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SailGP: Slingsby's Australian crew sails away with inaugural regatta in home waters by beating O

SYDNEY (#1178) – As we predicted earlier in the week, Tom Slingsby and his experienced crew of Aussie mates proved to be too much for the other five crews, finishing first in four of the five fleet races aboard their green-and-gold foiling F50 catamaran and then easily winning the championship match race by beating fellow Aussie Nathan Outteridge and his Team Japan on Sydney Harbour.

“We don’t take losing lightly, and that first race of the event really shot us into gear,” Slingsby said after the final race Saturday, Sydney time. “I couldn’t be happier with how today went. I hold my team to a high standard and they really over-delivered.”

Slingsby, the Olympic gold medalist and winner of the 2013 America’s Cup with Oracle Team USA, led an all-Australian crew that includes flight controller/tactician Jason Waterhouse, wing trimmer Kyle Langford, grinders Sam Newton and Ky Hurst, and Kinley Fowler.

Outteridge and his ostensible Japanese team led going into the final day, which wasn’t surprising considering the experience this team also has had in foiling catamarans in the last two editions of the America’s Cup. Outteridge helmed the Swedish entry Artemis Racing at Bermuda in 2017, losing in the finals of the challenger selection series to eventual Cup winner Emirates Team New Zealand.

“Compared to the Australians, we’ve only done five days as a sailing team and I think that was what showed against them,” Outteridge, an Olympic gold and silver medalist, said. “But the fact we were even racing was incredible, and to make the match race final was just awesome. I am really proud of the whole team and what we have achieved in such a short time.”

The big disappointment was the U.S. team led by America’s Cup champion Rome Kirby (also with Oracle Team USA in 2013). Team USA finished last even after the late addition of Taylor Canfield, helmsman for the new America’s Cup challenger Stars & Stripes Team USA, as flight controller/tactician.

The big surprise was that China, led by Phil Robertson (NZL), finished tied for fourth. Sailing Illustrated believes that Robertson was the only Kiwi sailor in the regatta, although Team Japan grinder Leonard "Leo" Takahashi is half-Kiwi.

Takahashi, affectionately known in sailing circles as a "Japiwi," resides in Auckland and sails for the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron youth development program. A top international youth match racer who is also campaigning for Japan in the 49er for the 2020 Olympics to be held in Japan, Leonard, age 20, was the youngest SailGP competitor at this inaugural event. Too bad all the teams didn't have one youth sailor, say under 23, if not also one woman?

Leonard "Leo" Takahashi (JPN/NZL) helming his 49er, with crew Ibuki "Ibu" Koizumi, during a recent training event in New Zealand for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, for which they hope to represent Japan. Photo courtesy of

SailGP was co-founded by former America’s Cup champions Larry Ellison (USA) and Russell Coutts (NZL).

It is widely believed that ETNZ boss Grant Dalton nixed the idea of any of his winning 2017 (and defending in 2021) America's Cup team from competing in SailGP, even though it is understood Coutts approached ETNZ helm and double Olympic medalist Peter Burling about fronting a Kiwi entry in the 2019 SailGP. Many in New Zealand and beyond see SailGP competing with the AC for publicity and sponsors.

No surprise, as there is no love lost between Messers Dalton and Coutts, and not just because the Kiwis (led by Dalton) lost the 2013 Cup final at San Francisco in that soul-crushing, come-from-behind win by Oracle Team USA (funded by Ellison and led by Coutts); then Ellison/Coutts, again dba Oracle Team USA, relinquished the Cup in a humiliating 7-1 defeat at the hands of Dalton's ETNZ at Bermuda in 2017.

After the first of five regattas, Australia leads the standings with 48 points, followed by Japan with 45, Britain 36, China and France 33 each and the United States 31.

While Sydney Harbor was its usual gorgeous self, and the new annual series nicely fills the long gap in between America’s Cup regattas, there are a few things SailGP can work on between now and the next regatta in San Francisco on May 4-5. For starters, each of the teams will get two weeks of practice time on SF Bay ahead of the next event. That will be crucial, because the training time before the Sydney regatta was uneven, at best – to say nothing of San Francisco normally being a much windier, hence likely more dangerous, venue then was light-air Sydney Harbour.

It was a shame that not all six teams raced through the end of the event. The bottom four were excused after the fifth fleet race, leaving only Slingsby and Outteridge to fight it out in the match race final. Without boat-to-boat maneuvering, and sails going up and down during the match racing, it doesn't feel or look much like match racing. With these boats that isn't going to change, or at least not much. Was the match race more interesting than the fleet racing? Depends who you ask. Regardless, the other four teams should also keep racing, either in one more four-boat fleet race started just before the match race, or two other match races pitting third against fourth and fifth against sixth to determine a final overall ranking.

Not only would that keep everyone racing, but it would give TV something to switch to, like going from one hole to another in golf, if the final match is boring – like Sydney was after the first mark. "OK, we've got a real battle for overall third shaping up in the match between X and Y; let's go have a look."

Presumably SailGP will make some tweaks to its otherwise attractive iOS app to make it more user friendly and reliable, and will deliver the promised Android app before the next event. Few viewers, we would suggest, want to watch the TV show with the app open on a nearby phone or iPad just to see the data, much of which should be superimposed on the TV show, especially the leaderboard (WTF – why was there no leaderboard on the telecast?).

We’d sure like to hear more of Shirley Robertson (GBR) in the broadcast, maybe even elevating her to doing play-by-play. Using a non-sailor for play-by-play was hilarious and embarrassing for the event – and sport. Sadly the TV "world feed" was anything but, and if this series is to become widely popular, it must be able to be widely viewed – free-to-air (and share) on the internet, both live and on replay.

We could go on with suggestions for improving the series, and likely our Ed. will on his bi-weekly TFE LIVE shows – every Tuesday and Friday at 1300 Pacific / 2100 UTC on the Sailing Illustrated Facebook page [like having cameras on powerboats, not just aerial and onboard shots. –TFE]. However, with Larry Ellison's resources and resilience, and the doggedly-determined Russell Coutts at the SailGP helm, the series, and its six teams, should only improve over the next four 2019 events. Suffice to say it was an encouraging start.

After the May 4-5 San Francisco regatta, the other stops will be in New York on June 21-22; Cowes, England, on Aug. 10-11; and Marseille, France, on Sept. 20-22, which will conclude with a $1 million match race between the top two squads.

Winners Team Australia, led by Tom Slingsby, on the podium at Saturday afternoon's prizegiving on Shark Island in gorgeous Sydney Harbour. SailGP photos.

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