Competitive international sailing is looking to move into the mainstream with a new country vs. country racing league, SailGP, set to launch next year, organizers recently announced.
Six national teams, including one from the United States, will helm catamarans in high-speed races set just off shore in iconic locations, including the Statue of Liberty and around Alcatraz. League officials hope the proximity of the races to the shoreline will help attract thousands of visitors, who could watch from land or on water. An app will allow fans to watch drone footage and listen to the sailors live.
“We want to get away from the stuffiness of some of the perception of sailing,” says Sir Russell Coutts, an accomplished international sailor who serves as CEO of SailGP (GP stands for grand prix). “We want to broaden that and make it more of a fun experience that fans really enjoy.”
Beyond the fact that the competition involves sailors and boats, SailGP is different in almost every way than the traditional classic, the America’s Cup.
The races will take place annually, and will involve six teams, not two. In addition to the United States, the teams are from Great Britain, France, Australia, China and Japan. The catamarans will be uniform and slightly faster than the America’s Cup yachts, expected to exceed 60 miles per hour.
By standardizing the boats and moving toward true national teams (a trouble spot for the America’s Cup), SailGP is intending to shift the focus away from boat technology and toward the supremacy of a country’s sailors. By focusing more on personalities and patriotism, league officials are aiming to tap into some of the Olympics spirit and draw casual sports fans.
Coutts, who founded SailGP with Oracle founder, billionaire and sailing aficionado Larry Ellison, hopes their league will also be more fan-friendly than the America’s Cup. Both races in the United States will feature Race Villages where supporters and sponsors can watch large screens with live racing and commentary alongside interactive exhibits and on-stage programming.
SailGP officials say they are in talks with ferry companies to bring large numbers of people on the water during the races (private boats will also be welcomed into spectator areas), and they are also in discussion with broadcast networks about televising the competition. They hope new technology they are developing will allow fans to better track the boats’ progress during he races.
Two of the five sailors on the United States team are from Newport, Rhode Island, about a three-hour drive from New York, and the team expects fans from that community and elsewhere in the region to come to New York for the race in 2019.
“You can come watch two hours of sailing, but you also get the fun of New York, so you can really make a fun weekend,” says Dan Morris, one of the United States sailors.
The San Francisco race is scheduled to take place on May 4-5, and the New York City race is scheduled to take place off the tip of Lower Manhattan on June 21-22. The 2019 season will end in France, where the winning team will earn $1 million.