“This is like Formula One on water.”
That’s how Sir Russell Coutts, who won a gold medal for New Zealand in sailing at the 1984 Olympics and won the America’s Cup five times, describes SailGP, the nation vs. nation sailing circuit set to launch early next year.
With a Japanese team now in the mix, the nation’s sailing fans will get to see if Coutts’ words will ring true.
Coutts, the SailGP CEO, was on hand on Tuesday in Tokyo, as the team representing Japan was unveiled for the first time.
Nathan Outteridge, who won gold for Australia in the 49er class at the 2012 London Olympics and silver during the Rio Games four years later, will be at the helm and is the team’s skipper. Joining him are wing trimmer Iain Jensen, who was with Outteridge in London and Rio, flight controller Luke Parkinson and grinders Leo Takahashi, Yuki Kasatani and Yugo Yoshida.
“I think we have a strong team and have created a team that can win,” Yoshida said.
Japan was the last of the six SailGP teams to be unveiled. There will also be teams from Australia, China, France, Great Britain and the United States.
While teams are intended to consist entirely of natives of the countries represented, Japan and China have been designated as developing nations and initially have a nationality requirement of 40 percent.
“We want to do as well as we can the first two years and then bring more young Japanese sailors onto the team,” said Takahashi, who at 19 is the youngest member of the team. “By four or five years, we want to have a full Japanese team that’s able to compete against everyone else.”
Takahashi has been a member of Japan’s national team since 2015 and competed in the 2017 Youth America’s Cup. As one of Japan’s top young sailors, he could be a key component of the the country’s efforts moving forward.
“This is huge for Japanese sailing,” he said. “I really want to see the team succeed and carry on and that’s why it makes me want to learn as much as I can from the guys and one day I can be a leader like Nathan. That’s my goal.”
Of the team’s other two Japanese members, Yoshida has sailed at the Olympics and America’s Cup and Kasatani also has America’s Cup experience.
SailGP’s six teams will each compete in “wingsailed F50s,” which it says are the fastest catamarans in the world. The boats are 15 meters in length and can reach top speeds of 53 knots.
“I’ve never driven a Formula One car, but the boat feels just like it to me on the water,” Outteridge said. “It’s one of the most challenging boats I’ve ever sailed in my life and I think it’s going to take a full team effort to be competitive.”
SailGP was set up by Coutts and Larry Ellison, the businessman who founded what is currently known as Oracle Team USA, which recorded America’s Cup victories in 2010 and 2013.
“Larry Ellison has felt for quite some years now that sailing needs a sustainable professional arm to the sport that allows professional sailors to race country against country,” Coutts said. “That is why we started it.”
SailGP will kick off with races in Sydney from Feb. 15-16. The league will then move to San Francisco (May 4-5), New York (June 21-22), Cowes, England (Aug. 10-11) and Marseille, France (Sept. 20-22).
“We’re going to the same venues each year,” Coutts said. “Our goal is to eventually grow to 10 teams and 10 venues racing around the world.”
The league will also centralize production of the boats. The boats are one-design class, meaning teams will compete in identical vessels.
“Each of the teams will race the same boats,” Coutts said. “So the boats are very high performance. This is really a competition to establish which nation has the best sailing team in high-performance boats.”