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Gladwell's Line: Ben Ainslie gives Sydney sailing clinic

by Richard Gladwell, 4 Mar 13:14 NZDT 4 March 2020
Great Britain SailGP Team helmed by Ben Ainslie in action - SailGP - Sydney - Season 2 - February 2020 - Sydney, Australia. © Lloyd Images/SailGP

Sir Ben Ainslie and his British America's Cup team gave a sailing masterclass on Sydney Harbour on Friday and Saturday, winning four of the five fleet races, both practice races, and taking the one-sided Final.

For Ainslie and his team, it was their debut regatta on the SailGP. However, the most successful Olympic sailor of all time is certainly no novice when it comes to racing foiling one-design catamarans. His then Land Rover BAR team won the 2015/16 America's Cup World Series and took two points into the 2017 America's Cup Qualifiers. That was against a more talented field than SailGP and was conducted in a mix of fleet and match racing using one design foiling AC45's.

Using a team drawn from within the INEOS Team UK America's Cup sailing squad, his Great Britain SailGP team had the advantage of AC75 foiling experience, plus the use of an America's Cup simulator.

In a series of excellent post-event interviews by Bow Caddy Media's Crosbie Lorimer, the other teams all talked of being underdone in terms of pre-regatta practice in the foiling wingsailed F50 catamarans. You can see these Day 1 interviews and Day 2 interviews

The live TV coverage regressed back to the same position it occupied after the first series in 2019, in Sydney. It is over to the organisers to present the style and type of coverage they wish. However, viewers also have the choice of what they wish to see and follow.

For me, the change of commentary team from the last season did not work. My preferred viewing mode for Sydney was to have the App commentary - with a live on the water perspective from Jody Shiels and Marc Ablett, running alongside the SkyTV video, with the sound turned off. Fortunately, the on the water commentary was in synch with the video images (so the commentators were calling the round the mark action as the boats rounded) - all without any apparent delay or latency.

Jody and Marc gave the viewer access to a wider on the water perspective and off-screen action, some great, and very amusing, one-liners. As the USA boat sped towards the spectators on Shark Island before throwing it into a sharp turn and tack - "Gee, that was quick - Rome [Kirby, skipper] must have spotted an ex-girlfriend in the crowd!".

Both commentators both have a good set of sailing eyes, and quickly turn that vision into tight comments, which remarkably keep pace with the fast F-50 action. Full credit to Russell Coutts for picking them up at the end of the Moth Worlds.

The difference in switching commentaries was amazing - going from one that was not adding a lot to the video, to an event that was exciting to watch, and went from a 4/10 to a 9/10.

So the App was worth the price solely for the commentary - despite apparently having viewing restrictions if you are in a territory for which TV rights have been sold. Viewed in conjunction with the livestream, the combination gave the viewer a much better picture of event and a better understanding of the way the racing was unfolding.

Too often in the live broadcast, the commentators talked over the onboard audio as though it was just background noise - when so often it can be left running allow the competitors to tell the story of the race, as it unfolds.

Disappointingly the commentary team feel the need to keep talking up the event, which it doesn't need - giving the impression that SailGP lacks self-confidence and is struggling to find its place on the world stage. If you have to tell people how good you are - then you probably aren't.

There were several incidents with telemetry failure, which does marr the racing and coverage of the race. However, this was the first event after some substantial change, and one has to accept that there is a big element of "she'll be right on the night". There will be bugs which get thrown up in live racing which can't be simulated in testing. With the event now through its first live run, these bugs should be worked out.

CEO Russell Coutts was reported to have given the Sydney event a 6/10 after the racing had concluded - which seemed to be a fair, if sightly harsh score overall, and it was good to see his objectivity as to where the event sat and hopefully he understands what has to be done going into the next event in San Francisco.

While there was no New Zealand team competing in the Main Event (and in fact only one New Zealander, Phil Robertson, the stand-in skipper for the fledgeling Spanish team), Kiwis dominated the SailGP Inspire Racing in the WASZP foiling single-handers.

After the Qualifying, four New Zealand sailors made the top eight for the Final - with Sean Herbert (NZL) winning, Sam Street (NZL) finishing second and Stella Bilger (NZL) finishing as the top female competitor. She pulled off an amazing attack right at the finish of the final race of Day 2.

The Sail Inspire, sailed in the WAZSP's, was a great initiative, really worked well, made good TV viewing in its own right. And even better put young sailors on the world stage.

Having F-50's limbering up in the background, while the young sailors raced (and crashed) WASZPs made a powerful image.

There needs to be more WASZP racing shown between F50 events.

Also required are some short, sharp questions and interviews, with the F50 skippers - depending on what has worked/gone awry/didn't come across for the viewer during the live coverage.

Many of the sailors interviewed expressed some degree of trepidation about sailing the F50's in San Francisco in the second event of the 2020 circuit. Fans look forward to the assured action.

Hopefully the photography in San Francisco will be as sharp as it was in Sydney, if so we're in for a real treat.

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