Sailing: Singapore Sail Grand Prix takes off despite light winds

Singapore is the first South-east Asian country to host a leg of the hydrofoiling series as part of a three-year deal. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
The SailGP team from Australia in action on the first day of the Singapore Sail Grand Prix at East Coast Park on Saturday. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE – The teams had predicted that the light wind conditions off East Coast Park would pose the biggest challenge to crews at the inaugural Singapore SailGP and that was indeed the case as the event kicked off on Saturday.

Wind speeds of just 6kmh to 14kmh saw the start of the first race delayed by nearly 50 minutes, which also saw only two of the three scheduled races take place. Crews also dropped from a six-person to a four-person configuration.

New Zealand and the United States won one race each, but it was reigning SailGP champions Australia who topped the nine-team leaderboard with 18 points after strong starts saw them come in second in both races. Behind Australia are Britain and Canada, who both have 14 points.

Despite an impressive showing, Australia’s driver Tom Slingsby insisted that the team had not gotten comfortable with the conditions in Singapore.

He said: “We’re definitely not used to the conditions. The reason why we had two good results today was because we had two really good starts and, without those starts, we would’ve been fighting in the packs like everyone else.”

The 38-year-old, who has won an Olympic gold, nine world championships and the America’s Cup, also noted how the second day of racing could be more challenging with other teams likely to scrutinise the team’s start.

He said: “We had a pretty good technique in hindsight – we were sort of coming in late for the starts and not lining up too early and hitting the line with a bit more speed and all these teams can look at our data, look at the video, go to our onboard communication and listen to what we’re saying coming into the start, take from that and improve tomorrow. Any time you do something different in this fleet, the following day all the other teams know exactly what you’re doing.”

Racing resumes on Sunday, with two fleet races and the final scheduled. The top three teams in the standings qualify for the final.

Of the conditions, Canada’s driver Phil Robertson said: “It was a little bit tricky.

“Obviously, very light this morning; the breeze was slowly building and we got two races in but the breeze unfortunately just picked up to nice conditions now once the racing was over.

“It doesn’t really matter, everyone is sailing in the same conditions – if you’re sailing slow or fast, you’ve got to be winning and beating the best in the world.”

SailGP, which is into its third season, features the world’s best catamaran sailors. Singapore is the first South-east Asian country to host a leg of the US$1 million (S$1.34 million) hydrofoiling series as part of a three-year deal.

It is the eighth leg of an 11-stop global championship that visits some of the world’s most iconic cities, including Christchurch, San Francisco and Sydney.

Retirees Michael and Christine Tsui, both 60, flew in from Hong Kong to catch the Singapore Sail Grand Prix with their family members who are based in Singapore.

Michael, who follows the America’s Cup, said: “We have not been flying for quite a long time, almost three years.

“In Hong Kong, we basically sail very regularly with keelboats. It’s a new experience and, this morning, we went to Changi (for a tour of the team technical base), which is eye-opening.”

Briton Will Scott, who watches the America’s Cup and ocean racing, had bought tickets knowing that his work trip to the Republic coincided with the Singapore race.

SailGP has been dubbed sea sports’ equivalent of Formula One motor racing and the 61-year-old, who is based in the United States, is also an F1 fan.

The motivational speaker and author said: “This is the closest thing for sure to F1 on the water.

“Even with light winds, there were a couple of good moments but I think it has a way to go before it really (matches) the popularity, intrigue and excitement of F1, but it’s getting there.

“These boats are pretty quick and fast and now they can manoeuvre so quickly... I think there’s some education required for the fans – it looks like chaos out there, you don’t know why they’re going that way but it’s all strategy.”

Apart from sailing enthusiasts, there were also spectators who were following the sport for the first time.

Babul Bala Krishnan, head of customer service at a fintech company, had bought tickets to the event out of curiosity.

The 48-year-old, who lives near East Coast Park, was glad to see the return of events after the pandemic, saying: “It’s good to see a lot of events happening. 

“This is really cool and it would be really nice to see more events happening on this stretch of the beach.

“Hopefully, the breeze picks up, which will make it more interesting, because I think what makes this race fast is the speed that they’re moving at.”

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