SailGP Team USA Climbs Leaderboard

After Frustration in St. Tropez, SailGP Team USA Is Still Well-Placed in Standings

Sail GP’s Team USA, helmed by America’s Cup veteran Jimmy Spithill and crewed by an all-star contingent of American sailors, has had its share of adversity in this year’s Grand Prix events. The high-powered series of eight foiling 50-foot catamarans features “national” teams representing the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Spain, Great Britain, Denmark, and France. Crews represent a veritable “who’s who” of sailing elite. No fewer than five recent America’s Cup skippers are represented in the fleet.

SailGP 50-foot catamarans fleet racing off St. Tropez, France. Photos courtesy of SailGP

“We’ve been snakebit since the series started,” Spithill told SpinSheet after the US boat stuck a submerged object near the end of a finals race in Taranto, Italy, three months ago. “In Great Britain, our rudder malfunctioned as we were headed home in another finals race. Then, our wing trimmer broke his leg three weeks ago in a training accident in Denmark. Miraculously, he mended well enough to join the team on the water for the Saint Tropez event.

“In France, we won two preliminary races and were well positioned to take a first in the finals against Japan and Spain…then we hit a hole and came off the foils in five knots of wind. What else can go wrong!?”

Spectating sailboat racing in St. Tropez. Photo courtesy of SailGP

Despite a second-place finish in Saint Tropez, Spithill and team are well-placed in the league’s overall standings, falling just two points behind leader Japan in the hunt for the circuit’s $1 million prize to be awarded to the series’ overall winner at the conclusion of racing in San Francisco in late March.

Saint Tropez’s light and fluky winds saw the fleet reducing its crew contingent to only three sailors for the first day’s racing, which Team USA dominated with Spithill, Paul Campbell-Jones, and Andrew Campbell sharing duties aboard the 50-footer.

The next day’s forecast for light winds saw the deployment by all boats of a new 29-meter light wind foil, a full five meters taller than the standard rigs. The new rig allowed the boats to foil at slower wind speeds but proved tricky for the teams to handle as their practice time with the new sails had been limited. Testimony to the power of the new sails was the fact that all but one of the boats was over in the first race of the day.

“Lots of power…lots of speed…harder to judge…” was Team New Zealand’s Peter Burling’s take on the new configuration.

Spectators enjoy the sailboat racing action off St. Tropez, France, despite the light and fluky winds. Photo courtesy of SailGP

In the end, it was Team Japan helmed by Nathan Outteridge known as “the wind whisperer” that tamed the fluky breezes to claim victory in the final race of the day.

"We are very happy with another win on the scoreboard, and it's always good to be in the event final," Outteridge said, following their victory. "At the end of the day, it's practice for the real one at the end of the season, which really matters, with the million dollars at stake…

"It was pretty tricky out there. Jimmy [Spithill] did a great job at the start of that last race, but once again we managed to sneak past him.”

The Sail GP series has reached the halfway point in the season, with upcoming events in Spain, Australia, and New Zealand prior to the season-ending winner-take-all million dollar finale in San Francisco.

“We’ve been steady all along,” says Spithill. “We just need a little bit of good luck to bring home the big prize.”

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By Craig Ligibel

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