The New Zealand SailGP team have had closure. Now, they’re sailing into 2024 hoping any bad luck that was in store for them this season has been and gone.
The Kiwis were ruled out midway through the event in France last September when their 29-metre wing sail collapsed on top of them. No one knew the reason for it, and the 29m wing was retired fleet-wide until the league understood what happened.
The incident saw Peter Burling and the team miss the following event in Italy, before returning in Spain in October. The 29m wing didn’t appear again until the second day of the year’s final event - in Dubai last month - as light wind forecasts required the big sail.
The helmsman admitted it was a nervous moment for the team to sail with that configuration again, but says you wouldn’t have known by the way they sailed. It’s a configuration they have had plenty of success with in the past, and that was the case in Dubai as they claimed the event win.
“I think the nerves were more understanding you were going to be racing with it for the first time since it had fallen down,” Burling told the Herald. “But once we got out sailing, you honestly don’t look up that much so it doesn’t make it that much different on board; you just end up getting on with the day.
“You’re obviously a lot more careful around the racecourse with trying to make sure you’re not loading [the wing] in a way it shouldn’t be loaded, and I think across the fleet we have a pretty good understanding of those areas that can put it at risk.
“It’s a shame we were the ones that were unfortunate to find out that that was a problem.”
The New Zealand SailGP Team's 29m wingsail collapsed after the opening day of racing in France last September. Photo / Ricardo Pinto, SailGP
Explaining the league findings of what caused the 29m wing to implode in the dramatic fashion it did, Burling said it was a result of pressure caused by the direction of the wind in relation to the wing as they tried to stop the boat to thank fans after the day’s racing.
“With a conventional sail, if the wind comes from the other side, it’ll flap,” Burling explained. “The wing, well it doesn’t flap, it’s rigid, though it actually creates a huge amount of pressure the other way and it buckled out to windward.
“I think we have a really good understanding of exactly why the incident occurred now, but it definitely gives you a few more nerves knowing it’s had that incident before.”
The victory in Dubai was a perfect way to end an eventful year for the Kiwis, with their second win of the season seeing them jump back up to third on the leaderboard at the campaign’s halfway point.
The New Zealand SailGP Team won last month's event in Dubai, with the 29m wing sail being used on the second day of racing. Photo / Ricardo Pinto, SailGP
Reflecting on the season so far, Burling had mixed feelings but was proud of the way the team has fought back into a position to contend for a spot in the Grand Final through the second half of the season.
“If you had told me when we started the season that it would have unfolded how it did, I probably wouldn’t have believed you,” Burling said.
“Hopefully we can put the bad luck behind us and charge on into the end of the season.”
Sailing resumes this weekend with the league’s first visit to Abu Dhabi, a racecourse which appears to offer a similar brand of racing to that of Dubai.
“I think it’s the smallest racecourse we’ve ever been to, so it’ll make for some super tight racing and hopefully we get enough breeze so we can be up on the foiling blatting around, which is what we all love doing,” Burling said.
Christopher Reive joined the Herald sports team in 2017, bringing the same versatility to his coverage as he does to his sports viewing habits.
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