SailGP. Ever heard of it? I didn’t think so but get ready to hear a lot more about it in the next few months. In my opinion it’s the most exciting sailing event to come around in decades. If you enjoyed the last America’s Cup in Bermuda then you are going to love SailGP. It’s the America’s Cup on steroids and the first race is set to take place this Friday in Sydney, Australia.
Larry Elisson, after taking a bit of a drumming in the last America’s Cup at the hands of Team New Zealand, seems to have decided to create his own event which I am sure he believes will be more exciting than the Cup races. He purchased all the existing AC 50 catamarans and have refitted them to be One Design. Word has it that he turbo-charged them as well but I have no specific details about that.
They were already pretty turbo-charged. Elisson, along with Russel Coutts, his long time right hand man in all things sailing related, came up with the idea of fleet racing these boats. From their website. “SailGP was created to engage and excite global sports fans year-round in a supercharged, fast-paced version of sailing aimed at increasing its mainstream popularity, introducing the next generation to the sport and creating a career path for extraordinary athletes.”
I thought that it was pretty extraordinary to watch just two boat duke it out in Bermuda but imagine six of them on the same race course closing at speeds approaching 80 miles an hour. The format works like this. For each race, teams will be scored from 10 points for a win, through to five points for sixth place. Then, for the final race of each event, only the top two teams will face each other.
The winner of the last race will win the event overall for that venue and the points will be carried forward and accumulated until the final showdown in Marseille in September. And the big news is, for sailing at least, there is a purse of one million dollars to be taken home by the overall winner.
There are six teams; United States, Australia, Japan, Great Britain, France and China and among the skippers there are four olympic champions and seven America’s Cup winners. There is no shortage of talent and ego’s aside they will all be gunning hard to win this inaugural series. Skippers are Dylan Fletcher (UK), Rome Kirby (USA), Billy Besson (France), Phil Robertson (China), Tom Slingsby (Australia) and Nathan Outteridge (Japan).
The first event starts this Friday in Sydney, Australia with the iconic Opera House as a backdrop. It’s fitting that Sydney was chosen for the first series since for decades Sydney has been at the forefront of pushing the boundaries with fast sailboats. I have witnesses firsthand a fleet of Sydney Harbor 18-foot skiffs blasting around the harbor and it’s pretty intense. I can only imagine what it’s going to be like with these new boats now named the F50’s screeching around the harbor. As local favorite Tom Slingsby noted at the press conference, “Sydney Harbor can suddenly become very small when you are traveling at 50 knots.” No kidding.
From Australia the series moves on to San Francisco in May, New York in June, Cowes on the Isle of Wight in August finishing in Marseille in September. While I love the history and pageantry of the America’s Cup I think that this kind of sailing event will eclipse the AC in terms of interest from the public. Time will tell. Let’s just wait and see how the first series goes but if anyone has deep enough pockets to make the event a success Mr Oracle certainly does. – Brian Hancock.