You rather get the impression that the pro-yachties of the SailGP circuit quite like Bermuda as a venue for their season-opener. Heck, if you were an alien and splashed down in the Great Sound you’d probably think that this world was an okay kind of place. Crystal blue waters, a picturesque shoreline, sandy beaches, great food and tax free, yes you could get used to that, the earthlings have done well. Add in some space-age technology blasting around the place at close on 50 knots and more smiles per square inch than just about any other sport on the planet, and all you understand in a sustainable manner, and you’ve got a recipe for what is right now, the very apex of sailing. It’s visual, visceral, raw and utterly compelling. Bermuda is the only place to be this weekend.
Behind the spectacle, the storylines are compelling for Season 3 of this truly global series and it’s getting serious. Those that haven’t been hitting the high notes need to start performing as there are a lot of eyes on them now. Places in the America’s Cup hot seats rest on the form they show in SailGP and there are owners, coaches, team managers, marketing teams and designers looking and assessing the top talent from the afterguard to the grinders to see who’s really got what it takes to win. They’re looking for attitude as much as results and they certainly don’t want to see a repeat of the limp finale in San Francisco where a million dollars was more or less put on a plate for Tom Slingsby.
What this season promises therefore is resurgence that must be delivered upon. Promise has to be converted. Horror weekends need to be a thing of the past. The top teams have to perform and there can really be no excuses going forward for poor execution or ‘off’ days.
What that crucible of competition should guarantee is electric, close racing where no quarter is given and a donkey Derby of spills and thrills that will truly propel the closest thing to Formula 1 on water ever higher in the public perception. As a blueprint and a warm up to hone skills for the America’s Cup, it’s a very good jamboree of colour, speed and precision. Whether the circuit can truly eclipse the Cup is another matter altogether. But it’s really trying. Personally I love SailGP – what did we ever do before?
So, less of that, of the runners and riders, two stand out from their report cards of Season 2 as ‘must do better’ and it’s the Kiwis and Brits on the naughty step. Dynamite on their day but haunted by the spectre of inconsistency last season, these two teams know that they must close the gap on the Aussies with the mercurial Slingers at the wheel.
On a given day and a given weekend they can both demolish the fleets with 100% flight time, and crew-work that’s off the scale. The Brits have got the full Ineos works team onboard for the early part of the season and so too the Kiwis backed up by the AC coaches that are themselves under the spotlight. The Kiwi’s starting was akin to atrocious in San Francisco and a complete frustration to watch but so too the Brits who clearly have speed to burn when they get their tails up. In Bermuda we simply have to start seeing an upward trajectory.
The Americans, with a few crew changes from Season 2, start with the knowledge that boatspeed is their key area to work on. They looked like a porpoising Williams when they got ahead in that abandoned first race of the final and you’ve got to think that better flight control will be the key for their programme this time around.
Jimmy Spithill didn’t so much as bring fire and fury to the campaign last year as run and hide so he’s under no illusion as to what’s expected of him. Max Sirena will be watching intently. Philippe Presti won’t tolerate another catch-up season. There’s a lot of pressure all round in the team.
Conversely the pressure valve is somewhat released with the Aussies. Double series winners and the boss with an American Magic contract in his back pocket, makes for an air of professional calm around the camp. Perhaps that’s unhealthy?
I always think Tom is at his best when his back’s against the wall but you’d be a brave gambler that bets against him come Sunday. The team look relaxed and confident having rolled on from San Francisco and as mighty units go, they are the juggernaut in SailGP. Can they be beaten? For sure, but it’s a tall ask and the one sailor who many believe is capable, Nathan Outteridge, is forced to sit out the first three events due to logistics. That’s a shame for the event, a huge shame, as Nathan was and is the coming man of SailGP and one that could truly take the fight to Slingers one on one.
But the weekend promises much. The new teams, Canada and Switzerland, will be looking to put on a good show. Spain are interesting and hard-driving. The Danes are the dark horses. The French have the ability to shock. The narrative could be written by any of them and with lighter winds forecast than we’ve seen on the training days, it’s a truly tantalising prospect in store.
My money’s on the Brits to come out storming. But I would say that. However all the evidence points towards renewed focus and we know that boat is fast. New tweaks and upgrades will be on display and there’s an air of positivity around the team that usually translates into performance. The crew all have security in contracts and a pathway now to Barcelona 2024. They’re too good to be also-rans. Britain expects.
I’ll be tuned in. SailGP is simply too good to miss.