Following European Leg, SailGP Team USA Heads to Australia
If you’ve been following the ups and down of Jimmy Spithill’s SailGP Team USA, you know that the season hasn’t gone anywhere close to what it could have been.
First, the American boat hit a submerged object in the finals of the Taranto race; then, they experienced a rudder malfunction in Plymouth. And, to top it off, wing trimmer Paul Campbell-James broke his leg in a practice run in Denmark.
“We’ve been snakebit all season,” Spithill confided to me at a “Learn to foil” event in Chicago last month.
Nonetheless, by the time the final three boats squared off in the finals of the recently held Cadiz, Spain, event, there was the American team barreling down the racecourse just seconds behind Team Great Britain. Then disaster struck… twice.
The British boat failed to slacken its jib sheet and catapulted to a dramatic capsize right in front of the American and Australian boats.
Spithill and company took immediate evasive action which resulted in a systems shutdown of the American boat.
“We had to struggle to get things going again,” a dejected Spithill said later. By the time the Americans were up and foiling, the Australians had built a commanding lead which they never relinquished.
Now the high-flying supercharged foiling F-50s will head to Sydney, Australia, for the final event of this year. Australia leads the overall standings 45 points to the US and Japan at 44. The three highest qualifying teams will battle it out in the finals in San Francisco in late March. With the teams only separated by a couple of points, it’s anybody’s guess who will make the finals. Will the races in Australia further cement the current standings, or will another team work its way up the leaderboard?
One thing is certain: the Australia trio of Team Japan’s helmsman Nathan Outteridge, USA’s Jimmy Spithill, and Australia’s Tom Slingsby will have their hands full holding off Great Britain’s Sir Ben Ainslie who sailed to a convincing victory in Sydney last year before the circuit’s second season was cancelled due to Covid.
Team USA’s newest team member, 18-year foiling sensation CJ Perez, became the youngest female to win a SailGP race as the beleaguered US team skated to a commanding first place win in the preliminary racing in Cadiz on Day One of the event.
“It was incredible to be on the boat these past two days,” CJ told SpinSheet. “I came on the boat to help the team win. We’re all chasing that million-dollar prize. Jimmy and the guys have been very supportive of my inclusion. I hope I can make a difference when we get to San Francisco.”
The Cadiz event was the first time SailGP female athletes were included in the racing. A new initiative added a sixth crewmember to each team in heavy air configurations and a fourth crew member in light air situations. In most cases, the female athletes were positioned behind the helmsmen and flight controller calling tactics and improving overall team communications.
Great Britain’s Hannah Mills and Australia’s Nina Curtis alternated between wing trimmer and tactician slots. Both were overheard calling wind shifts, puffs, and relaying speed criteria to team members in the gusty conditions that characterized the second day of racing in Cadiz. Earlier in the day, the Spanish team had capsized while on its way onto the course for a practice session.
“What an incredible adrenalin rush,” Olympian Hannah Mills told SpinSheet in a post-race interview.
“It was all about survival out there today,” Australia’s Tom Slingsby said after winning the final race of the day.
True to form, Spithill was nonchalant following his team’s second place finish. During the post-race debrief, Spithill jokingly compared the American team to a bridesmaid, stating, “At the end of the day, no one will care who won the earlier regattas, so this is another great result. All we have to do is qualify for the final and then win in San Francisco.”
The Sail GP fleet takes to the water in Sydney December 17-18. The final race of the season will unfold in San Francisco on March 26-27. Go to www.sailgp for viewing options.
~By Craig Ligibel