Race Day One cancelled in Christchurch after mammals spotted on course

Race Day One of the ITM New Zealand Sail Grand Prix was cancelled due to mammals on the course in Christchurch. All 10 teams were on the water on Whakaraupō Lyttelton Harbour and ready to race when a mammal was spotted on the racecourse. A delay to the start was initially anticipated, but after 90 minutes passed and the mammal was still present, racing was cancelled.

The 11,000 spectators that had gathered on Whakaraupō Lyttelton Harbour did not let that dampen their spirits, as they enjoyed a live music performance from New Zealand legend Dave Dobbyn.

Emirates GBR Strategist Hannah Mills said: “Unfortunately we didn’t end up racing on the first day. We had amazing conditions and a really nice breeze but there were dolphins on racecourse and with SailGP’s Marine Mammal Management Plan, we can’t go sailing when there’s dolphins on the course, but hopefully we will go racing tomorrow.”

The cancellation of Race Day One follows an eventful practice day for Emirates GBR, after Mills was taken off the F50 injured just minutes before the first practice race. She slipped during a manoeuvre and sustained bruising to her knees and Reserve Sailor Hannah Diamond jumped on-board to replace her with less than two-minutes to go.

Conditions were extremely tricky with high winds, and in the third and final practice race on Friday, Emirates GBR had a collision with Spain after not realising the Spanish had tacked back onto starboard. This meant Emirates GBR was the port tack boat, and they had to keep clear of Diego Botin’s crew, who had the right of way. Due to the F50s being damaged in the incident, the SailGP umpires handed Emirates GBR an eight-point event penalty, and also deducted four season points.

The SailGP Tech Team worked through the night to get both boats repaired in time for racing on Saturday and Mills had also returned to the F50, but unfortunately there was no action due to prolonged mammal activity on the racecourse for the duration of the race window.

The Lyttelton Harbour is part of the Banks Peninsula Marine Mammal Sanctuary. This sanctuary contains a number of internationally vulnerable marine species, such as the Hector’s dolphin. The Hector’s Dolphin are the smallest and rarest marine dolphins in the world with an estimated population of 55. SailGP is committed to minimising risk to the marine environment and has comprehensive protocols developed in conjunction with local authorities and experts to avoid contact with wildlife.

With forecasts predicting winds of 27-35 km/h on Sunday, both SailGP athletes and fans will be hoping teams can showcase the high-speed and high-adrenaline racing SailGP has to offer.

UK viewers can watch Race Day Two on a delayed broadcast on ITV4 at 01:00 GMT on 25 March.

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