3 Aussie skippers set for SailGP showdown on Sydney Harbor

Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi!

That’s three Aussies, as in the number of Australian skippers who will lead their teams onto scenic Sydney Harbor for the Australia Sail Grand Prix this weekend.

Not only are bragging rights at stake, but Tom Slingsby, Jimmy Spithill and Nathan Outteridge will be using the penultimate Season 2 regatta to try to keep their teams in position to reach the $1 million winner-take-all podium race in the final regatta in San Francisco in March.

The pressure is certainly on Slingsby for the racing Friday and Saturday, Sydney time, with a backdrop of the Harbor Bridge and Sydney Opera House. He’s the one skippering Team Australia’s 50-foot foiling catamaran, the one with the yellow kangaroo on the wingsail. He steered Team Australia to the inaugural championship in 2019 and the $1 million prize. He leads the Season 2 standings with 45 points, one ahead of Spithill, skipper of Team USA, and Outteridge, skipper of Team Japan.

They all know Sydney Harbor well and are as competitive as they come. It’s just that in a global league with as close to national teams as possible, only one gets to steer the Australian boat.

“I actually feel quite nice about that, that the three Aussie skippers in the fleet are 1-2-3,” said Slingsby, an Olympic gold medalist and former America’s Cup champion. “I’m as patriotic as anyone, but it’s also quite daunting as well. I know that I’ve got to be the top Australian skipper to keep my job safe. So having those guys on my heels, it keeps me sharp, it keeps me motivated.”

Slingsby bookended the inaugural 2019 season with wins over Outteridge on Sydney Harbor in the first-ever SailGP regatta and then in the $1 million match race finale in Marseille, France, to clinch the championship.

Spithill joined the circuit for Season 2, which was postponed for more than a year due to COVID-19. Season 2 originally began with British sailing star Ben Ainslie dominating the Sydney regatta in early 2020 but those results were voided after the pandemic struck. Ainslie’s team is currently fourth, five points behind Slingsby. Ainslie also won a gold medal on Sydney Harbor during the 2000 Summer Olympics.

Australia has won three of the last four regattas. The United States, which has had a number of mishaps this season, has consecutive second-place finishes. Japan has two wins and one other podium finish. The British team won the season opener and has two other podium finishes.

“We’ll be happy to be the disruptors,” Ainslie said.

Although the 2020 Sydney results were voided, Ainslie “sort of taught us all a lesson,” Slingsby said.

Besides the three Aussie skippers, there are several other Australians scattered throughout the SailGP crews, “so I think that will mean more fans coming down to cheer for the teams,” Spithill said.

Spithill, Slingsby and Outteridge all grew up north of Sydney.

“Sydney Harbor really is one of those iconic places that is just such a fun place to sail,” Spithill said. “There will be a huge spectator fleet and typically during the summer you get some really good conditions for it.”

Spithill is a two-time America’s Cup champion who has a permanent home in San Diego with his American wife and their two sons. Spithill, Slingsby and Ainslie were mates on the Oracle Team USA crew that rallied from an 8-1 deficit to stun Emirates Team New Zealand in the 2013 America’s Cup on San Francisco Bay.

Slingsby is happy to be home after living out of his suitcase for nearly seven months. He stayed on the road in between regattas rather than returning to Australia and dealing with quarantines each time.

“It’s unbelievable to be back. Seven months away, it was a long stint in one go living out of a suitcase for that long,” he said. “My dog was really happy to see me. I’m glad she didn’t forget who I was.”

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Follow Bernie Wilson on Twitter at http://twitter.com/berniewilson

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