SailGP is often compared to the fast-paced action of motorsport’s top-tier competition, Formula 1.

Nine foiling catamarans out on the water, reaching speeds of up to 90km/h as they race for line honours.

Eleven events all around the world, in places like Bermuda, Saint-Tropez, Copenhagen, Sydney.

And this weekend, Christchurch will get to experience the action.

Sailor Phil Robertson, originally from Auckland, will be out on the water, competing in New Zealand for the first time in his professional career.

But he’s not on his home country’s team – he’s leading the Canadians. 

He describes sailing on these yachts as “probably close to flying”.

“I actually took a guest for a ride … he jumped on the back [with] probably about 20 knots [about 40km/h] worth of breeze and we instantly went from zero knots to 50, which is 90km/h.

“I looked back and could see his face was pretty white and I asked him afterwards ‘What was it like?’ and he said ‘It was like going down the highway doing 100km/h, standing on the roof of a car, whilst being high on ecstasy’.”

Many of Robertson’s family and friends will be cheering him on in Christchurch.

“They’ll be decked out in Canadian gear, but the way they’ll put it is they say ‘It’s great, we’ve got two teams so when one’s not doing very well, the other one’s there to support as well’ – so they get the best of both worlds.”

SailGP, which made its debut in 2019, is the brainchild of Kiwi sailing legend Sir Russell Coutts and American rich-lister Larry Ellison.

The pair came up with the idea after Oracle Team USA lost the America’s Cup to Team New Zealand in 2017.

This weekend is the first time Christchurch has hosted an international sailing event.

Richard Gladwell – New Zealand editor for Sail World, the world’s largest sailing news website – says the city’s main harbour is “made for spectators”. 

“What they look for in these events is what they call a stadium venue, so Lyttelton Harbour with the Port Hills and everything surrounding it… it might be the ultimate stadium venue.”

He says SailGP is a completely different event from the America’s Cup – and SailGP helps sailors get “race-sharp” when the competition for sport’s oldest trophy rolls around again.

Suzanne McFadden, editor of Newsroom’s LockerRoom, says SailGP has also made strides in boosting women’s participation in top-level sailing.

“For the first season, each team had two women and they were really training partners, learning how to sail these incredibly fast, crazy boats. In season two, every crew had to have one female sailor on board the six-person crew, so that was a real breakthrough.

“We’re really seeing the women playing major parts on the boats, now that we’re into season three and I love to see it. It’s definitely progress, you’ve got to start somewhere, and I think they’re probably ahead of the curve, as part of bringing women on to boats.

“But what they have to do is follow up on it… carry on creating role models for young women who want to get into sailing or who are in sailing.”

Hear more about the fast-paced action we’re expecting to see on the water over the weekend in the full podcast episode.

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