Burling steers Kiwis into lead in SailGP’s Plymouth regatta

New Zealand skipper Peter Burling won one fleet race and finished second in the other two on Saturday to take the lead in the Great Britain Sail Grand Prix Plymouth.

It was the best day yet in Burling’s two seasons in tech tycoon Larry Ellison’s global league, which is contested in foiling 50-foot catamarans capable of hitting highway speeds. He scored 28 points to take a six-point lead over trans-Tasman rival Tom Slingsby of two-time defending SailGP champion Team Australia and Quentin Delapierre of France.

The Kiwis are in strong position to make it to Sunday’s three-boat podium race, which will follow the final two fleet races. Phil Robertson, who skippered Canada into the podium race in the first two regattas of Season 3, is fourth in the nine-boat fleet with 20 points while British star Sir Ben Ainslie is a disappointing fifth with 19 points.

“It was great for us to execute a few things well,” said Burling, who has skippered Emirates Team New Zealand to consecutive victories in the America’s Cup and won three Olympic medals with crewmate Blair Tuke, including one gold. “Obviously plenty to work on tonight, but I really didn’t think we’d finish the first day with that many points.”

The Kiwis got a boost from the addition of strategist Jo Aleh, an Olympic gold medalist and former world champion. They finished second in the first two fleet races before winning the third. Canada won the first race and Australia took the second.

Slingsby has won five straight SailGP regattas and seven of eight spanning two seasons aboard his “Flying Roo” catamaran, which has a large yellow kangaroo on the wingsail. An Olympic gold medalist and former America’s Cup champion, he skippered the Aussies to the $1 million, winner-take-all championship in each of the first two seasons.

Ainslie called all three of his starts “terrible” and the British cat was involved in a starting-line collision in the first race with Spain, which was penalized four points.

“We had a bit of a crash with Spain on the start and then in the second race Canada came by and stole our spot, so we had two starts where we were struggling a bit to get through the fleet,” said Ainslie, the most-decorated Olympic sailor of all time with four gold medals and a silver.

American skipper Jimmy Spithill continued to struggle with finishes of 9-6-7 and is eighth with only 11 points.

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