The tight racing of Plymouth, which saw six teams in contention for a place in the Final and two teams finishing on the podium for the first time, shows ‘how far the fleet has come’, according to SailGP’s international commentators.
Coming into the second day of the Great Britain Sail Grand Prix, the six teams capable of securing a place in the three boat winner-takes-all Final were France, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Great Britain and Canada.
The tight, neck and neck nature of racing on Plymouth Sound saw crews challenged by shifty conditions, tides and current. Emily Nagelpointed to the improved performances of the French and Danish teams. “They’re not the teams anyone would have put their money on so to see how far they’ve come is a great accomplishment.”
Todd Harris agreed, adding that ‘it was nice to have some new faces in the running.” However, he highlighted the performance of the Australian team which, despite ‘not having the best’ fleet racing performance, manages to remain consistently ‘in the mix’. “Even if they have a bad day, it’s never as bad as everyone else’s bad day,” Harris said.
The importance of securing a good fleet position at the end of the first day was demonstrated by the performance of home favourites Great Britain. Ben Ainslie’s team had a disappointing first day ruined by ‘three terrible starts’, according to Ainslie. The team picked up a 4-4-6 racing record on day one, leaving them in fifth place coming into the second day of racing.
Winning the fourth fleet race on Sunday put the team in contention for a place in the Final alongside Nicolai Sehested’s Denmark. But a dramatic penalty 200m from the finish line in the fifth fleet race ruled Great Britain out, and handed the place to Australia instead. “I feel gutted for Great Britain but it just goes to show that you really have to put yourself in a good position on Saturday because trying to dig yourself out of a hole on Sunday is very difficult,” Harris added.
The contentious penalty punished Great Britain for crossing too closely in front of Australia and was labelled a ‘bad call’ by Ainslie after racing.
However, all three commentators defended the decision, with Stevie Morrison claiming the two boats were within ‘centimetres’ of colliding. “I saw the cross on the Umpire App and it did look very close,” he added. “These boats are fragile and there’s an element of caution in the umpires’ decision making so the sailors need to build that into the risk taking.”
Morrison added that he ‘understood’ why Ainslie went for the cross but suggested the Great Britain driver might ‘look back on it’ and ‘think how he could have done things differently’. Nagel, who was watching from SailGP’s remote broadcast studio alongside the umpires, agreed with chief umpire Craig Mitchell’s call. “I would have penalised the British as well,” she said. “At the end of the day, it’s his call and whatever decision Craig made would ultimately have decided which team got into the Final - the British put themselves into the position.”
It was a mixed weekend for Phil Robertson’s Canada, which so far this season has impressed with two podium finishes. But it was a different story in Plymouth. The team started well, picking up a first place finish in the first fleet race, but a dramatic nosedive in the second race of the day saw the team finish in ninth place. The team ended the event with a 1-9-3-9-7 racing record and missed out on a place in the Final.
However, Nagel defended the team’s performance, pointing out that the team was in third place before the nosedive. “If they hadn’t have crashed, they probably would have been in the top three in all three races on that first day,” she said. “It was a disappointing event, but it isn’t like they’ve forgotten how to sail.”
Morrison agreed, adding that a mixed performance from the newcomer team was ‘not to be unexpected’. “They were sailing in challenging conditions for the first time,” he said. He pointed to the absence of strategist Georgia Lewin LaFrance on board, who shares the role in rotation with Isabella Bertold. “I’m sure Isabella is brilliant but she hasn’t had the same amount of time on board,” Morrison said.
Jimmy Spithill’s U.S. team had another rocky event, picking up 9-6-7-6-5 fleet racing record. All three commentators questioned whether time was running out for the team to fight its way back into the season. “I think for the U.S. team, it’s got to be sooner rather than later,” said Harris. “If they don’t make the Final in Denmark or France, I don’t know if there’s enough points left to get back in.” Morrison agreed that the team ‘isn’t far off’ the point of no return where ‘the point gap becomes too big’.
Both Harris and Morrison questioned the continued absence of flight controller Rome Kirby, who has been replaced by newcomer Hans Henken this season. “A lot of people are asking where Rome Kirby is,” Harris said, adding that the team ‘seemed smoother with him on board’. Morrison added, “I’m quite surprised that Jimmy Spithill saying the team need more time but then the flight controller who helped the them to the Grand Final last season is missing, there’s pieces of the argument that don’t make sense to me.”