Sail GP Team USA Fights Back in Cowes

 American Team Takes Third Overall                                                               

The wind howled in excess of 25 knots. The yellow and green Aussie boat hit 60 mph, the first time a sailboat has clocked that speed in a race. And the American boat, despite a Race 1 capsize, hung tough to finish the fourth race of the Sail GP series in third place overall… All in all, a crazy day on the Cowes Bay, UK Solent racecourse.

When the racing was concluded on a shortened UK day of racing, only five boats were on the water, the British boat having retired after Race 1 with damage to boat and crew and with the Japanese Boat, skippered by the tenacious Nathan Outteridge, limping across the finish line with an inoperable grinding pedestal strapped to the port side cockpit.

Photo courtesy of SailGP

“The elements had their way with the fleet,” said winning skipper Tom Slingsby, whose team heads into the Marseilles finals four points ahead of the Japanese boat. “It was all we could do to make it around the course today. The boat that stayed up and didn’t make any mistakes was the boat to beat.”

Rome Kirby, Team USA skipper, credited his crew with patching up the Statue of Liberty festooned Team USA boat and keeping her in contention for Races 2 and 3.

Photo courtesy of SailGP

“The boat was pretty well beat up,” Kirby said. “The boat definitely wasn’t going well after the capsize,” Kirby said. “We didn’t have any wind gear, the hydraulics and the electronics were pretty rough, and our wingsail is literally in tatters so we could barely go upwind. But we got around the track.”

The Americans goal going into today’s racing was to climb into third place ahead of home team Great Britain. They did so in a gutsy display and now sit 3 points ahead of the British Boat and 42 points behind the second-place Japanese boat.

Eight fleet races are planned for the finale in four weeks.

 “Statistically, it’s anybody’s race to see who gets to compete for the million-dollar match race,” said Kirby.

Perhaps wishful thinking.

Photo courtesy of SailGP

Since the series’ onset, it’s been pretty much a back and forth between Australia and Japan, with other teams playing a supporting role when either of the two front runners has run into trouble.

Baring a complete breakdown, look for Tom Slingsby and Nathan Outteridge to battle it out in Marseilles for the million-dollar payoff.

Sail GP is all about speed and the fan experience. Thousands of spectators lined the beaches around the race course. Hundreds more watched the action from spectator boats. There was real-time online viewing via YouTube and the Sail SP app. There was even delayed network coverage in the US.

No doubt the sailing was spectacular. This reporter’s take after spending three days following the fleet around a crowded Sydney Harbor last winter in the series’ inaugural showing was that the boats, while amazing, may not be edgy enough to hold the attention of the sailing public.

Despite all the hype, they are little more than supercharged AC 50s. Not to take anything from the athletes who risk life and limb to muscle these boats around a racecourse at incredible speeds, but the viewership numbers for online engagement did not impress.

For Sail GP to be a success, much greater effort will need to be made to engage both the interested racing sailor and the curious sports enthusiast if the organizers hope to build an international racing franchise.

Stay tuned for the million-dollar match race in Marseilles.

~by Craig Ligibel