They have said for years that watching sailboats race is about as interesting as watching grass grow; but not anymore and most definitely not if you watched the final race of the SailGP series that took place yesterday in Marseille, France. It was an absolute nail biter and an extremely close finish between the Australian team led by Tom Slingsby and the Japanese team led by Nathan Outteridge.
The SailGP series started in February in Sydney, Australia and was contested in San Francisco, New York, Cowes with the final series in Marseille this past weekend. The Australians and the Japanese dominated throughout the competition making some of the racing quite boring to watch as the leaders stretched out their lead over the other teams, but the racing in Marseille was really great because the other four teams had really upped the game and were very competitive with the Chinese actually winning one of the races. The way the series works is that the teams accumulate points over the course of the five series with the two top boats going head-to-head in a final showdown for a million dollar prize money.
The conditions in Marseille were perfect as the two teams lined up for the start but the nerves must have been full-on for Slingsby and his team because they entered the start area early and were immediately assessed a penalty that being that they would have to start behind the Japanese team.
When the start gun fired the Japanese were at full speed and to windward of the Australians and rocketed to the first turning mark where the Australians followed them around just a boat length astern. The following leg was a real dogfight as both boats tacked up the windward leg crossing within inches of each other with Japan holding a two boat length lead at the top mark.
It was on the downwind leg that things got really tense. Japan headed off to the right hand side of the course while the Australians opted for the left hand side where there appeared to be a little more wind. They crossed behind the Japanese who immediately tacked on top of them. Then it appeared that Nathan Outteridge wanted to make a point that the Australians had not allowed them enough room and he bore away hoping to show the umpires that they had an overlap but in fact they didn’t and the Japanese ended up to leeward and behind the Australians.
It was a bold move that failed spectacularly as the Aussies pulled into the lead as they turned for the final leg of the race. It was all over for Outteridge and is crew. They were lacking boat speed and watching as the Australians extended their lead. With very few passing lanes it seemed impossible for the Japanese to take the race back and indeed Slingsby and his team were victorious and walked away with the million dollar purse.
It was a dramatic last race to a race series that had many dramatic moments and I can only imagine that Nathan Outteridge must have been kicking himself for his blunder. Post race analysis determined that had the Australians been five-hundredths of a second slower Japan could have forced them to incur a penalty, but they weren’t and so they were rewarded with the lead.
The series wraps up with the Chinese taking third overall, the British were fourth followed by the French and the Americans. The next series starts in February 2020 in Sydney, Australia. – Brian Hancock.