Phil Robertson skippered newcomer Team Canada to a surprise lead after the first three fleet races of SailGP’s season-opening regatta in Bermuda on Saturday.
Robertson steered his red-and-white foiling catamaran to finishes of second, first and fifth in the nine-boat fleet on the turquoise waters of the Great Sound to lead Britain’s Sir Ben Ainslie 25 points to 23. Ainslie had a strong start by winning the first and third races.
Tom Slingsby drove two-time defending champion Team Australia into third place with 21 points despite having just one top-three finish. France was fourth with 20 points and Team USA fifth with 16.
Robertson, who’s from New Zealand, took over the Canadian team after he was fired by Team Spain on the eve of the Season 2 finale in San Francisco in late March.
“The team’s excited but the challenge for us is to try and keep expectations low because the conditions are ideal for any of these boats so anything can happen tomorrow,” said Robertson, who is with his third team in as many seasons. “But ultimately you have to be extremely happy with the day we had. In tight situations, we always came out on top and did some great things on the racecourse.”
Slingsby said he was impressed with Robertson.
“It’s going to be exciting to see what he can do,” said Slingsby, who claimed SailGP’s $1 million, winner-take-all prize in each of the first two seasons. “He’s got a new team, it’s privately funded, the owner loves him and he’s under no pressure. The standard has gone up a level and whoever can find some consistency in this field will do extremely well.”
Ainslie was leading Robertson approaching the fourth gate in Race 2 but had a poor rounding and slowed dramatically, allowing Canada to sail into the lead. Ainslie also had a penalty near the finish and ended up eighth.
“It’s not really a surprise to see the previous top teams like Australia down the back because the racing is so tight and to be honest the standard is so high,” Ainslie said. “We are all top teams now. There’s going to be lots of ups and downs and consistency is going to win out and that’s what we are vying for.”