SailGP dramatic finish wins New Zealand
NZSailGP team came from behind to take a dramatic race of SailGP Dubai, which was decided literally within the last metre of the course.
The final day was notable for crucial umpire decisions, with the Brits being disqualified soon after the start of Race 5 – ending their Final aspirations.
SailGP Dubai was contested in conditions similar to the first day – a light wind of just 6-7kts, conditions were marginal for the F50 foiling wingsailed catamarans, despite being sailed with just four crew and the big 29metres high rigs – getting their first outing since the NZers rig collapsed after racing in St Tropez.
The drama started before the final began with one of the likely finalists, Ben Ainslie’s Emirates GBR, who started at the windward end of the line and looked to have got away to a superfast start but was ruled to have not kept clear of the adjacent boat Canada (Phil Robertson), and was Disqualified by the Umpire team. Ainslie could be seen shaking his head immediately after the decision was given.
The decision was a real blow for the British team competing in front of their “home” crowd, as they seemed to be on a roll after scoring an end-to-end win in Race 4.
Ex-West Indian Cricketer Chris Gayle presents the Winners Trophy to Peter Burling, Co-CEO and driver of New Zealand SailGP Team after winning the Emirates Sail Grand Prix – photo © Bob Martin/SailGP
That disqualification left Race 5 to be contested between Canada, New Zealand, France and the USA – who had their best race of the series. With the advantage of clear air, or rather being able to stay clear of the chopped up air astern, Canada led around all five marks to win the race from France (16secs back) and USA in third, 63 secs astern – easily beating the Kiwis were were 87 secs adrift in fourth place across the line.
The New Zealand SailGP Team and Australia SailGP Team catamarans at the finish of SailGP Dubai – photo © Ricardo Pinto/SailGP
That left the three-boat winner takes all Final to be contested by Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
Australia, helmed by stand-in skipper Jimmy Spithill, jumped away at the start, leaving the Kiwis and Canada third to cross the startline. That was the order around Mark 1, but it was New Zealand that gybed away first and appeared to stay foiling. Australia and Canada sailed a little further into the second leg before gybing and came back at a better angle and possibly more breeze – dropping the Kiwis back to third place in the procession.
New Zealand comes across from the port boundary and is entitled to room at Mark 5 – SailGP Dubai Final Race – December 10, 2023 – photo © SailGP
The placings remained that way for the rest of the race until the final stages of the fifth and final leg when Australia and Canada sailed toward the starboard layline and the Kiwis headed for port.
There was a major tactical play for the finish line as the two groups converged, both foiling. Australia and Canada had to sail the hottest angle to the mark – but without having to tack or gybe to make it.
Burling came through a hotter angle from the opposite side of the course and closed down on the other two.
Although on port tack, the Kiwis had to be given room to round the final mark just metres before the finish by the other two boats. The rules burden was on the Canadians, who were the outside boat and had to give room to round the mark to both Burling and Spithill.
New Zealand, Australia and Canada round Mark 5 – SailGP Dubai Final Race – December 10, 2023 – photo © SailGP
The booth umpires decreed that Robertson didn’t give sufficient room to either, and he was penalised by the umpires. Due to the short distance left to the finish line, Canada could hardly avoid crossing the finish line before completing their penalty and was out of it – leaving Australia and NZ to scrap for first place.
The Kiwis used their inside advantage to force the Australians to get astern and squeaked across to get the win – which was finally awarded after all the right-of-way permutations had been resolved.
After rounding Mark 5 the teams head for the finish line – SailGP Dubai Final Race – December 10, 2023 – photo © SailGP
The win moves New Zealand up into third place on the Season 4 leaderboard – a good result considering their missed regattas following their wingsail break at St Tropez and the awarding of points equal to sixth place for each regatta in which they could not compete.
Final leaderboard – SailGP Dubai Final Race – December 10, 2023 – photo © SailGP
Race stats – SailGP Dubai Final Race – December 10, 2023 – photo © SailGP
by Richard Gladwell/Sail-World