Phil Robertson steers Canada to 1st SailGP win

Phil Robertson steered Team Canada to its first SailGP victory on Sunday by recovering from a penalty late in the podium race in Christchurch to deny Peter Burling and Team New Zealand a victory in home waters.

Canadians deny Burling, New Zealand victory on home waters

A sailboat with a Canadian flag races along the water.
The Canada SailGP Team, seen above during a practice session ahead of SailGP Australia in February, claimed their first SailGP victory on Sunday in New Zealand. (Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Phil Robertson steered Team Canada to its first SailGP victory on Sunday by recovering from a penalty late in the podium race in Christchurch to deny Peter Burling and Team New Zealand a victory in home waters.

Robertson, himself a New Zealander, sailed his foiling 50-foot catamaran aggressively in the three-boat final to win the New Zealand Sail Grand Prix, the penultimate regatta in Season 3 of tech tycoon Larry Ellison's global league.

Two-time defending SailGP champion Team Australia, which finished third in the podium race, and Team New Zealand remain 1-2 in the season standings heading into the final regatta in San Francisco May 6-7, which will conclude with the $1 million US, winner-take-all Grand Final among the top three boats.

But the victory was huge for Canada, which is in its first season in SailGP. The Canadians reached the podium races in the season's first two regattas but didn't reach another final race until Sunday. Their wingsail was smashed and the platform damaged during an intense storm that hit just after racing concluded in the previous regatta in Sydney on Feb. 18. The rest of that regatta was canceled and the damage was repaired in time for this regatta.

The Canadian crewmembers whooped and hollered as their catamaran held off the Kiwis heading into the finish line and then had their first onboard Champagne celebration.

"It's awesome. I'm so stoked to win at home," said Robertson, who sailed in front of several family members. "It's super, super special for me. I've got good mates on the shore. I haven't raced here before so I'm pumped. For Canada, it's just amazing. This team is pretty new and pretty fresh and we've been working hard to be competitive with all these top teams. Today's just an example of what we can do when we put it all together."

Australia, skippered by Olympic gold medallist and former America's Cup champion Tom Slingsby, leads the standings with 84 points. The Aussies will sail for a third straight $1 million check, barring serious damage to their catamaran or a major penalty. The Kiwis are second with 73 points. France is third with 69 and Emirates Great Britain is fourth with 68. Denmark has 60 and Canada 59 in the nine-boat fleet.

Slingsby, in fifth place after Saturday's three fleet races, won Sunday's two fleet races wire-to-wire to earn a spot in the podium race. Canada squeaked into the podium race by one point over Britain.

Robertson led Burling, the reigning two-time America's Cup champion helmsman, on the final downwind leg before straying just across the boundary, drawing a penalty that forced him to fall behind the Kiwis. But Robertson cleared the penalty and had more speed going into the final gate and then onto the short reach to the finish.

"I think you've been seeing it all along but we haven't strung it all together so it's nice to put the whole package in and get that final race," Robertson said. "We gave it a good shot of letting the Kiwis back into it but we held strong. The boundary penalty must have been a half-metre or something over it. We managed to scrub that and stay on lay and come fast into the bottom, so happy days."

Slingsby said being just behind the Canadians approaching the first mark in the podium race was costly.

"We needed another five metres to roll over Canada and then it would have been a different story. We would have led to mark one like we did in the first two races and there's a good chance we would have gone on with it," he said. "Unfortunately we weren't able to get it. We got luffed and moved out of second to third place. Just tough going. Two good teams, it's going to be tough to catch them."

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