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Slingsby steers Team Australia to SailGP’s $1 million prize

March 28, 2022 GMT
The Australia SailGP catamaran heads for a mark during a fleet race of the Mubadala United States Sail Grand Prix, Sunday, March 27, 2022, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
The Australia SailGP catamaran heads for a mark during a fleet race of the Mubadala United States Sail Grand Prix, Sunday, March 27, 2022, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
The Australia SailGP catamaran heads for a mark during a fleet race of the Mubadala United States Sail Grand Prix, Sunday, March 27, 2022, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
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The Australia SailGP catamaran heads for a mark during a fleet race of the Mubadala United States Sail Grand Prix, Sunday, March 27, 2022, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
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The Australia SailGP catamaran heads for a mark during a fleet race of the Mubadala United States Sail Grand Prix, Sunday, March 27, 2022, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

Tom Slingsby is the surest bet in sailing when a boatload of cash is at stake.

Slingsby and his defending champion Team Australia sped ahead of rivals Nathan Outteridge of Team Japan and Jimmy Spithill of Team USA to claim SailGP’s $1 million, winner-take-all Season 2 championship on a crazy Sunday on San Francisco Bay.

Nicknamed “Red Mist” for his occasional flashes of temper on the water, the redheaded Slingsby expertly steered his foiling catamaran, the “Flying Roo,” to sailing’s biggest cash prize for the second time since 2019.

The Aussies didn’t break a sweat on a day when there were collisions and race abandonments, including the first attempt at the global league’s championship race after a whale was spotted on the course. The wettest they got was when they sprayed each other with Champagne minutes after the finish.

Slingsby, an Olympic gold medalist and former America’s Cup champion, said the win was sweeter than if it had been a normal day on the water. Race days are rarely normal in SailGP, which has had plenty of mayhem this season as the 50-foot catamarans skimmed above the waves at close to freeway speeds.

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“Look, if we won in very normal conditions ... I don’t know, this just feels better,” Slingsby said. “We knew we had to be ready for anything and we really got anything. We weren’t expecting to be leading the $1 million race and for it to be canceled and whales to be on the course. We’ve been freestyling all day and we got away in that last race and they couldn’t catch us.”

Slingsby and his five crewmates, including tactician Nina Curtis, whooped and hollered as they hit the finish line well ahead of Outteridge and Spithill. They sprayed and drank bubbly after being presented with the trophy by Russell Coutts, a five-time America’s Cup winner who co-founded SailGP with tech tycoon Larry Ellison.

Slingsby beat Outteridge for the inaugural SailGP title and $1 million check in 2019.

Slingsby’s victory came three days after he capsized his $7 million catamaran at the end of a practice session, causing major damage to the wing sail that took the shore crew two sleepless nights to repair.

Although he felt bad for putting the shore crew in a tough spot, Slingsby said had no intention of backing off during the five fleet races in the Mubadala United States Grand Prix that preceded the $1 million race. The Aussies won the U.S. Grand Prix as well, giving them victories in five of the eight regattas during the pandemic-delayed second season.

“We spoke about preserving the asset, backing off and just getting through the first few races,” Slingsby said. “In the end it sort of came down to my call and I said to the guys, ‘Look, I need to be at 100% in the leadup races. I can’t go from 0 to 100.’ ... I need to sail at a high level the whole way through.”

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He said that once they got to the $1 million race, “We felt like we had done five high-stakes races before it and it worked for us. Winning the San Francisco event and then winning this, we were full of confidence heading into the last race.”

Slingsby got his catamaran foiling first at the restart of the grand finale and sped into a massive lead. His cat came off the foils on the fourth of six legs, but the crew got it going again and Slingsby stayed well ahead of his fellow Aussies Outteridge and Spithill, who had trouble in the light, shifting wind.

The first attempt at sailing the grand final was abandoned due to the whale sighting shortly after Slingsby sped into the lead by slingshotting around the second mark.

“I think Tom got off the line well,” Spithill said about his crewmate during the America’s Cup on San Francisco Bay in 2013, when they helped Oracle Team USA stage a thrilling comeback win. “I think we were going to get off pretty well. We thought at one of the top gates we were going to have a shot. At the end of the day you really have to credit the Aussies. They have been the benchmark team all season. Come back and go back to back, I mean it’s very impressive.”

Spithill and his crew have endured mayhem all season, and Sunday was no different. He had the right-of-way at a mark during the fourth fleet race earlier in the day when his cat was hit from behind by Spain, punching a hole in the port stern. The Americans sat out the final fleet race while the shore crew quickly repaired the boat.

Spithill capsized his catamaran in practice on Monday, causing only minor damage.

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Follow Bernie Wilson on Twitter at https://twitter.com/berniewilson