Australian SailGP team capsizes US boat during training

BERNIE WILSON
·3-min read

Skipper Tom Slingsby and the defending SailGP champion Australian crew capsized the U.S. team’s foiling 50-foot catamaran on Bermuda’s Great Sound on Friday during its first training session for the global tour’s season opener.

Slingsby said there were only minor injuries and the boat was quickly righted before being towed back to base.

U.S. skipper Jimmy Spithill said there was enough damage that the high-tech boat could be out of action for a few days.

The Australians were using the U.S. boat because their catamaran was still being set up for the regatta April 24-25 that will open the pandemic-delayed second season. Spithill said the plan all along was for teams to share boats until the entire eight-boat fleet is on the water. He said the U.S. and British crews were to follow the Australians in using the American boat on Friday.

Slingsby said the Aussies were on the first lap of their first official session in 14 months when the boat capsized while going 45 knots in wind of about 25 knots, with gusts up to 35 knots. The boat rolled over onto its port hull, with the tip of its 79-foot (24-meter) wingsail resting on the water. The six-man crew was suspended high above the water in the cockpit in the starboard hull.

“I guess this capsize shows how important it is for us to get out there and do some training before the event starts,” Slingsby said in a phone interview. “Especially after a 14-month layoff, we’re all going to make mistakes.”

While some of the crews have come straight from the America’s Cup in New Zealand, Slingsby said his crew has been relatively isolated in Australia due to the coronavirus pandemic and hasn’t been able to do any racing. He skippered his crew to the inaugural championship in 2019 and the $1 million, winner-take-all prize.

British sailing star Sir Ben Ainslie won the opening regatta of the second season in Sydney in February 2020, but those results were voided when the rest of the season was postponed due to the pandemic.

Spithill said the first reaction is always hoping that no one gets hurt, “because the speeds you’re traveling now, they were going very, very fast out there. You’re competitors, but obviously the majority of those guys, I’ve won America’s Cups with, won a lot of races and really good mates actually with all the Aussie guys.”

Spithill is an Australian who makes his permanent home in San Diego with his American wife and their two sons.

Spithill said that in the top end of the wind range, “the boats are a handful. That proved it. Those guys are the defending champions so for them to go over meant it must have been pretty tough.”

Spithill said he wouldn’t be surprised to see more than one capsize between now and the end of the regatta. “You’ve got the throttle down,” he said.

Spithill and Slingsby were crewmates with Oracle Team USA when it won the America’s Cup in 2013 on San Francisco Bay and then lost it in 2017 in Bermuda. Spithill was co-helmsman of the Italian team that lost the America’s Cup match to Emirates Team New Zealand last month.

“Obviously it’s not ideal capsizing and damaging someone else’s boat but he understands how it is,” Slingsby said. “I think we owe him a few alcoholic presents and thank-yous, but we’re going to be over there helping wherever needed and also to get their boat on the water as quick as possible.”

Said Spithill: “They better be cold. They better be high-end beers, too. No cheap light beers.

“Until our boat’s ready to go, we’ll obviously be borrowing the Australian boat,” Spithill said. “I’m looking forward to having a go on the Australian boat.”

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