Welcome to the Yacht Racing Life guide to the new SailGP international sailing league.
If you read the press release and watched the promotional video but are still wondering what SailGP is all about, don’t worry. We have broken down everything you need to know into easy to understand bite-sized chunks.
What is SailGP?
SailGP is a brand-new international yacht racing league for professional teams racing equalised ultra-high-performance fully-foiling 50-foot catamarans. During the inaugural 2019 season six teams will compete in five events around the world – Sydney, Australia, San Francisco, USA, New York, USA, Cowes, England, Marseilles, France.
At the last event of the 2019 season a 1,000,000 US dollar cash prize is up for grabs for the victor in the final winner-takes-all 20-minute race between the top four overall teams.
Who is behind it all?
SailGP is the brainchild of American billionaire-businessman Larry Ellison – co-founder, executive chairman, and chief technology officer of Oracle Corporation – and prominent New Zealand yachtsman Sir Russell Coutts, a multiple world champion, Olympic gold medallist and five times America’s Cup winner.
Together at Oracle racing Ellison and Coutts masterminded two America’s Cup victories in 2010 in Valencia and 2013 in San Francisco.
When does it start and what’s the schedule?
SailGP was officially launched in London on October 3 but the first season will take place in 2019 with events scheduled as follows:
Sydney, Australia – February 15/16
San Francisco, USA – May 4/5
New York, USA – June 21/22
Cowes, England – August 10/11
Maseille, France – September 20/22
How many teams are there and who are they?
Six teams will compete in the 2019 SailGP season:
Great Britain SailGP Team
CEO and wing trimmer: Chris Draper
Skipper and helmsman: Dylan Fletcher
Flight controller: Stuart Bithell
Grinders: Richard Mason and Matt Gotrell
United States SailGP Team
Skipper and helmsman: Rome Kirby
Wing trimmer: Riley Gibbs
Flight controller: Hans Henken
Grinders: Mac Agnese and Dan Morris
Australia SailGP Team
Helmsman: Tom Slingsby
Wing trimmer: Kyle Langford
Flight controller: Jason Waterhouse
Grinders: Ky Hurst and Sam Newton
Alternate/reserve sailor: Kinley Fowler
France SailGP Team
Skipper and helmsman: Billy Besson
Wing trimmer: Matthieu Vandame Devan Le Bihan and Olivier Herledant
Flight controller: Marie Riou
Grinders: Devan Le Bihan and Olivier Herledant
Alternate/reserve sailor: Timothé Lapauw
China SailGP Team
Skipper and helmsman: Phil Robertson (NZL)
Wing trimmer: Ed Powys (GBR) (Thomas Le Breton (FRA) – reserve)
Flight controller: James Wierzbowski (AUS)
Grinders: Liu ‘Black’ Xue, Jinhao ‘Horace’ Chen, Liu ‘Leo’ Ming (reserve)
Japan SailGP Team
Skipper and helmsman: Nathan Outteridge (AUS)
Wing trimmer: Iain Jensen (AUS)
Flight controller: Luke Parkinson (AUS)
Grinders: Yugo Yoshida, Yuki Kasatani, Leo Takahashi (reserve)
What nationality requirements are there for the teams?
SailGP organisers want a meaningful nationality rule so that the teams are genuinely representing their country. A strict nationality rule will be enforced based on a new agreement with World Sailing who will make the final decision on sailors’ eligibility to race.
For the first season, while the American, Australian, British, and French crews will be required to meet the nationality rule 100 per cent, to fast track the Chinese and Japanese teams up the learning curve they will only be required to have 40 per cent of their sailors from the home country. This requirement will increase by 20 per cent in each subsequent season.
Which boats are being used?
Racing will take place in high-performance, fully-foiling, F50 catamarans. The boats are based on several of the AC50 cats that took part in the 35thAmerica’s Cup in Bermuda but have been updated and equalised over the past year at Core Boatbuilders in New Zealand to create as close racing as possible.
Sail GP F50 catamaran specification highlights:
Height: 24 metres (78 feet 9 inches)
Length: 15 metres (49 feet 3 inches)
Width: 8.8 metres (28 feet 11 inches)
Weight: 2800 kilograms
Estimated top speed: 54 knots (62 miles per hour)
What’s different about the new boats compared to the AC50s?
Full details are still emerging but as well as equalising dimensions of the boats and the foils and rudder appendages to make the F50s effectively one design, boats will now use battery power to run the flight control system. The work of the grinders will solely be to power the sail trim on the boats’ gigantic multi-articulating wing sail.
One other difference is that the trim of the rudders can now be changed dynamically while racing rather than being pre-set as was required under the America’s Cup rules. This is expected to significantly improve performance and increase safety.
What about the sails?
No firm details were given on the sail setup for the SailGP F50 catamarans at the launch in London, but it is safe to say the boats will use a very similar configuration to what was used at the 2017 America’s Cup in Bermuda – i.e. a huge fully controllable wing sail and a smaller conventional headsail. It is likely that smaller wing sails will be used to allow for racing in stronger winds but at launch there was no mention of the possible use of gennakers for lighter winds.
What are the crew roles on the SailGP F50?
The teams will race with five sailors on board with the option to swap out one sailor during a race day.
SailGP F50 crew roles:
Helmsman – steering, boat speed, and boat on boat decisions
Wing trimmer – controlling the setup of the wing sail for maximum speed
Flight controller – ‘piloting’ the flight of the boat
Grinders (2) – providing power for sail trim purposes (the F50 flight control systems are battery powered)
What will the racing format be?
The SailGP regattas will be a combination of mostly fleet racing but with an element of match racing thrown in too.
At each SailGP event it is envisaged that the teams will have two practice days followed immediately by two race days with three fleet races on the first day followed by two fleet races on the second day, finishing with a match race between the two top teams to determine the winner.
The final event of the 2019 season will be a winner-takes-all fleet race between the overall top two teams for a 1,000,000 US dollar cash prize.
The course configurations were not announced at the launch event in London but are expected to be similar if not identical to the reaching start/windward-leeward/reaching finish configuration used in the last America’s Cup in Bermuda.
Are the designs of the boats fixed for a season?
No. An internal design team will continue to try to evolve and develop the performance of the boats. Any changes made will be tested and evaluated before being applied to all the boats at the same time.
Are there any sponsors involved?
Yes. British luxury car brand Land Rover, French fashion house and luxury retailer Louis Vuitton, and American global computer technology company Oracle Corporation, are all sponsor partners of SailGP.
How much does it cost to run a team for a season?
When we put that question to Russell Coutts at the launch in London he told us that it would take a budget of five million US Dollars (4.3 million Euros) to run a team for a season.
What are the plans for the future?
Coutts and Ellison’s vision for the future of the SailGP circuit is that after two years or so it evolves into a self-sufficient entity with well-established teams that continue to function even if the ownership changes hands.
The pair’s medium to long term vision for SailGP is up to 10 international teams and 10 events around the world each season.
We hope you have found this guide to SailGP useful.
The guide is updated as soon as new information about teams and events becomes available so check back regularly. Meanwhile if there ism anything you think we have missed or if you have any questions about SailGP please send us a message and we will try to answer them here.