“Never have I ever seen anything like this…”
In a state of wondrous shock, Gav Luxton & Mick Butler starred in utter disbelief at what lay before them at the KPMG Australia Sail Grand Prix.
However, despite what you would expect, it wasn’t when the boys were on Sydney 2000, watching nine F50’s hit the start line upwards of 40 knots. Nor was it when Emirates Great Britain SailGP Team‘s Grinder, Matt Gotrel, fell through the fairing, getting flung like a rag-dole as they headed towards the finish in the first race. Nor was it when Mother Nature’s ferocity hit the SailGP Tech Site at Barangaroo far earlier than anyone had anticipated, leaving nothing but chaos and destruction in the wake of its 60-plus-knots.
However, it was when James Rhodes was in the Peter Burling‘s cockpit of Team New Zealand‘s F50, with his 3-month old son, Elliot, holding the wheel as if he was born to it. Now that, my friends, is something you don’t see everyday…
As you all know, I’m good for a yarn. So, for this Match Report, I thought I’d tell you all a story; purely from my perspective. The perspective of a 23-year-old, mad-keen Hobie sailor, and the menace we’ve all now seen both behind and in front of the camera for Totally Immersed TV.
For the last two seasons of the SailGP I’ve been with the Hobie Family, sinking back refreshments and watching in a state of awe from Shark Island and Sydney 2000 as a fleet of F50s raced on one of the most spectacular, and tightest, race tracks in the world (most of the time quite merry as well). However, this year was something different altogether, because Paddy had in fact levelled.
Thanks to the Hobie Family’s very own Bella Zanesco (who has been working as a host for the SailGP since its inception in 2019), who worked her magic flawlessly with the Hospo’ team, solidified this young fella’s place as a host for the KPMG Australia Sail Grand Prix.
Although they are all rockstars…, it was amazing for the grommets … to watch the athletes perform tasks their parents only dream they would.
Upon my arrival at a stinkin’ hot Barangaroo, the location of the regatta’s Tech Site, it was the Hobie Family’s alumni Jason Waterhouse & Lucy Copeland walking towards the Australian team’s tent that made me think, “strewth, this is actually happening”. It was know sooner I ran over to say g’day to the pair than it was standing on the deck of The Roo itself.
Now, I’ll tell you this; watching an F50 travel at speeds north of 80km/h on the water is one thing, but actually standing on it’s deck, observing the technology that makes one of these things fly brings about a whole new appreciation for the men and women that actually race these boats. I can only imagine what it’s like to be in their shoes.
However, in saying that, there is so much more to the SailGP than the rockstars on the water. Along with Nic Douglas, Jordan Spencer, Bella & myself, we as hosts had the opportunity to travel around the base with the public and VIP guests, meeting the remarkably talented people that work behind the scenes, making the SailGP the well-oiled-machine that it is today.
There are countless aspects to this monumentally precise exercise that work simultaneously each day. From analysts that collect over a billion data points from each boat per day on the water, to engineers that utilise the data to assess how the boats are performing pre, post, and during racing; providing all the teams with a report on how they performed on the race track. Then there’s the orange shirt brigade, the Tech Team who travel all around the world, craning the F50s in and out of the water each day, dismantling, reassembling and maintaining all nine boats in immaculate condition.
However, just like you and I, the sailors themselves, along with their support team, will be the ones who wash off, clean and pack away their boats before the next day of racing. Although they are all rockstars in their own right, it was amazing for the grommets on my general public Tech Tours to watch the athletes perform tasks their parents only dream they would.
..being the ‘cool’ teacher I am, we decided to extend our time on the base..
Thursday was the first day of practice, which meant no boundaries. As you can expect, all the punters in Sydney were out in the middle of the harbour, as F50s weaved between the gaggle of yachts, ribs and cruisers, sitting rather uncomfortable around Shark Island. Corky, the SailGPs main man on the Guest Chaser Program, was hooning the crew and I along the hip of the F50s, as they weaved their way through a building nor-easterly sea-breeze.
As the public were welcomed onto the base, I was lucky enough to co-host with Bella in the morning, then with Jordan & Nic in the afternoon. All three having done this role, I quickly began learning more and more about the league and the F50s themselves. So when the guests on my first solo tour came around, they were in for a treat. As the final tour of the evening, a bunch of Groms and their families were coming after school. So, being the ‘cool’ teacher I am, we decided to extend our time on the base, making the most of the teams packing up as the sun set over the harbour city.
Friday, the day we were all waiting for dragged on like Jimmy & Brody getting ready for a Sunday sail. the Vincentia Sailing Club had their ‘adopt-a-club’ Inspire Tour with Team New Zealand at 6pm, and I couldn’t have been more excited. Before the crew went out on the water for practice, I snuck into the Kiwi’s tent to introduce myself for the first time (because standing in the hotel lobby next to Blair Tuke earlier that morning didn’t seem like the right time).
..for many young sailors, particularly those who sail regionally, the Inspire program is something that could change an individual’s life..
As the VSC crew began to arrive, plus Susie, Simmy & Nomes, along with the Fishers from Palm Beach, the tour kicked off inside the Kiwi tent. Blair Tuke & Liv Mackay were giving the team the full run-down on the ins and outs of what makes an F50 fly, stopping mid-brief to complement Jimmy & Brody on their “mean az haircutz bro.” And so our tour of the New Zealand base began, as Ellie with the TITV camera began capturing all the key moments, alongside Jimmy & I with TITV’s new GoPro Hero11.
Nomes & Susie had a go in the grinding bay, whilst Andy Maloney gave the Emma, Haylie, Rose & Meagan a brief on flight control. Dave and Jimmy were full-on ‘nerding out’ over the electronics, as Steve Andersson took it upon himself to ask the most technical questions possible. Meanwhile, Rebecca was attempting to pull MB away from Peter Burling who was giving the old boy the run-down on how to win the start at full noise.
With a “chur bro”, the VSC & Co. were off around the Tech Site for a look inside the other teams tents. As we went down the pit lanes, Jimmy & Brody entertained themselves by kicking a ping-pong ball in the dust, whilst the girls deliberated over whose questions for Analysts & Engineers were more educated. In saying that, no one was more excited to chat to the lads in the container than James, Dave & Steve.
Upon popping their heads inside, the trio of engineers began drooling at the monitors, data streams and records that lay before their eyes. MB & Glenn’s eyes were drawn towards the digital representation of the race track, however, it was Scott the Data Analysts comment of sailing Hobie 16s years ago that pricked his ears up the most.
After a brief stop over at the props tent, it was time to leave the base a whole hour after our scheduled departure. Absolutely buzzing about what was a once in a lifetime experience, the Hobie Family headed around the corner for a feed, a drink and a yarn, where I put a schooner quicker than the Kiwis on the gun.
The SailGP’s Inspire is something that is truly unique in the world of sport. Unfortunately, I was just too old to apply for the Waszp program when it was included into the Sydney SailGP. And for many young sailors, particularly those who sail regionally, the Inspire program is something that could change an individual’s life. Here’s to hoping one of our Groms from the Hobie Family will one-day have the opportunity to race right next to an F50.
For anyone that has been keeping up to date in the world of sailing, there is no need to explain the events that took place Saturday evening.
Saturday came around and it was time for the real action to start. A gourmet buffet breakfast at the Mercure, paired with two instant coffees set this young fella up nicely, right before two public tours to start the day. Whist the ‘more experienced’ hosts were provided the partner & VIP Tours, I had the opportunity to record some behind the scenes footage for TITV, providing our worldwide fan base with a perspective of the event that we’ve never seen before.
As the nor-easter began to build, along with the ominous clouds in the sky, it was an afternoon of pure cowboy sailing for the crews on their F50s. As Corky and I began our journey out to the race with our guests on board, it was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. travelling at 35 knots with three V8 outboards on the back was nothing compared to the entry speeds the F50s had off the start, both in speed and sound.
The whistling of the F50s could be heard from halfway up the course as the teams began battling not only each other, but the tricky conditions the nor-easter was creating. With my GoPro in one hand and the other gripped around the handle, Corky & Co. ripped around the race track at full noise, following the boats all the way to the finish. With VIP Guests on the chase boats, the majority of which knew minimal about our sport, the experience of witnessing an F50 gybe only metres from where you’re sitting is something they’ll never forget. I, for one, know that I won’t. And I’ve been sailing all my life.
For anyone that has been keeping up to date in the world of sailing, there is no need to delve into the events that took place Saturday evening. Less than five minutes before the freakishly violent storm front took control of the Canadian Wing, Bella and I were leading the final public base tour of the day. Thankfully, we moved our group outside of the Tech Site before the full brunt of the storm cell swept through the Harbour City.
…the level of support each sailor had for one another couldn’t be clearer; that’s something that elevates our sport above everything else.
As swift and devastating the storm cell was, the quick wits and leadership shown by the SailGP tech team was outstanding during the site’s evacuation, with no more than rope burn being reported as a major injury in a situation that could have so easily turned out much, much worse. As the other hosts and myself urged both members of the public and the SailGP into the lobby of the Crown Casino, the level of support each sailor had for one another couldn’t be clearer; that’s something that elevates our sport above everything else.
If I’m being honest with myself, this yarn has gone on for a bit longer than planned; as they usually do. Therefore, I’ll see if I can’t wrap this up with one more paragraph.
Despite the events that took place at the KPMG Sydney Sail Grand Prix, there is no doubt in my mind that this League is going to bounce back like nothing we have seen before. For our sport, there is no single competition that opens the eyes of the public into the sailing world. The thrills ‘n’ spills, the teams and their determination on the water is utterly unique, and I am truly grateful to have been a part of it. All I can say is that it’s onwards & upwards from here.