sailing GP | Video of a scary incident between Australian and American boats, training in San Francisco

**Ben Glover is in San Francisco courtesy of Sail GP, covering the final race of the 2021/2022 championship and Australia’s quest for $1.4m

It’s the moment one of the best sailors in the world reacted just in time to avert a disaster that would have endangered lives and ended the quest for two top teams vying for a world championship and the accompanying $1.4 million prize.

In a frightening near-miss in San Francisco Bay, Australian Olympic gold medalist Tom Slingsby misheard his flight controller and grinder Kinley Fowler who was watching the American boat, and made a decision that nearly ended with two wrecked racing boats and more than likely several sailors in hospital with serious injuries. Or worse.

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“It would have been an absolute disaster,” Fowler told Wide World of Sports of the incident, which happened as the two crews were training for this weekend’s season-ending races. will determine which Sail GP crew will take home the $1.4 million. price.

“They were going about 40 knots (75 km/h) and we were going just under 40 knots. And we would have hit them, right in the T-bone.

“They had guys in a vulnerable position because they just jibed. It would have been really, really bad. Really scary. And even scary for us because we would have stopped (finger clicks) like that. Kind of relieved that we saw them in time to arrive and only missed them by a few feet.”

A still from on-board video of the Australian Sail GP boat as it narrowly avoids a high-speed collision with the US team boat. (Provided)

Fowler, like all those sailors who compete for what is becoming the sport’s most prestigious prize, is highly experienced and has seen many dangerous incidents.

On Friday (AEDT), the Australian boat capsized during a practice session, and there are frequent incidents where competing boats take the wrong angle upwind and crash.

However, it is rare for two racing boats to come so close to colliding at such high speeds.

Fowler explains that during the race each boat has the same objective and heads for the same markers on the course, so it’s easier to predict when a rival boat will gybe or tack and in which direction.

However, when they train on the days leading up to a race weekend, there are no physical markers on the course and the objectives are not as clear, making it much more difficult to predict what another boat will do.

It is for this reason that Fowler’s work on the Australian boat is so crucial. Of the six crew members on board, Fowler is the only one facing aft. It’s his role to communicate what the boats behind are doing to help Slingsby, the Australian driver, make quick decisions that will ultimately determine whether Australia wins a race or falls back into the 10-boat field.

More often than not, Slingsby makes the right choices. He has already led Australia to victory in the Sail GP series and has them top of the current series, which will be decided in Monday’s Three Boat Grand Final (AEDT), which will most likely also include the American boat. .

A still image aboard the Australian Sail GP boat as the US boat appears straight ahead. (Provided)

Yet this near-miss with one of Australia’s fiercest rivals shows what can go wrong if Slingsby misinterprets his teammates’ calls.

In this case, Slingsby thought Fowler called “they show up” when he actually called “they settled down.” Only one of the three words is different, but in this case the two calls are almost poles apart in terms of what they meant to the Australian boat.

The call Slingsby thought he heard effectively means the Americans have turned close-hauled and are well and truly clear, so they are no longer a consideration. But what Fowler actually called meant the Americans got carried away and were still very much in if Slingsby picked the wrong move. And that is how this incident unfolded.

“It was a bit frantic, I cruised into the wing and when I got to the wing I just saw our boat line up its boat perfectly and if we don’t drastically change course we were going to cut their boat in half,” Fowler said.

Obviously in Sail GP the stakes are high and more than a huge prize money is at stake. Such is the speed at which these boats travel, it is a seldom recognized reality that life and integrity physical are also at risk.

Asked what would have happened if Australia had arrived directly in the United States, Fowler speculates that a stay in an intensive care unit would have been the best some of the American crew could have hoped for.

“We have these safety measures in place, but we haven’t really had a high-speed crash yet. something like that, so I think it would have been pretty bad,” Fowler said.

“In 2019 we had a big incident where the boat was going very fast and went underwater very quickly and Ky Hurst, one of our grinders this season, broke his nose in that incident.

“It was nothing compared to what it would have been. Of course the guys on their boat would have been in big trouble and a few of our guys would have been in trouble too.”

Of the American crew on board as the Australian boat headed their way, flight controller Rome Kirby was arguably in the most difficult position.

If the worst case scenario of a direct hit had occurred – a T-crash to paint the picture – Kirby might not have survived. However, the life of a Sail GP team member is such that he is able to talk about it in a discreet, almost jaded way.

A screenshot of footage on board the Australian boat Sail GP as the American boat passes a few meters away. (Provided)

“It was close,” he told Wide World of Sports.

“I think Tommy (Slingsby) had a little miscommunication and one of the guys said ‘get ready’ and he thought we were ‘coming’ so it got really close for a hot second.

“I was really nervous. For a hot second, the arc came straight to my head, so I definitely said ‘Woah, here we go, it’s close!’ But that’s part of the game, you race against these guys really tight and you push the advantage.

“You try to keep the worst-case scenario out of your head. It sure can be disastrous, can’t it. I had one the other day when we stacked it and hit it pretty well shoulder. But uh, yeah, you try not to think about it too much, you try to be as sure as possible, but obviously we’re pushing the limit.”

So what of the $1.4 million if the accident hadn’t been averted? According to Kirby, this would have been out of the question for Australia and the United States.

“It would have been a loss for both boats for sure. We wouldn’t have raced and I don’t think they would have either.”

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Earnest A. Martinez