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SailGP athlete's thoughts on return to Christchurch as new schedule looms

Christopher Reive,
Publish Date
Sat, 4 May 2024, 4:45pm

SailGP athlete's thoughts on return to Christchurch as new schedule looms

Christopher Reive,
Publish Date
Sat, 4 May 2024, 4:45pm

Great Britain strategist Hannah Mills says SailGP must be conscious of “the effects that we have and the traces that we leave” as the league works to finalise its schedule for season five. 

The global foiling league is currently working towards finalising a minimum 13-stop schedule for the new season, which will begin in the Middle East in November and end there a year later. 

When the schedule is finalised, there will be plenty of interest in the Southern Hemisphere leg – currently expected to be in early 2025 – after SailGP chief executive Sir Russell Coutts cast doubt on a return to Christchurch. 

In March, the global foiling league made headlines during its event on Lyttelton Harbour – which is part of a marine reserve – when a dolphin on the racecourse meant, after a long delay, organisers had to cancel racing for the day. 

While the day provided perfect racing conditions, the call was made in line with SailGP’s Marine Mammal Management Plan, which calls for racing to be delayed to allow marine life to pass through the course area safely. 

Speaking to the Herald ahead of this weekend’s event in Bermuda, Mills said the pros and cons of a return to Christchurch were tough to weigh up. 

“It’s the most amazing place to sail. It’s really beautiful, so many people came to watch, the conditions were incredible – for a sailor it’s perfect. But we have to be more conscious around the places that we go and the effects that we have and the traces that we leave,” Mills said. 

“For me, if a venue, any venue, is not suitable from an environmental or species point of view, then it really has to be a huge part of the conversation and made sure that the right decision’s made.” 

Reflecting on the way things played out in Christchurch in March, Mills said it was simply part of the territory. 

“As a sailor, you obviously really want to get out and race. We had amazing conditions on a Saturday, we could see so many people on the shore that had come to watch, and you just want to put on the best show you possibly can,” she said. 

“But at the same time, I’m personally, as is everyone in SailGP, really conscious of the environment and not damaging ecosystems and habitats and places that we visit as much as possible. The mammal protection plan came into place, we had dolphins on the racecourse and that was the priority. As a sailor, you accept that. It is what it is and we were lucky that we could get some really amazing racing on Sunday.” 

It is rare that the protocol comes into play, but March’s event was the second time in as many visits to Lyttelton Harbour that a dolphin sighting caused a delay. 

In 2023, the second day of racing was temporarily paused but was able to resume. In 2024, opening day had to be cancelled before any racing was done, but the sailors got through a bumper second day which served up some of the best action in the league’s history. 

Despite the location being voted by league sailors as the best on the circuit in an anonymous poll late last year, Coutts told Newstalk ZB’s Jason Pine the delay “probably won’t only affect Christchurch, but it might also affect future events in New Zealand.” 

In late 2021, SailGP made a four-year commitment to bring events to New Zealand, with race weekends to be split between Christchurch and Auckland on a yearly basis. Because Auckland was not able to host the event in 2024, it returned to Christchurch and was expected to do so again in 2025 before events transpired. 

“SailGP continues to work with its partners in New Zealand and internationally to finalise its Season 5 schedule, which will be announced imminently,” SailGP managing director Andrew Thompson said. 

“This includes an expanded event calendar, with exciting new and return venues and a minimum 13-event schedule following significant demand from cities around the world.” 

Christopher Reive joined the Herald sports team in 2017, bringing the same versatility to his coverage as he does to his sports viewing habits. 

This article was originally published on the NZ Herald here. 

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