SailGP Hits New York Waters, June 21 and 22

Six international teams race the world’s fastest catamaran sailboats on the Hudson River for the first time. Get ready to be thrilled.

New York is about to get its first-ever taste of on-water racing when SailGP powers through the lower Hudson River’s waters June 21 and 22.

SailGP is a brand-new global series in its inaugural season. Its goal? To redefine the sport of sailing. Entrepreneur Larry Ellison (Oracle) and sailing legend Sir Russell Coutts (Olympic gold medalist and five-time winner of the America’s Cup) founded SailGP in 2018. Six teams, each crewed by the world’s most talented sailors, compete as rival nations: the United States, Australia, China, France, Great Britain and Japan. Teams race in identical supercharged, 50-foot foiling catamarans—the F50—technologically advanced and currently the fastest flying boats in the world.

The 2019 SailGP season consists of five races. The first was held in Sydney, Australia, in February and was won by Australia. The second race was held in San Francisco, California, in May and was also won by Australia. After New York, SailGP moves to Cowes, England (Aug. 10 and 11), then to Marseille, France (Sept. 20–22) for the final.

Who better to introduce the sport than Rome Kirby, helmsman for the United States SailGP team? Here, in a Q & A session between San Francisco and New York, Kirby takes us onboard an F50, describes what sailing one of these sleek beauties is like and urges New Yorkers to come out and support the home team.

Can you put into words the sensation of racing an F50?

Racing an F50 is pretty unreal and incredibly fun. Combine the speed of driving a Formula One car with the focus of flying a fighter jet all while being fire-hosed with water. And don’t forget this is all while playing a high-stakes chess game to make sure you stay ahead of the five other boats that are also flying around you.

The sport looks looks intense, even extreme. Is there an element of fear involved?

There are definitely some close calls mixed in with the exhilaration, intense concentration and incredible athleticism of the racing. If you’re racing at 50 mph and another boat is coming right at you, that translates to closing speeds upwards of 100 mph! As a team, we make split-second decisions and trust that our competitors also make the right call to avoid one another. It’s intense—and incredibly exciting to watch, even if you don’t understand sailboat racing.

What should a novice spectator know about SailGP? Is there something a spectator should look out for during the race?

The F50 catamaran is an amazing machine. These boats rise up out of the water and literally fly on the hydrofoils, hitting highway speeds and coming within inches of each other. SailGP is the first time all six of these high-powered boats have raced on the same racecourse, and they can reach peak speeds of 50 knots, or 60 mph.

If you’re new to sailboat racing, I’d also recommend paying attention to the mark roundings. Even if the boats go in different directions after the start, everyone has to come back together and go around the marks of the course, which is when the boats can get really close and it can get sporty!

What kind of mental preparation and physical training does the new sport demand of the crew?

Our team does intense cardio and strength training so we can sustain our maximum heart rates for 15–20 minutes at a time, which is the average length of a SailGP race. Oftentimes during those exercises, our trainer will put us through puzzles and mental games to simulate the complex decision making we need to be capable of when racing on the water (from what another team does, to how the wind changes, etc). It’s full on the entire time we are on the boat.

Does the high-tech element add or detract from the fun of sailing for you?

For me, the technology makes the sailing even more exciting. At the end of the day we are still sailboat racing—we have to work as a team to make the boat go as fast as possible by making little adjustments and going in the right direction during the races. But now we have the ability to review data to confirm what we feel while sailing, which makes us better sailors and racers.

What have you heard about New York Harbor as a venue for this kind of race?

New York Harbor is an incredibly tricky place to sail for many reasons. There is a ton of current, and the wind can come through the skyscrapers making the wind twist in different directions, which for sailing makes it very challenging. For spectators, it’s an incredible venue. We will be racing just meters away from the breakwater at Marina Cove, and there’s the SailGP Race Village set up with food and cocktails and Race commentary for a great party atmosphere. With racing at 5 pm, it’s the perfect post-work Friday happy hour and Saturday afternoon entertainment. Come cheer on the home team!

WHEN: Friday, June 21, 2019, 5–7 pm; and Saturday, June 22, 2019, 5–7 pm

WHERE: Just off the Battery, running north toward Rockefeller Park. The onshore Race Village is located at Brookfield Place.

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Francis Lewis
About the author

Francis serves as the New York executive editor for Where. G...