SAILGP 2024 NEW YORK: Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

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June 26/2024: My lowly connections in the sailing world had nothing to do with this experience. This was entirely due to my wife, a corporate M&A legal maven, who does a ton of work for Mubadala, the Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund that is now title sponsor of the SailGP circus. She was handed some tickets to last weekend’s race series in New York Harbor, the penultimate series of the 2024 season, and of course I was very happy to tag along.

Perq 1 was getting to go to a fancy cocktail party for movers and shakers on Friday evening, where everyone, I noted, was much younger and more beautiful than us. Clare recognized none of the Mubadala people, and I recognized none of the sailing people, until Russell Coutts walked in. He stood quite close to me for a while, listening to an important Mubadala guy say lots of nice things about SailGP. I reached for my phone to take some pix, but Clare slapped my hand and said no. Then Russell spoke and said lots of nice things about Mubadala. It was announced there would be two new teams next season, one of which would represent Brazil.

Afterwards, Clare, who likes to walk, made me walk all the way from the Bowery in lower Manhattan, across the Manhattan Bridge (a very noisy bridge with lots of trains on it), to where we were staying in Brooklyn Heights. I retaliated by making her stop for dinner at Junior’s, an iconic Brooklyn restaurant, more or less en route, that I had not visited in literally decades. She had a club sandwich, and I had pastrami. We also got a small cheesecake to go.

The restaurant, I have to say, seemed pretty unchanged from how I remembered it. Just two days later, amazingly, the third-generation owner of Junior’s, Alan Rosen, announced that he is seriously thinking of running for mayor of New York.

I’m pretty sure this was just a coincidence.

We did not have tickets to the first day of racing on Saturday, which was just as well, as the wind was light and the last of the three races that day was cancelled. But we did have tickets for Sunday, and Perq 2 was getting to ride in a special VIP boat out to Governors Island, directly next to the race course. Along the way, as a special VIP treat, we inspected the moored race boats on the Jersey side of the harbor.

I asked a lot of questions, as frankly, I’ve never really followed this event in any detail. The F50 foiling cats used in the event, I learned, are as one-design as a boat can possibly be. Not only are the hulls and rigs identical, but all the boat prep is done by the league instead of the teams. All improvements to the gear, software, rig, and random boat bits are shared equally with all the teams. Each boat is loaded with sensors to monitor loads, foil angles, and other variables, and all this data is shared in real time, as the boats race, with all the teams. So everyone gets to see working data from everyone else’s boats and can make adjustments while competing.

The boat is controlled by six crew: the driver, who steers; a tactician (called a strategist in SailGP lingo); a flight controller, who runs the foils; a sail trimmer, to control the rigid-wing mainsail and soft jib; and two winch grinders. At least one member of each crew, per the rules, must be female. There are indeed hydraulics involved in controlling the boats, primarily to manage the foils, but these are battery-powered, not people-powered. So the grinders are real grinders.

The minimum true wind these boats can sail in is about 4-5 knots, so I was told. Ideal wind is around 8-10 knots. I was very surprised to learn the boats have sailed in winds up to 30 knots, but that in these very strong conditions the carbon-fiber foils have been known to fracture. Which is why next year they will switch to titanium foils.

I also asked if it was known yet which country the other new team that was not Brazil would represent. I was told yes, this was known, but could not yet be known by me.

I also learned our very cool VIP boat was all-electric, made by a company called Voltari.

Perq 3 was that there were golf carts to carry us from where our VIP boat landed on one side of the island to the other side where we could watch the racing. But Clare insisted on declining this perq, and we walked over instead. It was very hot, but the walk was quite pleasant. The island, once the Coast Guard’s big base in New York City, is now a fine public park.

Once we reached the race village and stadium, we experienced Perq 4, the Adrenalin Lounge, where all the fancy well-connected people were drinking free booze and eating free food.

The lounge, alas, was not air-conditioned. It was also very loud, with everyone talking to each other and many noisy TV screens running simultaneously. But Clare did meet Mubadala people she knew, so got brownie points for showing up, and I met some interesting sailing people, but could barely hear what they were saying. Afterwards I was numb and listless from sensory overload and heat prostration.

But this was indeed a great place to watch the racing from. There was a moderate southerly breeze, perfect for these boats, and I enjoyed watching the races while sipping champagne and nibbling on tasty hors d’oeuvres.

If you want to see everything we saw on Sunday, you can watch this video, which is rather long:

Or you can watch this much shorter one, which shows highlights from both days of racing:

Long story short: New Zealand, led by Peter Burling, won this event. The season finale is July 13-14 in San Francisco. The champion team all three previous seasons has been Australia, led by Tom Slingsby. But right now, after the New York event, New Zealand and Burling lead the series with 93 points, ahead of Australia and Slingsby, who have just 78 points.

Mr. Slingsby, I assume, is biting his nails, hoping for a big break on the big bay come July so he can maintain his winning streak. The winner gets $2 million US, the biggest cash prize in all of sailing!

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2 Responses
  1. Nice post. You are very gracious towards the foiling circus. Who knows how the technology will trickle down to cruising. I watch Sail GP on U Tube and it is easy to skip all the padding and just watch the races which are 15 minutes each.

    1. Charles Doane

      Hi Pete: I seriously doubt that any of this technology will trickle down to cruising boats. Watching on YouTube and skipping everything but the races themselves is also by far the most efficient way to track the action. Sailors who are not hidebound traditionalists can appreciate what’s going on, but SailGP really hopes to appeal to the masses, and I do wonder about that. A non-sailor may think the flying boats are cool-looking, but I suspect they get nothing but confused trying to follow the racing. For example, check out this story from New York magazine, who sent a “culture” journalist to cover the event: https://www.thecut.com/article/the-first-class-finance-bro-experience-at-sailgp.html

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