A matter of 2½ feet meant the difference between sailing off with $1 million in SailGP’s inaugural championship regatta or getting nothing.
Team Japan’s Nathan Outteridge gambled and lost, allowing countryman Tom Slingsby to steer Team Australia to victory Sunday in Marseille, France, in a showdown between two of the world’s best skippers aboard fast, foiling F50 catamarans.
Slingsby overcame an error at the start and passed Outteridge in a tight maneuver approaching the penultimate mark to win one of the biggest prizes in sailing history.
“Obviously it felt unbelievable,” Slingsby said afterward. “It was just such a crazy day. We didn’t know if there was going to be a race, we didn’t know when it was going to happen, the circumstances. We’re fortunate it went our way.”
After a delay to let the wind settle in and to set the course, the race took just less than 10 minutes.
“I haven’t figured out what I’m going to do with the $1 million,” said Slingsby, an Olympic gold medalist who helped Oracle Team USA win the America’s Cup in 2013. “I never want to jinx myself. I didn’t want to plan to buy a new car and then never get the car if it didn’t go my way. I’ve got something to think about in the next few days. The money will be divided throughout the team. Everyone will have a couple of good decisions to make on what they want to spend their money on.”
Slingsby steered his catamaran into the starting box a few seconds early, drawing a penalty and forcing him to start just behind his friend and rival Outteridge, an Olympic gold and silver medalist, and an America’s Cup veteran.
Outteridge tried to pinch off his countryman approaching the fourth gate, but Slingsby and his crew of four sailed just clear and rounded onto the final leg ahead of Team Japan, which lost speed.
Race analysis determined that the final duel came down to a mere 78 centimeters, or 2½ feet. If the Australians had been five-hundredths of a second slower, Japan could have forced them to incur a penalty. It was a risky move by Japan in an attempt to force Australia off its course that backfired and allowed Slingsby to take the lead.
“We thought we were on a fast layline, which is a better place to be,” Slingsby said. “You’ve got a few more options. When he went into his gybe, I knew he was a few seconds late. If he had went a few seconds earlier he would have been in a stronger position. I knew that opened the door slightly and we had an opportunity. He was a little bit late in his luff and by that stage we had our bows ahead.
“I knew we just had to keep clear when he luffed, which we did. As we bore away I knew we were in the clear and we just had to hold onto the lead. We finally made the overtake.”
The Aussies won by 14 seconds and began a wild celebration, including drinking champagne out of the trophy.
“We made one error and that’s what happens,” Outteridge said. “You can’t win everything and for every winner there is a loser. We knew someone was going to walk away unhappy. It’s a shame it’s us. But that’s sport and we will just get ready for next season.”
Slingsby and his experienced crew dominated SailGP’s first season. He beat Outteridge in the match-race finals at the first two regattas, in Sydney and San Francisco. Outteridge dominated the New York stop, including winning the match-race final against Slingsby. The last regatta, in Cowes, England, was shortened to one day because of bad weather, with the Australians winning all three fleet races.
New Zealander Phil Robertson skippered China to third place overall, breaking a tie with Dylan Fletcher’s British crew. France was fifth and the United States sixth.
SailGP was created by New Zealander Russell Coutts, a five-time America’s Cup winner, and software tycoon Larry Ellison, whose Oracle Team USA won the America’s Cup in 2010 and 2013 before losing it to Emirates Team New Zealand in 2017.
Follow Bernie Wilson on Twitter at https://twitter.com/berniewilson