Aussie Rules

The thin sporting tightrope between the sublime and the ridiculous was trodden in San Francisco today but on balance it emerged unscathed. Just. It wasn’t the quite brilliant organiser’s fault that the weather let them down right when it mattered but the Bay bit and it bit hard. It was a tricky day all round. The unusual southerly was in an almighty battle with the prevailing westerly and it was the wind Gods that toyed and played with the fleet all afternoon. It was a shame, if truth be told, as San Francisco has been heaven on earth all week but the reminder that this is March and summer isn’t quite here yet, produced a head scratcher of a day for the helms and tacticians.


Bob Martin for SailGP

The sailors, from top to bottom, however were off form in spectacular fashion as if they had all enjoyed one too many the night before or the pressure had got to them and the portents weren’t good when the leeward gate started shifting in the tide on the first abandoned race of the day. The commentary too was miles off – poor calls on rules, way over-excitable and the whale that had been seen on the Waszp course for the last two days decided to stretch its flippers and caused another cancellation. The mammal’s timing was impeccable, more on that in a moment.


©Felix Diemer for SailGP

Racing for the event title was the first order of the day with two races to get away for the first slug of prize money and bragging rights. Gloves were well and truly off from the safety-first mode of Saturday but so too was the timing of the fleet.

With the boats porpoising and some big differences in straight-line speed, it didn’t take long for rules infringements to creep in and then the first big, nightmarish crash of the day at the second leeward gate as Spain barged in with no water and clipped the aero box moulding off the back of Jimmy Spithill’s Team USA. It could have been worse.

The Americans sat out the second race of the day to effect repairs and were back for the million dollar shoot-out but it was ugly from the inexperienced 470 supremo Jordi Xammar who’s day was over and the Spanish limped home with a cracked starboard bow. He’ll be back. Lesson learned.


©Ricardo Pinto for SailGP

For the record, the Kiwis won that first race and we don’t say that often in SailGP. After a great start, they held it together, fighting poor speed and flight but it was a welcome relief for Pete and Blair who left San Francisco not only with a race win but $100,000 for winning the Impact League. However, race two showed just how far off in the split-second decision-making Pete really is at the moment and it’s something that Team New Zealand will be watching closely.


©Bob Martin for SailGP

Coming down to the leeward gate parallel but to windward with the Frenchman Quentin Delapierre on port gybe, the two boats had to keep clear of a fast approaching Ben Ainslie on starboard. As the French dialled up to keep clear as is their right as the leeward boat, inexplicably Pete dialled down and a horror kiss-crash at 60km/h ensued. Delapierre gave the universal Gallic sign of discontent, the Kiwis wallowed off the foils and licked their wounds. Poor show. Bad decision making. Better days ahead methinks.


©Jed Jacobsohn for SailGP

With crashes and bangs behind them Tom Slingsby kept it cool and with an A1 team onboard right at the very top of their game, they won the season closing event at a canter. It was a master-class of consistency on a day where even he didn’t look quite comfortable but my goodness the team were fast.

Nathan Outteridge, the man you’d back a thousand times in conditions like this, was out of sorts. He really had no answer all day. There were flashes of brilliance and Nathan is definitely the closest to Tom in terms of outright boatspeed but he couldn’t hold it together, small mistakes crept in, misfortune reared and the cracks appeared.


©Felix Diemer for SailGP

The scene was set for the grand final and with a million dollars on the line it was showtime. But not for the sailors. The first start was bordering on farcical. Outteridge was penalised for breaking the boundary and then forced a penalty on Slingsby coming in fast to leeward and luffing hard so with both boats penalised, Jimmy Spithill had the glamour start that you couldn’t script as a fiction writer.

He led to the first turn but with the boat on a relentless elevator, porpoising, ducking, diving, it was a hard ask to keep ahead. By the leeward mark, Jimmy had just held it together but delayed the tack at the right hand gate with Nathan trailing behind. Slingsby in third crash tacked around, got up on the foils first and was straight-lining it to the top mark as a massive left shift filtered off the downtown streets.


©Simon Bruty for SailGP

But here came the whale. Just to remind us all of the rightful pecking order in mankind, the race committee abandoned the race as Flipper claimed his home waters and gracefully eased across the course blissfully unaware of what was happening above.

Good call from the organisers to abandon and very, almost suspiciously, timely as the race was looking like a procession. And so we waited for the wind to decide what it wanted to do and it was getting late and patchy under bruised skies.

Eventually, the starting sequence was enacted and your money was on the ‘Wind Whisperer’ Outteridge to have a very big say in things. He and Jimmy tousled and tussled at the committee boat end but it was Slingers who dialled in hot below, got on the foils first and left everyone for dead. In a nano second he was 200 metres up, ten seconds later it was 500 and pretty soon he was off to bank the cheque with a 1000 metre lead at one point.


©Jed Jacobsohn for SailGP. Handout image supplied by SailGP

USA and Japan had wallowed and the Aussie’s ate their lunch. Luck? No. Brilliant boat-handling from the best team in the business who knew just how to position their boat for flight and, crucially, take-off. Outstanding sailors, delivering right when it mattered and despite the spectacle not befitting the event, oh how we would have loved a close race, on balance it was the story of the season in a nutshell.

Slingsby is a class apart. The greatest big-time sailor on the planet today. Even a small splash down at the first windward gate didn’t stop the Aussies who just kept it cool in the lull knowing that their time would come to fly and once airborne, it was game over. A victory lap of the highest quality. Deserved winners of the loot.

So whilst Tom crossed the line and hugged the team, with Russell Coutts stepping onboard the tramps precariously to hand over the trophy, the San Francisco series ender finished on a high. The best team won and it’s now heads-down for Season 3. This is a relentless global circuit now. They know they’ve got gold-dust in the palm of their hands and are more than willing to covert on the promise. It’s looking good in the immediate vision but San Francisco also showed a huge glimpse of the future…and it’s bright.


©Ricardo Pinto for SailGP

Over in the Waszp Grand Final, it was a remarkable performance of nine race wins and two second places that secured the title in the women’s fleet for young Hattie Rogers. What a display, what a performance, what a week this superstar sailor from Britain had. The SailGP and Cup world are on high alert for this fast-arriving talent who would unquestionably offer any of those works teams out there on the Bay a new perspective from someone born to win and born to foil. If I were a team boss I’d be making the call and you know what? I’d be giving her the helm in Season 3. I know talent when I see it and Hattie has the X-Factor. Watch this space.


©Hattie Rogers

SailGP is a mighty sporting franchise. With new sponsors coming onboard, new sailors rising, the bar well and truly set by the Aussies and new franchisees coming to the party in 2022, the future is bright and the message of conservation is landing. It’s easy to discount the ‘Protect our Future’ strapline but that’s an argument that’s lost – this is infiltrating and it’s making a difference. The audience that matters likes it. I applaud SailGP for trying. I applaud the athletes for being relentless. And I applaud them for what was a terrific show in San Francisco.

All eyes on Bermuda in May. The future is now.



10 thoughts on “Aussie Rules

  1. My one complaint is that they didn’t show the Impact League prizegiving on the live feed. We missed out on seeing Dr. Sylvia Earle, and she is an absolute legend of oceanography. It’s hard to find a kid with an interest in ocean science in the US who *hasn’t* seen Earle somewhere, be it a book, article, documentary, or exhibit— she even helped Disney design The Living Seas pavilion at EPCOT in the 80s!

    I do not exaggerate when I say Dr. Earle, for the 80s-2000s generations at least, is to the deep sea what Sally Ride was to outer space, and there are few people so qualified to present the Impact League trophy. Bravo to SailGP for reaching out to partner with her.

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  2. Great Show but the TV Coverage for the 2nd Attempt of the Grand Final when the whale left was poor. Russell needs to fix that pronto!

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    1. Hopefully we can do all-drone filming in Season 3 so all we have to do is swap out photo drones to keep filming all afternoon instead of one helicopter that’s grounded when it runs out of fuel.

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  3. Magnus, you said nothing about the camera boat that stopped Outeridge getting on his foils after the start, in the last race which stopped him from any chance of winning. In my mind they should have restarted the race for fairness.

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    1. That was the misfortune that I was alluding to. But they were well and truly stuffed in a hole at that end of the line so I’m not sure it would have made a difference…but we’ll never know.

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  4. Almost! But just typical of sailing, the finale was a damp squid. That’s why sports like soccer are a far better commercial and TV guarantee.

    The commentary was once again lame and at times annoying. I ended up turning the sound off, but then you missed the onboard coms.

    Not sure of the judges on the Ainslie, France NZL clash. To me it looked like France attempted to keep clear, but NZL, the windward boat, failed to avoid the French. The annoying commentators immediately called out the French and continued to do so. I never did get to hear the judges call. How did you read it Magnus?

    Then there was the poor course setting generally all day. Yes, it was annoying that the wind direction had changed. But why did we end up with reaching back and forth? I thought the race officer had incredible tech so would be able to quickly set up true windward leeward courses that at least have the boats behind a chance to overtake. Very disappointing.

    The final, with just three boats was pretty uninspiring plus the overlays of the start line ect crashed.

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      1. Agreed. So why didn’t someone in the management call into the hopeless commentators and get them to correct their report. In fact just sack them and get someone who knows the rules?

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  5. Just when you think SailGP can’t get any worse they have the comments guy shout his head off, over the totally unnecessary crew chat. The whole show is moving to an AI operation with computer-generated graphics.

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