Tom Slingsby and Team Australia can count on two things when they sail their Flying Roo foiling catamaran on Sydney Harbor — raucous support from their home fans and a pretty good chance of a victory.
The Aussies will go for a hat trick on home waters Saturday and Sunday in the Australia Sail Grand Prix, the third-to-last regatta of SailGP’s third season. Team Australia, the two-time defending champion in the global league, has a nine-point lead in the season standings over its rivals from across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand, with Britain’s Ben Ainslie another five points back.
Even when the nine 50-foot catamarans are bunched together in fleet races, it won’t be hard for Aussie fans to pick out the Flying Roo because of the large yellow kangaroo on its green and black wingsail.
“Obviously being the Aussie team the atmosphere’s a bit more electric for us,” said Slingsby, an Olympic gold medalist and former America’s Cup winner. “If we sail into the spectator fleet or over near a boundary, the amount of people screaming and the roar of the crowd as we all gybe off the spectator boats after mark one, it’s really loud.”
The Aussies won on Sydney Harbor in the first regatta in SailGP history in February 2019 and won there again in December 2021 in the pandemic-delayed second season. Ainslie won the original Season 2 Sydney regatta but that result was voided when the season was postponed after the pandemic struck.
Slingsby grew up just north of Sydney.
“Sydney Harbor, everywhere you look you’ve got beautiful things, whether it’s Shark Island, the Opera House, the Sydney Harbor Bridge, you’ve got the iconic harbor,” he said. “It’s just such an amazing event. Even if it wasn’t my home event I’d be surprised if anyone else in the other teams says it’s not the coolest event going around.”
After two light-air regattas in Dubai and Singapore, won by the Aussies and Kiwis, respectively, the season wraps up in the windier venues of Sydney, Christchurch and San Francisco. The top three teams at the end of the San Francisco regatta will sail in the $1 million, winner-take-all Grand Final. The Aussies have claimed the $1 million prize each of the first two seasons.
“We’re excited that we got through the danger events and now we’ve got some good ones to finish off and really for us to start practicing our heavy-air sailing again before San Francisco,” Slingsby said.
Team New Zealand, led by two-time defending America’s Cup champions Peter Burling and Blair Tuke, have won three of the last six SailGP regattas.
Ainslie has reached four podium races this year but is still looking for his first win. His squad is now known as Emirates Great Britain SailGP Team after signing a three-year sponsorship deal with the airline.
“I love Sydney Harbor. It’s my favorite sailing venue anywhere in the world,” said Ainslie, who won the first of his four straight Olympic gold medals in the 2000 Sydney Games. “I love the challenge of taking on the Aussies on their home patch.”
Team Canada will be sailing a new boat, Spirit, that strategist Georgia Lewin-Lafrance christened with both Champagne and pure Canadian maple syrup.
“That makes it nice and slippery and fast,” skipper Phil Robertson quipped. “It’s definitely a lot shinier than the last one, so that’s nice, which puts a smile on everyone’s face. She looks fast.”
The sailors will have to commission the boat even as they practice for the weekend’s racing, “but we’ve got a good team for it,” Robertson added.
A new team this season, Canada reached the podium in the season’s first two regattas and is currently sixth overall, nine points out of overall podium position.
“We started the season very well and came out a little bit too hot and set expectations very high,” Robertson said. “But we’ve done some really good learning the last few events. I feel like the team’s ready to win an event or two.”
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