Bermuda Sail Grand Prix - the races

Stravaig'n the Blue
Mon 16 May 2022 11:33
Apologies for the lack of photos in this post but with the races lasting not much more than 15 minutes it was enough to be watching and trying to keep up with what was happening.

The commentary we listened to throughout on VHL channel 69 was very good with punditry from Nathan Outteridge (Japan’s driver) and occasional soundbites from the competing drivers.

All of the action can be seen on YouTube but here are my thoughts on some of the key moments from each of the races - with a distinct focus on team GBR: driver Ben Ainslie, wing trimmer Iain Jensen, flight controller Luke Parkinson, grinders Neil Hunter and Nick Hutton, and strategist Nikki Boniface. I wonder what was behind the decision to call the person in charge of the boat the driver; it seems an odd choice. In previous SailGPs, it was helm. If the intention was to build on the other aeronautical themed positions, flight controller and wing trimmer, then surely pilot would have been a better choice.

Race 1

In the final few seconds before the start of race 1, we could see that Great Britain was well positioned, third from the right (looking towards the start line) and going fast. As the gun went, the boats either side of Great Britain moved in such a way that gave Great Britain clear air and they accelerated towards the Speed Mark which they reached first, giving them absolute control of the situation.

There are two options at the Speed Mark. The first is to continue on the same tack but bear away to maximise downwind speed towards the leeward gate and then gybe at some point before reaching course boundary, just before the spectator boats. The second option is to gybe immediately, heading away from the spectator boats, and maximise downwind speed on port tack towards the leeward gate. Great Britain chose the latter while the other eight boats all chose the former, resulting in the back markers delivering dirty wind to the front runners. By the time the other eight boats gybed, Great Britain, in completely clear air, was a country mile ahead. And that was the case for the remainder of the race. The post race analysis revealed that Great Britain had sailed the shortest route at the fastest average speed and, of course, had stayed clear and out of trouble with other boats.

Second place went to new entrant this season, Canada. Many people were surprised by this but given that the driver is Phil Robertson who helmed for China in 2109 and Spain in 2021/22 and the wing trimmer is Chris Draper (Japan 2021/22) I was less surprised than most.  Third place went to Jimmy Spithill’s USA.

Race 2

Great Britain’s starting tactics were the same as in race 1 but it only got them into second place at the Speed Mark and they chased the leaders, Canada, for the first half of the race. Then, in a tussle with Canada second time through the leeward gate, Great Britain turned too tightly, lost speed, dropped both hulls into the water and were down three or four places before they were foiling again. Then, to make matters worse, they got out of synch with the wind shifts as they made their way to the windward gate and, on a couple of occasions, they found themselves on port and having to go behind starboard tack boats. By the time they reached the windward gate they were eighth and that is where they finished, just ahead of Denmark.

Canada went on to win race 2 with France second and New Zealand third. The top three after race 2 were Canada on 19 followed by the Australia and Great Britain, both on 13.

Race 3

Spain and France had the best starts in race 3 but Spain blew it at the first mark and ended up crossing the finishing line last. Great Britain didn’t have the best of starts but managed to claw their way through the fleet to find themselves chasing down the leader, France, as they went through the windward gate for the last time and with two legs to go. Great Britain found an enormous burst of speed (great wing trimming by Iain Jensen) to draw level with France half way down the first of these legs and they were clear ahead as they went through the leeward gate and on to the finish line.

France held on to second place followed by Australia, Denmark and Canada.

At the end of the third race, it was the same top three with France close behind.

Canada 25
Great Britain 23
Australia 21
France 20
USA 16
New Zealand and Denmark 15
Spain 14
Switzerland 13

While all of the teams would be pouring over videos of the day’s racing long into the evening, the USA, New Zealand and Spain in particular would be trying to put their disappointment with their performance well behind them.

Day 2 was quite a bit sunnier than day 1 but there was still quite a bit of cloud about so gusty conditions again with plenty of wind shifts to take advantage of - or ruin your race. The wind had also increased by a few knots and the boats came out with slightly smaller headsails than they’d had the day before.

Race 4

There was big drama at the start of race 4. France tried to squeeze in between Great Britain and the starboard start mark but Ben Ainslie held firm as was his right and France hit the mark earning them a black flag (only the second black flag in SailGP history) and disqualification from that race. The incident probably had a quite an impact on France’s confidence as they managed only eighth place in race 5.  It probably also rattled Great Britain who had a fairly average race, ending fifth. Here they are on the first upwind leg, ahead of the USA who finished sixth and out of contention for race 6.

New Zealand took line honours followed by Spain and Denmark.

After four races, the top three were unchanged but New Zealand, Spain and Denmark were all in with a shout if one of the top three did poorly in race 5. Lots of pressure for six of the teams then.

Race 5

We only saw the first half of race 5, the last of the fleet races. The course marshals had told us just before the start of race 4 that we’d need to move after race 5 so that the boats that had been eliminated could exit the race course. Why they didn’t tell us as we were about to anchor we will never know. And then, mid way through race 5, the marshals came round again to say we (and the other boats around us) had to move right away. I was not impressed.

From what we did see of the race, Great Britain were either intent on staying well clear of all of the other boats or had an entirely different view of where the best wind was. Here’s Great Britain at speed on the first of the two upwind legs on the spectator side of the course with six of the other boats just visible on the far side of the course.

It wasn’t a winning strategy but it gave them a fourth place which, overall, put them two points behind Australia who won race 5 and one point ahead of Canada who came in fifth.  Denmark who finished third came next closest to making the cut with New Zealand finishing seventh and Spain last.

So, Australia, Great Britain and Canada through to the race that would determine Gold, Silver and Bronze.

Race 6

Great Britain made a poor start and, after the Speed Mark, were well behind Canada who were trailing Australia. Australia’s Tom Slingsby adopted match racing tactics to cover Canada at every tack and at every gybe. This gave Great Britain free rein to exploit the gusts and wind shifts. As they approached the leeward gate for the second time but from opposite sides of the course, it was clear that Great Britain had overtaken Canada. Great Britain now had a choice. Cover Canada and be reasonably sure of coming in second or pursue Australia for first place but risk Canada regaining second place. With Australia going great guns, Great Britain wisely decided that first place was beyond their reach and held Canada in third place through to the finish.

In this event, race 6 made no difference to the positions at the end of race 5 but it certainly gave Canada and Great Britain the opportunity to change things. However, two-time series winner Australia were not to be beaten.

The next event is in Chicago on June 18 and 19. Catch it if you can!