Spain’s SailGP sailing team gets gigantic in the Bay of Cadiz

The public cheers the Spanish ship from the Paseo de Santa Bárbara, in Cádiz.Eduardo Briones (Europa Press)

The forces that trigger the play of pressure differences and the principle of conservation of energy cause lentils in a pot to cook in nothingness, planes to hang in the air and rough sea water to rise on their legs , Where foil, nine 2,400-kilogram catamarans and a 24-meter wing, as high as an eight-storey tower, nailed vertically, which launch at full speed, at nearly 100 an hour, in a race without brakes or twists, to windward, to leeward, and they transform physics into poetry, and it is in the Bay of Cadiz, and its sea of ​​silk, and its light, as beautiful as that of Camarón, its staff, its sail and the boat crossing slowly towards the Port.

It’s the Andalusia-Cadiz GP of SailGP, the boats that are planes. They are the best in the world, and among them, fighting with them, with the great masters of New Zealand, Australia, the United States, the great sailing countries, a Spanish catamaran. The myths are behind the wheel. There’s Peter Burling, his Olympic gold, his America’s Cups, and there’s Tom Slingsby, Ben Ainslie and Jimmy Spithill, whose track record is no shorter.

And there’s Jordi Xammar, a young man who won a bronze medal at the Tokyo Games, and he’s turning the wheel of the Victory, the Spanish F50, 15 meters long, with almost fingertips, soft, and with it, moving the wing of the catamaran, Flo Trittel, and behind her, two more eyes to see everything, Paula Barceló, and in front, measuring the height of the foils and the stability of flight, and preventing the boat from sinking into the beak, Diego Botín, and beyond, moving a duo crank like those of chorizo ​​choppers, and thus turning the rotor which let the wing beat, Joan Cardona and Jake Lilley. They are all young. None reach 30 years old. They are sea dogs campaigning in Olympic sailing and growing, with SailGP, a three-year brainchild of Oracle wizard Larry Ellison and legendary sailor Russell Coutts, into the world of professional yacht racing. “I will spend 300 days a year sailing,” calculates Botín, an Olympian in Tokyo, who is also preparing for the 49er class in Paris 2024. “60 of them are dedicated to SailGP.”

There is no difference between the nine catamarans or in their rig. Everything is equal. Everything is decided by the management. As if everyone in Moto GP used the same bike, the same fuel, the same tires. They don’t have an engine. Just the wing and a small triangular sail, a jib, which transforms the wind, a breeze of barely 20 kilometers per hour, into 50, 60, 70 kilometers per hour in his boat. “We are adrenaline pumping,” says Xammar, who competed in the 470 class in Tokyo and is trying to qualify for Paris 2024, in Marseille water, with Nora Brugman in the new category, 470 mixed. “And we are feeling, and millions of data per second captured by the 1,200 sensors installed on the ship, pile up on our screens. You have to do everything much faster than in classic sailing, but the feeling you have to navigate is the same. It’s about feeling the ship, to the ends of the foil as if they were you, to feel the wind. And to understand that, in races as brutal as these, with these giants, is essential to continue to grow”.

“Like off-leash dogs”

That of Cadiz, the only Spanish event, is the sixth day, two days each, seven regattas of a quarter of an hour, more or less, out of the 11 that comprise the championship, which will end in May in the bay of San Francisco. The first of three Saturdays, in which, in a hurry due to a problem that prevented the jib from being repaired, the Spaniards left in a hurry and accelerated, “like dogs without a leash”, says Xammar, and the heart at 200, is concluded by the quarter-finalists. New. Better still in the second. They are third, and seventh from third because at the start they are stuck in front of Canada, and that delays them and leaves them without rhythm. They are sixth in Sunday’s races in a standings led by Australia and France. If they manage to come out third at least in the sixth, on the third Sunday they will be able to play the seventh, which will decide the winner. “That’s our goal, of course,” says Xammar, pointing out another reason why SailGP should be considered the invention of the century. “The public. Sailors are not used to competing with a local public, to being able to feel sports personalities acclaimed by supporters. And here in Cádiz we felt it…”.

From the wall of the Paseo de Santa Bárbara, on the heights from which it seems that the boats glide gently, fluidly like water, thousands of people cheer them, an atmosphere of a football stadium, and their cries reach them despite the helmets of communication they carry, despite the noise of the engines of the various Zodiacs and the helicopter on television. In more than a hundred boats that delimit the regatta field, more spectators enjoy, among them the queen of Spanish Olympic sailing, Theresa Zabell. At water level, they can barely appreciate the development of the race, but they can feel the monsters flying above the water, the magic, the poetry of physics between the waves. “And I want that to continue to grow,” says Xammar. “And me, I’m growing inside, and no, it’s not a step towards the Copa América, towards something that seems bigger, more important. That’s all”.

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