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SailGP news, The Ocean Race goes green, and new IMOCA class rules

by David Schmidt 27 Apr 16:00 BST April 27, 2021
Sir Ben Ainslie and the Great Britain SailGP Team celebrate their win with Champagne Barons de Rothschild in the final race on Race Day 2. Bermuda SailGP © Bob Martin/SailGP

The weather may have been cold and rainy for the sailors participating in the Seattle Yacht Club's classic Protection Island Race this past Saturday on the waters of nearby Puget Sound, but things were fortunately a bit warmer in Bermuda, where sailing unfurled for the first event in the 2021 SailGP season.

There, eight teams assembled to determine bragging rights in the first fight of the Grand Prix event's second season, which involved six races that played out over two days. The first five of these races featured fleet racing, while the final race pitted the top three boats against each other in a winner-takes-all arrangement that put fans on the edges of their seats and delivered a finish-line delta of just four seconds between the winner, Great Britain SailGP Team, and second-place Australia SailGP Team.

Mother Nature delivered the goods on the waters of Bermuda's Great Sound, with airspeeds tickling the event's upper limits, and all teams sporting the newer and smaller wingsails that help deliver better control and higher speeds (less drag) when the air starts piping.

Olympic gold medalist and Australia SailGP Team skipper Tom Slingsby might not have raced in over a year thanks to the cursed coronavirus pandemic, but this didn't stop him and his fast-flying squad from winning all three races on Saturday. Fellow Olympic gold (and silver) medalist and America's Cup winner (2013) Sir Ben Ainslie and his Great Britain SailGP Team came alive on Sunday, winning the first fleet race and taking brides-maid honors in the second (astern of Slingsby and company) before the gloves fully came off in race six.

But, before we go there, it should be noted that skipper Nathan Outteridge and his Japan SailGP squad collided with two-time America's Cup winning skipper Jimmy Spithill and his United States SailGP team, who were on starboard tack, during race four. The two boats hit at speed and stuck together for some pregnant seconds as the crews scrambled to sort out the situation. Once separated, the American-flagged crew tried to baby around the track, however their battered steering system failed, leading to a capsize and the team's retirement. They were joined back ashore by Outteridge and company.

"When we got to the dock, Nathan Outteridge came up and apologized, but unfortunately the damage was sustained just trying to separate the boats," said Spithill, who took over skipper duties for Season Two from Rome Kirby (now the team's flight controller), in an official SailGP press release. "It's just tough. In some ways it reminds me a little bit of motor racing, where at times, tight tracks, going fast like that, sometimes someone's going to take you out and there's not a lot you can do to control it.

"So obviously I'm disappointed, but I know Nathan really well and we're good mates onshore, so the fact he came straight up and apologized is the kind of guy he is," continued Spithill. "And look, mistakes happen."

This left a playing field of six boats for the final three races. As mentioned, Sir Ben and his Great Britain SailGP Team took top honors in race four, followed by Slingby and his Australia SailGP Team. The two teams reversed leaderboard places for race five, putting them both in the hunt for the winner-takes-all race six, which also featured skipper Billy Besson and his France SailGP team.

While Slingsby and company take the prize for consistency, Sir Ben knows how to drop the hammer when it matters most, and race six was no exception, with Great Britain SailGP Team crossing the finishing line four seconds faster than their Aussie rivals.

"It was a cracking race," said Ainslie in a post-event release. "It was awesome. It's what we want to do it for; go against these guys in conditions like this - it was just perfect."

The next SailGP event is expected to unfurl on the waters off of Taranto, Italy, from June 5-6.

The 2022-2023 edition of The Ocean Race may still be some ways over the horizon, but, with Earth Day celebrations and President Biden's ambitious climate-change agenda fresh in mind, it was great to hear that the next edition of this fully crewed round-the-world race aims to be climate positive.

According to a recent release, The Ocean Race is striving to reduce more greenhouse-gas emissions than the event produces. This includes investing in environmentally positive projects that sequester carbon and enhance biodiversity (e.g. investing in projects ranging from seagrass and mangrove forests to verified carbon offset projects), amongst other initiatives.

"Healthy seas are fundamental to all life on earth, but they are at breaking point," said Anne-Cécile Turner, the event's Sustainability Director, in the release. "We are determined to do all we can to help. It is a huge challenge to become climate positive within the next 18 months, but we have an opportunity to make a significant impact on a global scale and achieving the extraordinary is in our DNA. Sport has the power to accelerate change and we have no time to waste."

Additionally, The Ocean Race plans to take water samples (read: microplastic counts, salinity measurements and sea-surface temperatures) as the fleet races around the world, and each team is expected to create at least 20-percent of their onboard energy from renewable sources. Additionally, the event will continue hosting ocean summits, innovation workshops, and educational programs.

While IMOCA 60 monohulls have historically been used to contest the non-stop solo around the world Vendée Globe Race, these cutting-edge boats will also be raced as one of two classes that will compete in the 2022-2023 edition of The Ocean Race, so it was heartening to read the class' new rules for 2021-2025. Amongst other changes, the class is taking a big step towards lowering their environmental wake, including promoting the use of green building materials, employing "green sails" (read: either fully recycled sails or sails built from alternative and eco-friendly materials), exploring green auxiliary propulsion systems, and making life-cycle assessments mandatory for all new builds (and certain parts and components).

The new IMOCA rules also limit foil sizes, bolster skipper safety, increase mast rake, and help to contain costs.

"In short, we have a technical evolution rather than a revolution," said Antoine Mermod, president of the IMOCA class, in an official release. "The scope of work for the next four years is now set out and, just a few weeks after the end of the Vendée Globe, the approach adopted by the teams is showing signs of a bright future."

In other sailing news, Americans Paul Cayard and Luke Lawrence took top honors at the Star Western Hemisphere Champions, followed by Jorgen Schonherr and Markus Koy of Denmark and fellow Americans Augie Diaz and Bruno Prada. And in Olympic class news, American Laser sailors Charlie Buckingham and Paige Railey, both of whom will be representing the Stars and Stripes at this summer's Olympics, finished in seventh and tenth place at the recent ILCA European Continental Qualifiers in the full rig and radial classes (respectively).

Finally, and much closer to home, the 2021 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Offshore Regatta will take place off of Chicago from September 24-26, and will be contested in T10 and J/105s that will be loaned to teams by local area owners.

May the four winds blow you safely home,

David Schmidt
Sail-World.com North American Editor

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