Team Australia skipper Tom Slingsby pulled off a tight maneuver late in the podium race to pass France and win the Great Britain SailGP regatta Sunday on Plymouth Sound.
It was the first regatta victory for the crack Australian team since it took the global league’s $1 million, winner-take-all finale for the inaugural championship in September 2019. The United States finished third in the podium race.
The Aussies rebounded from an unthinkable last-place finish in the eight-boat fleet in Italy last month, the first time in seven SailGP regattas they hadn’t finished first or second.
“It was a highs and lows regatta,” said Slingsby, who had to plug in three new sailors for this regatta. “We were winning races, we were at the back of the pack and we just squeaked into the final race. We had the lead, we lost it. It sort of had everything in that the race — overtake incidents, mistakes —but somehow we ended up with the ball and crossed the line.”
Slingsby put his foiling 50-foot catamaran in front early in the podium race but the Aussies were having trouble with their rudders, which led to a poor maneuver that cost them the lead. They came speeding back into contention and gibed just ahead of France to take the lead approaching the final gate and the turn to the finish.
“It’s a really tough maneuver that we had to do,” Slingsby said. “It was touch and go. If they’re 10 meters closer to us, we’re in big trouble and we had to nail a perfect gibe in the end. I honestly think it was probably our best gibe we did the whole event. We were able to go directly ahead of them and block them to the finish line. Where we did it was spot on and I’m really stoked we able to do that and get the win.”
The Aussies were once again without flight controller Jason Waterhouse, who is preparing for the Tokyo Olympics. Kinley Fowler, who replaced Waterhouse in the last regatta, was with his wife in Rhode Island for the birth of their second child. Grinder Sam Newton was back home in Australia for family reasons.
Ed Powys handled the flight controller role for the first time.
“Look, we were scrambling and teaching a lot of the guys on the fly and fortunately we were able to get some really good people involved and we now have a lot more depth moving forward in the series,” said Slingsby, an Olympic gold medalist and former America’s Cup winner. “It’s great to have options moving forward.”
Slingsby called the last-place finish in Italy “a bit of a shock to the system. But I’m glad we were able to turn it around. We’ve shown that if we’re performing and we’re sailing well we can be a real threat. I’d like to have a bit more consistency than first to last at the moment but I’ll definitely take the first.”
The host British team, which was in last place after Saturday’s three fleet races, won Sunday’s second fleet race to finish fourth overall. Paul Goodison filled in on the helm for the second straight regatta for Sir Ben Ainslie, who had long-standing personal commitments.
Ainslie, who beat Slingsby in the podium race in the season-opening regatta in Bermuda, is due back for the next regatta in Aarhus, Denmark, Aug. 20-21.
Australia took the overall lead for the first time this season with 22 points. Great Britain also has 22 points, followed by France with 21, the United States 19, Japan 19, Spain 19, Denmark 17 and New Zealand 17.
Follow Bernie Wilson on Twitter at http://twitter.com/berniewilson