High drama on the Bay ahead of San Francisco SailGP
Wednesday, May 1, 2019 8:34 AM
For the first time on San Francisco Bay, the six SailGP teams – representing the home team from the United States and rival teams from Australia, China, France, Great Britain and Japan – hit the racecourse together today, during official practice racing held in anticipation of the May 4-5 grand prix.
San Francisco turned it on for the first day of practice racing at the U.S debut of SailGP, challenging the six teams to their limits. With the Golden Gate Bridge standing proudly over the racecourse, San Francisco Bay lived up to its reputation as one of the most difficult sailing venues in the world with strong sea breezes, ripping tides and choppy waters. Winds kicked up into the afternoon, heightening the intensity and pushing the world’s best sailors to the limits.
“It was full on racing today, and the bay lived up to its iconic reputation,” said United States SailGP Team helm Rome Kirby. “I think you got a preview today of pretty exciting, thrilling racing. It’s huge to be the home team. It’s exciting to be representing your country and I’m excited to get going.”
The day featured two fleet races, punctuated by both the Chinese and Australian teams nearly capsizing in the strong conditions. After taking a massive nose dive, the 24-meter/78-foot wing buckled, causing the team to retire from racing and putting the team’s participation in weekend racing in question.
The official practice day kicks off on Friday, May 3. Formal racing will occur from 12:30-2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. The race will conclude on Sunday afternoon with the top two teams going head to head in a match race finale.
The San Francisco SailGP Race Village, located on the Marina Yacht Club Peninsula, will serve as the center of the festivities, an ideal place to take in the race action and cheer on the national teams.
After getting close in training, the magic 50 knot (60 mph) number remained elusive, and it was more a case of bringing the crews and boats home safely at the end of the day.
The Australia SailGP Team was the fastest boat on the racecourse, reaching a top speed of 47 knots.
“I never really cared too much about being the first team to hit 50 knots,” said Australia SailGP Team helm Tom Slingsby. “But now it’s a pretty frustrating being so close and not having done it yet. We definitely want to be the first team to do this.”
If the race preview today is any indication toward this weekend’s showdown, fans are in for some of the most thrilling racing the Bay has ever seen.
For one team there was a heart stopping moment that nearly ended their championship chances, when the red hulls of the China team came crashing down from the foils, in what helm Phil Robertson called, “the scariest moment I have ever had on a yacht.”
Robertson continued, “We went into a bear away, the conditions were fairly fresh, the boat speed built, and I just didn’t get enough rake off in the moment. The boat literally leapt out of the water, nose-dived and we destroyed most of the wing.”
During the practice racing, the Japan and Great Britain SailGP teams squared off, showing impressive boat-handling and finesse on the water, ultimately dominating on the course.
“Fans are going to see some thrills and spills for sure, if today is anything to go by,” said Japan SailGP Team helm Nathan Outteridge. “Teams are trying new things, there’s high action, and the racecourse is super close to the shore. You can almost hear the people onshore when you are sailing around. I think if anyone is in San Francisco this weekend, they’ve got to come and check it out.”
“It was fantastic to have all six boats out there today,” said Great Britain SailGP helm Dylan Fletcher. “The weather was at the top end, and we were all a little bit scared at the time, but it was brilliant racing. I hope that it was good for everyone out there to watch because it was super exciting in the boat, hair raising.”
Media was invited to witness the practice racing from onboard the Red and White Fleet’s Enhydra, the first aluminum hulled, lithium-Ion battery plug-in hybrid vessel built from the keel up under U.S. Coast Guard regulations, and the largest of its kind. During the race weekend, SailGP and the Enhydra will provide two on-water experiences – SailGP Cruise Select and SailGP Cruise Premier.