Weeks of training, fine-tuning and engineering columnated at 12:30 p.m. PT as SailGP’s inaugural U.S event kicked off on San Francisco Bay. The anticipation was palpable as the six national teams lined up on the start line. A sell-out crowd, seated just 200 meters from the finish line, saw the Japanese team dominate close racing in the most technologically advance boats on the planet in a style of racing never before seen on the shores of San Francisco Bay.
After a week of intense training which saw highs and lows, with the Chinese chances of competing in the weekend nearly crushed after a boat handling incident earlier in the week, the six teams were raring to go and showcase the high-speed F50s on the iconic San Francisco Bay.
One team managed to master the challenging conditions, which increased from 12 knots at the start of the first race to 20 knots, with the Japan SailGP Team, helmed by Nathan Outteridge, winning 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.”
High drama was delivered during race one, 10 seconds was all the separated the fleet around the first mark. Audiences saw lead changes in every single race. There were several close crosses between competitors, some of which resulted in penalties.
The United States SailGP team had one close call, “100% it was tight racing. We had a close call at the finish with the British and were literally inches away from their transom,” said the American helmsman.
An onboard camera showed the British skipper, Dylan Fletcher looking over his shoulder at the Japanese just meters away.
“It was hectic out there. 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.”
Outteridge sealed the deal on the third race of the day right off the start line, sailing at a slightly lower angle to gain speed and roll over the leading British team in the first half of the race. The Japan team helmsman, notorious for his expert reading of shifts downwind, managed to put almost 300 meters between them and their nearest competitor on the final leg.
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. Kirby and his team have proved they can handle themselves in challenging conditions and make impressive tactical decisions in high-stress competition.
“Our strategy the whole day was to try and get free from the fleet and sail in our own water, if we do this, we are pretty quick. That was the goal for the day – get out on our own and get the boat ripping.” Said Kirby.
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 tonight, 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.