that was the year that was

For all that COVID got in the way of pretty much everything in 2021 our sport still saw some worthy highlights.

The year didn’t start well with Constitution Dock, Hobart somewhat empty with the cancellation of the Sydney Hobart however for all that COVID got in the way of pretty much everything in 2021 our sport still saw some worthy highlights.

The Vendee Globe produced a number of edge-of-seat moments, none more when Kevin Escoffier’s PRB did a ‘One Australia’ and folded in two giving Mr. Fix It a matter of minutes to take to his liferaft.

The nearest competitor was Jean Le Cam who, despite all the modern safety aids spotted Kevin thanks to the simple flashing light on top of his raft. Knowing Kevin from the VOR Dongfeng days I am not ashamed to admit I cried when he was picked up in a remarkable piece of seamanship. 

Although he finished behind Charlie Dalin and Louis Burton the race was won by Yannick Besthaven as he received a time allowance for his part in searching for Escoffier giving a podium entirely made up of French sailors with Kevin’s ultimate savior finishing just behind in fourth. A total of fewer than 12 hours covered the first 5 boats, remarkable after around 24,000 Nm of racing.

The Ultimes were also ripping up the ocean and the season must surely belong to Gitana 17 skippered by Charles Caudrelier and Franck Cammas, two  (again) French sailors at the top of their game with multiple championships and victories in their wake. Both have skippered Volvo Ocean Race winning teams, Franck with Groupama and Charles with Dongfeng along with both having won the Solitaire du Figaro in short-handed sailing. Couple this pair to a foiling weapon like Gitana and they have proven virtually unbeatable this past season.

They weren’t the only things ripping up – or above the ocean last year with four AC75s racing in the Prada Cup and then onto the America’s Cup. A disappointing early exit for the Brits in spite of their relative improvement from before Christmas 2020 leaving Luna Rossa and American Magic to compete for the right to meet the Kiwis. A disastrous capsize and near sinking by the Americans took the edge off them and the only highlight of that incident was how everyone piled in with help. I wonder how long ago it was that Peter Burling was seen lugging a huge inflatable bag around?

Emirates Team New Zealand took a little while to knock the rust off as it was, after all, a number of weeks since they raced against anything other than their chase boat but when they did they were a cut above the Italians and their control of the start – and then the whole race – in Race 10  really showed the superior boat.

The only disappointment with the event would be that, due to the New Zealand Government regulations banning virtually all foreign visitors, international visitors to the event were virtually zero with a reported 73 cents on the dollar return leading to the politicians saying it was the event which didn’t provide the financial return when in fact it was the government anti-COVID measures that largely did that. Understandable perhaps, they had a population to protect but less understandable is the apparent lack of understanding of the real reason for the poor financial showing.

This has in turn led to a dichotomy for ETNZ – defend at home in AC37 with poor funding and likely lose or try and find someone with deeper pockets elsewhere and stand a better chance of a successful defense. Clearly there are a number of people not happy with that but no sign of those naysayers putting their hands in their pockets to ensure that AC37 is on the Huaraki Gulf.

In the offshore world, the first big race was the Fastnet, for the first time sailing a new course. Also, unlike their Antipodean cousins, the RORC welcomed the Double Handers to come along and play with the rest. The new course which, Instead of round the Rock and back to Plymouth, this year the 300+ boats finished off Cherbourg with Sunrise Sailing Team taking out the honours in what was to be a remarkable season for her also, though not always with a happy result.

The Next of the ‘Rolexes’ was the Middle Sea Race which was a very strange affair indeed.

Strange, because with Rule 32 still very much in force and Rule 3 stating it is the responsibility for skippers to decide whether to continue racing or not the Race Committee reduced the length of the race by almost 20 miles by declaring an “alternative finish line”. This was after almost 70 of the fleet had already finished on the original finish line.

This action meant the winner was suddenly not the winner. Naturally, the winner was not pleased and asked for redress due to an ”improper action” by the Race Committee. Surprisingly the International Jury said there was nothing done wrong, even stating that Rule 32 didn’t apply even though Rule 32 was STILL in force. 

Not only did this disregard a Racing Rule of Sailing but an RYA Case in part of the facts stated that the course could not be shortened after a boat had passed the mark. The International Jury Chair was a former RYA Racing Rules Manager and presumably responsible for that publication.

SO instead of Sunrise winning her second Rolex of the season the first place was handed to Comanche which had been in first place at the mark where the race was subsequently “shortened” to but had faded enough in the last 20 miles or so of the full race to allow Sunrise to overtake her on handicap.

Perhaps strangest of all, the International Jury has never, publicly, explained their disregard of one of the Racing Rules of Sailing.

The third of the Rolexes also had the potential for controversy. Matt Allen’s Ichi Ban was narrowly beaten by Sam Haynes Celestial but for 90 minutes Celestial did not respond to VHF calls leading to a protest by the Race Committee and Ichi Ban under the SI Rule that a “listening” watch must be maintained on Channel 16.

Celestial lost the protest and were handed the penalty and Ichi Ban was handed the Tattersall Cup. A case of Celestial winning on the water and Ichi Ban winning by the rules. In the attempt to reopen Celestial stated they had found their VHF Aerial cable was hanging by a threat at the masthead but the International Jury rightly said that this was not new evidence (RRS 66.1) This is correct as Celestial could have put someone up the mast before the original hearing that could be known at the time of the first hearing. Shame because, IMHO in effect, they were penalized for what was basically damage incurred while racing, and the damage they could not have known about.

Through the season SailGP continued on its way, appearing to gradually gather momentum. I was a bit surprised that, given the ‘nationality’ concept an established sailing nation like Spain skippered by a Kiwi? However the series does deal out its occasional drama, not least GBR’s coming together with JPN the other week. It is now approximately halfway through Larry Ellison’s support period and although the series itself appears to be growing the financial momentum to allow it to stand on its own two feet at the end of the five years is a little more foggy.

Oh, I almost forgot, there was a small regatta (and getting smaller each cycle) off Enoshima Island, Japan around the middle of the year. The 2020 Japan Olympic Regatta had, for the first time a medal race without a GBR boat in it ending a remarkable record of reaching the finals in every class.
That said it was a good regatta once more for the Brits which has been the top Olympic Nation 5 out of the last 6 Games particularly in the Finn Class where Giles Scott took the GBR Gold tally to 5 in a row. 

Martine Grael & Kahena Kunze (BRA) took a second Gold Medal in the 49erFX while Burling & Tuke didn’t in the 49er with Fletcher & Bithell snatching that honour from the Kiwi pairing at almost the last gasp. In the last ever women’s 470 Hannah Mills took Gold, this time with crew Eilidh McIntryre, to add t her Gold and Silver to become the most decorated female Olympic sailor in history although with the Brazillian form in the 49erFX that is a record that may just stand or 3 years.

So in spite of that bloody virus there has been quite a lot going on in the sailing world and it does look that with the latest variant creating havoc around the world 2022 may be curtailed every bit as much, perhaps even more. One can only hope.