SailGP: All you need to know about NZ regatta

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SailGP finally makes its debut on New Zealand waters this weekend in Christchurch.

Lyttelton Harbour will host the world’s leading sailors in a quick-fire racing format over two days. Here’s what you need to know.

What is SailGP?

It’s a global sailing league dreamed up by Kiwi great Sir Russell Coutts and American billionaire Larry Ellison. After they lost the 2017 America’s Cup to Team New Zealand, they decided to form their own championship, seeing a need to keep the best sailors busy in regular regattas around the world in a TV-friendly racing format.


Burling nailed the start of the podium race aboard his foiling 15-metre catamaran, racing to his third regatta win of the season.

How many teams are there?

Into its third season, the fleet has grown to nine and there will be more in season four. The current lineup is New Zealand, Australia, France, Great Britain, the United States, Spain, Denmark, Canada and Switzerland.

What boats are used?

They are called F50s and are 50-feet foiling catamarans. They are cats heavily modified from those used at the 2017 America’s Cup in Bermuda, featuring a wing sail. They are a one-class design, meaning the boats are equal, and it’s sailing talent that wins races. They have different sized wings, jibs, foils and rudders for different wind ranges.

What speeds do they reach?

The fastest speed recorded in a race is 99.94kph by the French team at their home event in St Tropez this year. It’s all about the wind levels, but these boats are capable of travelling four times as fast as the wind that propels them, ensuring intense racing even in light to moderate conditions.

Speed is the essential element in SailGP.


Speed is the essential element in SailGP.

How many crew are there?

That depends on the wind. Under ideal conditions there are six – a helmsman, a wing trimmer, a flight controller, two grinders, and a strategist. The crews must include one female, usually as a strategist. Crews are reduced if the wind is light to help the boats lift off and foil.

Who’s involved?

Most of the world’s leading sailors like Tom Slingsby, Ben Ainslie, Jimmy Spithill, Kyle Langford, Nathan Outteridge, Chris Draper, Phil Robertson. There’s a superstar New Zealand lineup of America’s Cup champions Peter Burling, Blair Tuke, Josh Junior, Andy Maloney, Marcus Hansen, and Louis Sinclair, along with Olympian and rising women’s talent Liv Mackay.

Australian foiling star Jimmy Spithill is in charge of the United States entry and always has a view on things.

Yong Teck Lim/Getty Images

Australian foiling star Jimmy Spithill is in charge of the United States entry and always has a view on things.

What’s the racing format?

Usually there are six races across the two days. Three fleet races on Saturday, a further two fleets races on Sunday followed by the regatta final, which is a one-off race featuring the top three teams based on points accumulated.

How do the courses work?

Essentially they are an upwind and downwind course featuring a short, fast reach across the wind from the start line to the first mark. They can be shortened and lengthened, depending on wind conditions to ensure the race is finished within the TV time slot.

What’s the key to winning?

Getting a fast start is essential and that can be hectic in tight situations featuring nine fast boats. The dash off the start line to the first mark can often determine the winner. But given the speed of these boats and the competitiveness of the crews, anything can happen. Collisions, capsizes and losing crew overboard have been common.

Capsizes aren’t uncommon in SailGP as Team United States discovered in their home waters in San Francisco.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Capsizes aren’t uncommon in SailGP as Team United States discovered in their home waters in San Francisco.

Why has it taken so long for New Zealand to get a regatta?

Strangely a New Zealand team wasn’t included in the first season. There were plans to host a regatta in Christchurch in January 2022, but immigration hassles with the Covid pandemic forced the cancellation of that. Christchurch and Auckland will rotate the hosting of the Kiwi event.

What is the timing for Christchurch and how can I watch?

Racing is set for 3pm starts both days and should be finished by 4.30pm. Tickets for viewing from the race village sold out quickly. It is live on Sky Sport and free-to-air on Three and ThreeNow, though Sunday’s free-to-air coverage is delayed from 4.30pm.

Why is the Christchurch regatta so important?

It’s the 10th and penultimate event of the third season with only the grand final in San Francisco in May to come. The aim for all teams is to make the top three heading into San Francisco that features a US$1m winner-takes-all race.

So who’s hot?

Slingby’s Australian team have dominated since the outset, winning the first two titles and currently leading the points table, having already qualified for that $US1m race. But New Zealand are a growing force. Like the Aussies, they have won three events this season and lie second on the points table. But it’s a tight race for those remaining two spots with five teams mathematically in the hunt.

Liv Mackay, centre, has enjoyed the spoils for New Zealand as more women come into SailGP.


Liv Mackay, centre, has enjoyed the spoils for New Zealand as more women come into SailGP.

Is it all about racing?

SailGP has other programmes and initiatives. There’s an Impact League where teams are scored on sustainability initiatives given the sport’s intense involvement with the environment. New Zealand, who are backed by Burling and Tuke’s Live Ocean foundation, won the inaugural Impact League last season and lead the current season. The women’s pathway looks at increasing female involvement. There’s also an Inspire programme targeting young sailors with a strong mix of females and racial diversity who rub shoulders with the world’s best and then get to race in smaller one-person foiling boats.

The points table.

Australia 76, New Zealand 64, France 63, Great Britain 61, Denmark 57, United States 52, Canada 49, Spain 27, Switzerland 25.