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The Red Mist falls in THE splASHES

by Mark Jardine 14 May 20:18 BST 13 May 2020
F50 racing in the final race of the inaugural splASHES © Mark Jardine

There's nothing quite like the rivalry between the British and Australians in sport, exemplified in cricket, rugby and sailing; so with eSailing taking such a hold in the past couple of months during lockdown, it was inevitable that the best sailors the respective nations had to offer would be raring to face each other on the virtual race course. I couldn't resist the challenge of setting this up, and so the inaugural splASHES came to fruition.

Arranging these events takes many people in our worldwide team at Sail-World.com and YachtsandYachting.com. I chatted with the British sailors who had already been racing in The Lockdown Cup, our Australian editor John Curnow contacted Tom Slingsby and Tom Burton to sow the seed of the idea with them and Rory Heron contacted former Ashes winning England cricket captain Sir Andrew Strauss to perform the all-important coin-toss to decide who had the home advantage in the virtual venues, Sydney Harbour and Portsmouth.

For the livestream of the racing we needed a well-known Australian to co-commentate, so who else could I ask but Nic Douglass, the Sailor Girl herself, who jumped at the opportunity and streamed the event live to her huge social media following. We then contacted a few legends of sailing for some good-luck messages to the teams:

The teams were finalised, availability checked and after a frantic Tuesday of setting up the logistics, the race was set for 8am Portsmouth time and 5pm Sydney time, and the clash was on. The Australian team was packed with Olympic gold medallists, America's Cup winners and World Champions, consisting of Tom Slingsby, Tom Burton, Kyle Langford, Matt Chew and Ted Hackney it was clear they weren't messing about. The British team had many names from The Lockdown Cup with Luke Patience, Ben Saxton, Stu Bithell, Sam Whaley and Jonny McGovern up to face the challenge.

The banter between the racers started early on the WhatsApp group and continued on the Zoom chat, but there were points during the racing when it was hard to get a word out of the sailors as they were concentrating so hard - this was friendly but fierce rivalry and they were giving it their all.

In the toss for venues Tom Slingsby chose tails, so with Sir Andrew Strauss flipping heads, Britain had home advantage for the first and last race.

The format was three races, alternating between Portsmouth and Sydney Harbour. The first two races were held in J70s, with the final race in the F50 foiling wing-sailed catamarans for a bit of added excitement. The scoring was to be the total score of all team members combined in all three races, with the lowest score winning.

Tom Slingsby changed his boat name from 'T-Slingers' to 'Red mist' for THE splASHES and at times that red mist will have been aimed at his broadband provider, with a couple of outages costing him dear in the racing.

Race 1 and 2 went to the Brits, so the Aussies mooted the idea of a double points final race in the F50s and then even suggested a 'Super Sunday' winner-takes-all style final race. Luke, on behalf of the Brits, agreed to double points, but still the Brits prevailed to take THE splASHES with 94 points to the Aussies 126.

The individual stars of the day were Sam Whaley for the Brits with a 4,2,1 scoreline and Tom Burton for the Aussies with 3,1,3.

Overall Results:

PosHelmNatVR nameR1R2R3 (double points)Pts
1Sam WhaleyENGWhaleX4228
2Tom BurtonAUSTburton31610
3Stuart BithellENGBiffmeister14813
4Matt ChewAUSChewAUS08/ 967417
5Luke Patience ENGweepearl231419
6Jonny McGovernENGJonnymcboatface881026
7Tom SlingsbyAUSRed mist5101227
8Ben SaxtonENGSaxtondale751628
9Ted HackneyAUSVerticoli88962035
10Kyle LangfordAUSBlood Eagle1091837

Team Results:

TeamAfter R1After R2Overall
GBR224494
AUS3366126

As soon as racing finished the chat switched to when Round 2 would be held. Here are some quotes from the British sailors:

Luke Patience: "It was an honour to lead these four strong Englishmen into battle in an age-old rivalry. We've wounded the Aussies; they will be more dangerous in round two - and so will we."

Sam Whaley: "A good plan with great teamwork meant that the Aussies never really stood a chance."

Stu Bithell: "It was slightly awkward how dominant we were in the first test of the SplASHES. I know the Aussies - they'll be back stronger. We'll be ready!

"The Aussies beat me and Luke at the Olympics... but they are nothing at VR racing."

Ben Saxton: "It turns out those Aussie blokes can sail... but we bossed them. Round 2 is going to be epic!"

Jonny McGovern: "The splASHES massively highlighted how far advanced the UK is with broadband speed! I imagine the Aussies will be upgrading and repairing their cracked mobile screens (thrown in anger) and come back stronger for the second round!"

The Aussies have been uncharacteristically quiet, but Tom Burton commented: "I'm just happy I don't need to listen to Kyle telling me how good he was. There is an unusual silence from him after his performance. I do know however how competitive our guys are, and we will come back much better in round 2."

Kyle replied: "We were suffering an internal power struggle on our team which was detrimental to our performance. The young and up and coming guy was trying to swing his weight around against our less technically abled captain which resulted in some poor results. We hope to reunite for the next race behind our team captain and with him knowing he’s the best laser sailor of all time that should be enough to get us the win for the rematch!"

Thank you to Nic Douglass for adding so much to the commentary and behind the scenes help from John Curnow, Tiani Wittey (a.k.a side-Nic), Sarah McGovern, Andrew Strauss for the coin toss, the sailing legends John Bertrand, Iain Murray and Ben Ainslie for recording their good-luck messages, the team at Virtual Regatta for developing the sailing software which we've all been enjoying during lockdown, all our sailors and everyone who was watching.

While we would all prefer to be out on the water racing, the virtual sailing does give us another avenue to share our passion for the sport and this will be by no means the last of our forays into livestreaming virtual sailing!

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