The excitement is building here in SF as more people along the beach wonder what is going on as they marvel at the boats practicing. That said, promotion of the event is a bit underwhelming and at last check, tickets for the stands were still available. But given the natural amphitheater, one can watch from so many places that the need to buy a ticket isn’t as great as it is elsewhere. But they are still worth it for the closeup action. The Cup never should have left the city by the bay. There is no better venue in our sport.

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