Larry′s Fantastic Foiling Circus
SailGP came to town. Wow, what a splashdown! Is it the America′s Cup? Kind of. Is it a circus? Yes, for all practical purposes, it checks off all the boxes. Is it sailing? Depends on your definition or age. Was it exciting? Yes!
Larry Ellison and Russell Coutts′ invention of a sailing series came and played well to a captive San Francisco sailing audience. It had a measure of exclusivity, but it was also open and free to the public to watch an exciting, dramatic and thrilling event that right now, as the America′s Cup slumbers along, is second to none.
Just like in 2012 and 2013 when first the ACWS was in town (twice) and then the actual America′s Cup, has Ellison ponying up about $100 million this time to push his stadium sailing foiling SailGP circus onto the masses; sailors and non-sailors alike.
Larry has badged his company′s Oracle brand on anything that moves here in the SF Bay Area from the NBA World Champion Golden State Warriors to the aging San Francisco Giants and has struck California gold again by bringing the fastest show on water to our doorstep once again as foiling catamarans fly around in front of us at unheard of speeds approaching 50 knots!
Did they reach that milestone? Depends on who you ask. The fastest official time I heard was 48.6 knots which is pretty fricking fast. Is it all dangerous? Hell yes. The competitors are the first to tell you that it is scary out there and they do experience fear. But it is balls on fast and furious. There is nothing like it on the planet; anywhere. Not like this, not on the water.
Yeah, I′ll see it at Indianapolis here in a few weeks. But those are winged cars with 1000 horsepower and ground effects sucking the asphalt, not sail boats that still rely on old fashioned wind power to send them off on the water at 3 times the speed of the breeze!
SailGP′s inaugural event was in Sydney, New South Wales a couple of months back. Six teams with most nationalized crews have joined the series from Australia, USA, Great Britain, France, Japan and China. The catamarans themselves are refurbished and modernized versions of the AC 50′s that raced for the America′s Cup in Bermuda in 2017.
The foil technology has carried over from that event and then some. Grinders have given way to batteries to supply the power to pump the hydraulic fluids that control the wingsail elements, rudders and raise and lower the daggerboard foils.
The weather and the wind largely cooperated as a healthy spectator fleet turned up for both days. The stadium village, located between the St Francis and Golden Gate Yacht Clubs, was largely sold out. A curious San Francisco public turned up to line the Marina Green and Crissey Field alike, with an estimated 20,000 in attendance.
Even though SailGP is not the America′s Cup, it has its share of star power, studded with plenty of Olympic Medals. No, it′s not just the colorful catamarans! Nathan Outeridge, Artemis skipper from 2013 and 2017 leads Team Japan. Nationality rules are a little lax for the next couple of years to allow the teams and sport to jell. Tom Slingsby; OTUSA tactician and the team′s star wing-trimmer Kyle Langford lead Australia. OTUSA′s Rome Kirby drives the USA Team catamaran with superstar match racer Taylor Canfield at the flight controls.
The French are led by Olympian Nacra 17-star Billy Besson, and the only woman of the bunch, the vivacious Marie Riou, who helped lead Dongfeng to victory in the 2017/2018 Volvo Ocean Race.
And the Brits are here too and getting better with every race. No, Ben Ainslie isn′t leading them; it′s Chris Draper (SoftBank Team Japan and Luna Rossa) and Dylan Fletcher. They have 5 Olympic Medals and 17 World Championships on the team.
The Chinese are here too. Not the fastest, as yet, but certainly the most entertaining! They almost pitchpoled their boat in practice. Tore up the wing, but they were the circus acrobats in all sense of the word as they went spinning, flying and somersaulting all over the track all weekend to the delight of all.
The setting was perfect with the track laid out right before our eyes between San Francisco′s City Waterfront and Alcatraz Island and bordering from Fort Mason or so to almost the Golden Gate Bridge. Just enough to let the horsepower out, but close enough for all of us to see and taste the salt spray as they went whizzing by.
It has been a few years since Larry and Russell dared to return after taking the America′s Cup to Bermuda when attempts to return the event here in 2017 failed. It was disappointing to many when the ACWS events turned up everywhere but here in 2015 and 2016. Showing up in America in New York City and Chicago instead.
Despite rumors to the contrary, they haven′t been in hiding, they seem to have been waiting, biding their time for just the right opportunity and circumstance. So, with the America′s Cup just stumbling along with only the back-markers making the news on whether or not they are out or in; the timing was right for Larry to pounce and he did!
It helps when you have billions in pocket change to fund it along, but Mr. Ellison does more than his philanthropic share here in Northern California to support our favorite sports teams, arts and operas, not to mention that he employs tens of thousands in the area as well.
So, thank you very much Larry Ellison and Russell Coutts! It was a heck of a show and I can′t wait until next year!
What is the difference in these boats between 2013 and now? “These boats are quicker than the old boats for sure”, says Tom Slingsby, skipper of the Australian Team. “It′s full on, there are some exciting moments and some scary moments! It′s just tough fleet racing these foiling boats around the track and not injure someone. The biggest difference is the speed of these boats. I know they are 20-feet shorter than the AC72′s, but just with the refinements these boats are way quicker now,” continued Slingsby who was on Oracle 17 when it catapulted during a bear-away jibe in 2012. “We saw high 40′s, maybe 48 knots this weekend and we do that every day here. I don′t think we ever hit that speed in our AC72.
“With the speeds these boats are going around the corners they are much more refined, and they keep going quicker and quicker,” explained Slingsby. “For sure there is a comparison between the two classes, but these boats are much lighter, so much more agile. If we were going to compare the two, the AC72 would be like driving a bus. They have similar speeds, but it doesn′t turn corners like this boat!”
The F50 “is a very light boat, very agile and the foils are very bouncy,” says Slingsby. “They are harder to control a bit more. It pops up on the foils much earlier.”
One of the bigger differences is that there are now only 5 crewmembers, compared to 6 in Bermuda. The grinders have been replaced by batteries.
“We were not just grinding the oil which went into different accumulators, we really didn′t know where the hydraulic oils were going,” said Slingsby of the AC50′s. “Every time now, you see the wing-trimmers trim on you know where your energy is going. Last time you kept grinding and grinding and you never knew where the oil went. You just had to keep grinding! Now these boats have batteries to do all the hydraulic functions and oil functions onboard, meaning the foils which go up and down, the wing twists, board rakes etc. all that is now done by a pump. So now the grinders are trimming the wingsail angles. The flight controllers are controlling the ride height of the daggerboards and the wing-trimmer is calling target speeds, getting the most out of the boat and controlling what mode we want to sail. The skipper is now doing tactics, pushing buttons on the wheel and trying to keep the boat going as quick as possible,” said Slingsby. Emphasizing “that SailGP is my focus now.”
Saturday (Race One)
Fresh off two weeks of intensive training on San Francisco Bay, the United States SailGP Team flew their super-charged F50 race boat in front of an American audience for the first time this weekend as the San Francisco SailGP event kicked off in front of the Golden Gate Bridge.
“Every day we′re coming out, pushing the boat and pushing as a team,” said U.S. SailGP Team Skipper, Rome Kirby. “We are right in the mix.”
Kirby and the All-American team of Taylor Canfield (St. Thomas, USVI), Riley Gibbs (Long Beach, CA), Hans Henken (Coronado, CA), and Dan Morris (Edina, MN), all have deep connections to San Francisco from either living near or racing in San Francisco Bay.
“I think it′ll be epic racing here this weekend,” said Kirby. “I′ve been fortunate enough to have done this before in the 2013 America′s Cup and when you see a full grandstand and the shores of Marina Green all lined with people, it′s a pretty cool feeling. It was incredible out there today,” said Kirby. “When you have boats flying around at 45 knots and ripping into maneuvers, it′s pretty cool. It′s super tight racing and we are right in the mix. It′s been a solid day for us and we′re looking forward to getting back out here tomorrow.”
Flying at 16-20 knots and increasingly choppy water, the six F50 foiling catamarans certainly captured the sold-out crowd′s excitement as they more than lived up to their supercharged reputation.
San Francisco Bay delivered on the opening day of SailGP, in which a sell-out crowd, seated just 200-meters from the finish line, saw the Japanese team dominate.
After a week of intense training featuring highs and lows, with the Chinese chances of competing in the weekend nearly crushed earlier in the week, the six teams were raring to go and showcase the high-speed F50s on the iconic San Francisco Bay.
In a style of racing that had never been seen before on the shores of San Francisco Bay, with boats inches apart racing at incredible speeds, three races took place with many thrilling moments and close calls.
One team managed to master the challenging conditions, which included regular gusts of 20 knots. Japan SailGP Team, helmed by Nathan Outteridge, won all three races to top the leaderboard at the end of the first day. “I thought it was very tight racing today. It was fantastic out there and I am super proud of the team, who did a great job. We made a couple of errors here and there but clawed back in those races and couldn′t have asked for a better day,” said Outteridge. “We know it′s still only halfway, and we have to do the job tomorrow, but all the training and hard work is paying off, which feels great.”
Hot on the Japanese team′s heels was the green and gold of the Australian team helmed by Olympic champion Slingsby and the British team under the control of Dylan Fletcher. Both pushed the Japanese team in all three races but couldn′t quite get the competitive edge. “I couldn′t believe how close the racing was and how intense it was on the first reach. If anyone crashed, it would have been pretty major,” said Fletcher. “That intensity is why we sail these boats, and it was just literally the best racing of my life.”
One team that was also pushing hard wanting to please the home crowd was the young guns of the U.S. team. After concentrating on their boat handing in practice racing, they made impressive moves up the leaderboard. A third-place finish in the second race of the day positioned them just short of the podium in fourth place at the end of the first day.
“100 percent it was tight racing. We had a close call at the finish with the British and were literally inches away from their transom,” said Kirby. “It was definitely tough out there; one mistake and you get punished. We made a few mistakes today but learned a lot and we will keep improving and keep getting better. It was a solid day for us.”
Sunday′s racing will consist of two fleet races before a final showdown, when the top two teams will go head to head in a match race to crown the winner of San Francisco SailGP.
With teams returning to their respective bases after the first day, the team analysts will be working hard to review all the data overnight in the hopes of finding the key to unlock the Japanese team′s lead.
“The more confident you are in the boat, the more you can push it,” said Outteridge. “I think we were the ones that were pushing the ride height the highest, but you have to be brave to sail these boats and in San Francisco you have to be even braver! It′s tough out there and it′s punishing if you get it wrong! The fact that these boats are harder to sail makes it more of a challenge for me,” continued Outteridge. “I can′t thank Larry enough for putting this all together for us. I think it′s going to serve the sport really well in the future.”
For Marie Riou, from the French Team the weekend was an eye-opener. “On the water, it is amazing!” exclaimed Riou. “On board, it′s incredible. In Sydney, it was light air, so we had a bit more time to make a sailing decision, to think about tactics. Here, in San Francisco, you have to think very fast because the wind is the same every day! Sometimes, it′s a bit scary too! You have to think more about safety onboard.” Adding, that this is one of the best places she has sailed in her life, “though it′s a bit cold for me!”
Thousands of spectators waved their favorite teams′ colors from the packed Marina Yacht Club Peninsula Race Village as they witnessed the Australia SailGP Team repeat as champions with victory over Japan, to win the U.S. debut of SailGP.
After two full days of thrilling racing at San Francisco SailGP, the Australia SailGP Team, helmed by Olympic gold medalist Tom Slingsby, took the top honor. Proving the ultimate come-back kids after struggling in training and a disappointing day of racing on Saturday, they defeated the Japanese team in the final match race to win the event and go two points up in the overall season rankings and a step closer to the $1 million prize.
San Francisco Bay lived up to its name this weekend, delivering spectacular conditions that provided the ultimate test of skill and stamina for the elite athletes racing on the world′s fastest race boats. Fans had a courtside seat to the speed and drama, witnessing speeds of over 45 knots literally just off the shore.
“We′re stoked, it′s no secret that we struggled all week. Nathan Outteridge and his team were better, but we kept saying we are going to come back. We left it late, but we did come back and won the match race and then the event,” said Slingsby.
After dominating the opening day, winning all three races in an impressive showing, Outteridge′s team couldn′t hold off Slingsby′s charge. Despite a close battle in the final match race, Outteridge later noted that a software issue meant that they were sailing blind around the race course.
“As soon as something doesn′t work, it makes it very hard, it′s like asking a race car driver to drive a car where the brakes aren′t working,” said Outteridge. “The last race we lost the display software that tells us the time to the start, time to boundaries, shows a diagram of where you are on the course, so we raced the last race blind. Considering all that happened today, to still come second here and still pushing hard is great. Yesterday was the highlight for our team so far.”
Taking its first SailGP race win, Great Britain was one of the standout performers of the weekend, finishing third overall and maintaining the same position on the overall leaderboard.
One team that will be glad of a second chance to take a win on home soil is the young U.S. team. Having improved significantly going into the weekend, finishing just off the podium in fourth place, they are hungry to improve.
“We are going to go back again and go through the data, look at everything we learned and keep building on that,” said Kirby. “We want to keep the learning curve going and keep progressing. It′s time to hit the books ahead of New York.”
“San Francisco was everything we hoped it would be. It provided a spectacular backdrop for our U.S. debut, a fantastic challenge for our world class athletes and an exciting spectacle for the fans,” said SailGP CEO Russell Coutts. “All of the teams have really stepped up a gear and it shows what effect the open access to data is having on the teams′ performance. It′s certainly going to make the next event in New York even more exciting.”
During the San Francisco leg the Japanese nearly broke the elusive 50-knot barrier just before the finish of the final race. A top speed of 49.1 knots surpassed all speeds set by the revolutionary F50s since the season began.
“On that final reach in the match race, we were really flying coming into the finish line and I had a glance at the speed. I saw 47 knots, so I foolishly started counting, 47, 48, 49 and then had a massive nose dive right before the finish so we will have another go at it tomorrow. I must have got a bit distracted, so it really shows you how much concentration is needed on these boats,” said Outteridge.
Sunday didn′t start out the best for Outteridge and Team Japan. “We had some gremlins in the boat today,” he exclaimed. Before the first race the team had an issue with the wing system. Then before the 2nd race they had a problem with the board controls and lastly all the TV graphics that show the boundaries, start line; etc. failed.
“I am proud of the entire team,” said Outteridge. “Whenever we had a problem, we fixed it quickly. Today, was really disappointing. It was difficult and I think it affected our results today. On Saturday, we had uninterrupted preparation and we were out of the blocks for every race. Today, we never got a practice start, any maneuvers, look at lay lines and you saw what a huge disadvantage it was.”
In capturing a second SailGP event in a row for Australia, it was not without its challenges for Slingsby and his team. The cat, at speed took a huge nose dive while racing the Japanese boat neck and neck.
“The race with Japan, we were both fighting for a meter or two,” said Slingsby. “When we got to the bottom of the course it was really close. We had a really close call with them and fortunately for us we were able to get in front again and hold the lead. We were on the edge of control when we went into that situation. Jason wasn′t comfortable on the flight control and I wasn′t comfortable steering! We were both talking back and forth.”
“Are you all right?”
“Are you okay?”
“Then all of a sudden, Nathan (Japan) came up and started hunting us down, which he was fully in his rights to do and he tried to make it hard for us to go around him. Then we had a big crash!”
“We thought we could get around him,” said Slingsby. “But we crashed pretty big! We popped up, got the boat over the finish line and turned up to regroup. We had quite a few injuries onboard. First thing I saw was blood all over the boat and trying to identify who it was!
Ky Hurst hit his face and nose pretty bad. Might have cracked some ribs. Sam Newton cut his hand really bad. Thankfully we got the medics onboard, because we had a very short time to get ready for the next race!”
And that was all before the epic final match race which ended up in victory for Slingsby and the Australians who now take a commanding lead to the next event in NYC.
Of course, you know who will be there, giving exclusive coverage for Bay & Delta Yachtsman Magazine! Chow for now. Write me at email@example.com H