Every racing sailor knows it—for better or worse‚ sometimes one lucky puff is all it takes.
For Team Japan, that one critical game-changing puff came when they needed it most: after exiting Mark 3—the most challenging corner of the SailGP New York’s Hudson River racecourse.
At this moment, the Australians were leading the day’s winner-take-all match race, sailing toward the course’s western boundary. As Team Japan skipper Nathan Outteridge approached the mark and had to decide on his team’s next move, he looked over his shoulder, saw the dark streak of wind sweeping down opposite side of the racecourse. Outteridge seized the opportunity, jibed immediately, and after an excruciatingly slow few seconds, was flying past the Australians, virtually standing still.
“Sometimes you get lucky and get given a bit of gift,” Outteridge says. “All weekend we were just trying to optimize every situation we had and sometimes we missed the puffs, but in that race, after rounding the top mark, we jibed down the middle in this fantastic bit of pressure. I think we were all giggling, and thinking, ‘How good is this? We’re aiming at the bottom mark and the Aussies aren’t moving.’”
This second lead change was one of several key moments in the race where the confidence of Team Japan’s sailors allowed them to turn the match in their favor. The Japanese team has consistently set the bar as the top team in San Francisco and New York, in light winds and strong, but the Australians have twice denied them in the match-race final.
Not this time. Outteridge and Co., had a higher confidence they would get it done. This time, Outteridge says, they played into Slingsby’s aggressiveness and turned it against him in the start. “We would normally pick port entry, which means you only have to do the one maneuver,” Outteridge says, “but we looked at the starting box and thought there was no space between the starting line and Manhattan.”
So they let The Australian’s make the first move.
“We said, ‘Let’s let them decide how far up the wall to go,’” Outteridge says, “and they went so far up that when they came back they had no speed.”
After killing time with a down-speed jibe, Team Japan then tacked against the seawall, preventing the Australians from attacking. Then, they made a mistake of their own.
“We got going too early, which gave them a chance to hook us.”
“Slingsby went for it, but his aggressiveness got the better of him as he put his green bow too close to leeward of the Japanese boat. Outteridge responded to the luff by spinning his wheel hard to starboard, but as he did so, the Australian bow glanced his port-side. Penalty Australia.”
“It’s funny, because before the event Tom stood up in the skippers briefing with race management and said we were getting a bit close to each other in San Francisco, and getting a bit aggressive toward each other. I knew he was essentially saying, ‘Nathan, why don’t you back off so I can attack you harder.”
Team Japan was then firmly in control of the race, but as had been the form all weekend in New York, control in light and shifty winds means nothing. As they set up for their first jibe after Mark 1, the wind went light and the daggerboard foil would not lock into its down position.
“As you run out of the pressure, the boat rolls to windward and it’s so hard to turn,” Outteridge says. “We can’t turn until the board is down on the lock. I looked over and thought, if we jibe now we’ll be on port, so we just stopped and allowed them to go inside. We gifted them the lead there.”
The Australian’s then led through the bottom gate with Team Japan seconds behind as they flew toward the Manhattan seawall. This side of the racecourse had been favorable in all earlier races, Outteridge says, but the geometry of the course required an early tack—which lead into the middle of the race, notorious for windless holes.
“We couldn’t go far enough to lay the top mark, so we’d be looking great and then just fall into nothing, and those were the moments that were quite stressful,” he says.
The Australians were first to park at the top of the course, with hulls and foils dragging through the water. It didn’t take long for Team Japan to carve a big chunk out of their lead. As the Australians tacked to round the left-hand mark, Slingsby could be heard saying he preferred the other side of the course but that Japan would follow.
They did so, and then promptly jibed into that lucky puff. Game over. Outteridge, wing trimmer Iain Jensen, flight controller Luke Parkinson and grinders Yuki Kasatani, Leo Takahashi, and Tim Morishima finally had their SailGP win.
It was a fitting finale to an “interesting weekend,” says Outteridge, one that saw the U.S. SailGP team finally win a race and the British team confirm their presence among the elite three, even after a dramatic day-ending capsize on the first day. The Chinese team had its moments, but is still clearly off the pace, as is the French team, still struggling with its boathandling and control. When it was all said and done after six races, the Hudson River’s reputation remains as an incredibly difficult and unpredictable venue requiring patience, and of course, a big-city serving of luck.
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