Sailing rivalry hits Hudson River for Australian skippers

June 20, 2019

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Australian skippers Tom Slingsby and Nathan Outteridge are good mates off the water.

In the fledging SailGP global league, there's a nice little rivalry developing between them.

Slingsby's Team Australia has beaten Outteridge's Team Japan in the match race finals of the first two regattas in the series, which visits New York on Friday and Saturday.

Both skippers expect the other four teams to start closing the gap, perhaps as soon as this weekend, aboard high-performance foiling 50-foot catamarans. It wouldn't be surprising if Australia and Japan meet again in the match race final, considering that their skippers are among the world's most accomplished and competitive sailors.

The evening racing is on the Hudson River, just off Battery Park. The U.S. catamaran has graphics of the Statue of Liberty on its wingsail and hulls.

At the last regatta in San Francisco in early May, Team Japan won all three races on Day 1 of the San Francisco Regatta before technical issues plagued it on the second day. It still reached the match race final, where Team Australia won again.

"We were leading into the match race, and that one race makes or breaks it," Outteridge said. "We don't have to do anything special, just keep chipping away."

Said Slingsby: "As anyone who watches it closely knows, either event could have gone either way with Japan. We've performed when it mattered."

Slingsby, 34, and Outteridge, 33, both won gold medals for Australia in the 2012 Olympics. Slingsby then helped Oracle Team USA in its epic comeback to win the America's Cup in 2013, and was with Oracle when it lost the Auld Mug to Emirates Team New Zealand in 2017.

Outteridge sailed for Artemis in the last two America's Cup regattas.

When the Kiwis chose a foiling monohull for the 2021 America's Cup, Slingsby and Outteridge chose to join SailGP, founded by tech tycoon Larry Ellison and Russell Coutts, a five-time America's Cup winner.

"Nathan and I have known each other for 28 years or so, and we've competed against each other for 25 of that, so we're good rivals, good mates," Slingsby said. "I was a groomsman at his wedding. I'd like to think we're good mates.

"On the water, I don't want to lose to him. After the last event he said some things I didn't like, so there's a bit more emotion coming into it. The victories when we do beat him are sweeter, and when we do lose to him, the rivalry grows more."

New York is the third of five stops in the inaugural season, followed by Cowes, England, and the finale in Marseille, France, which will be highlighted by a $1 million, winner-take-all match race final.

"For sure the rivalry is starting to grow," Slingsby said. It's super tight. It's more and more competitive as the events come on, and it gets more and more important for us to beat them."

Said Outteridge: "Tom and I grew up sailing together on the Australian Olympic team for a long time. We were on opposite teams in the America's Cup and opposite teams here. It's not a fierce rivalry. We want to beat each other, but it's not win-at-all-costs from our side at all."

He added off the water, they "catch up as much as we can."

So far, Australia leads Japan 95-91. Great Britain is third with 79 points, followed by the United States with 68, France 61 and China 60.

The leading skippers expect the other teams to get better. Taylor Canfield, the flight controller for the U.S. team, agrees.

"Absolutely. We're coming. We've been coming from the beginning," Canfield said.

The Americans were sixth at the first regatta in Sydney and fourth in San Francisco.

"There's no doubt that if we put a good event together, we're going to be on the podium," Canfield said.

During training this week, the U.S. boat stayed up on its foils for nearly 45 minutes, with the hulls never touching the water. Coach Tom Burnham said the team quadruple checked data to confirm the "dry laps."

"It was multiple laps," Canfield said. "It's incredible. These boats are absolute machines and we're excited to get to push them as hard as we are. We did a few laps without touching the water. A bunch of reaches and turn-ups and bear-aways.

"We apparently were in the air for an hour, or close to it, so we're really excited about that and how everything's been going so far. We're continually improving every day we get on the water. To be able to pull that off in some really challenging conditions is saying something about how everything is coming along."

Canfield continues to work to get an America's Cup syndicate, Stars & Stripes Team USA, off the ground. The syndicate stopped construction on its boat earlier this year and reshuffled its executive leadership, but is trying to raise money, Canfield said.

"We're pushing hard to make it happen, still. We haven't given up," he said.

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