Burling propels Kiwis to lead in SailGP’s Plymouth regatta

New Zealand skipper Peter Burling won one fleet race and finished second in the other two on Saturday to take the lead in the British sailing Grand Prix in Plymouth.

New Zealand skipper Peter Burling won one fleet race and finished second in the other two on Saturday to take the lead in the British sailing Grand Prix in Plymouth.

It was the best day to date in Burling’s two seasons in tech mogul Larry Ellison’s World League, which is contested by outmaneuvering 50-foot catamarans capable of highway speeds. He scored 28 points to take a six-point lead over Trans-Tasman rival Tom Slingsby of two-time defending SailGP Team Australia champion and Quentin Delapierre of France.

The Kiwis are in a strong position to qualify for Sunday’s three-boat podium race, which will follow the final two fleet races.

Phil Robertson, who led Canada to the podium in the first two regattas of Season 3, is fourth in the nine-boat fleet with 20 points while British star Sir Ben Ainslie is a disappointing fifth with 19 points.

“We’re happy we’ve had three great starts, moving up to first place in the top three each time,” Robertson said. “We came out of the gates pretty hot and took the first win of the event. In race two we had our first real big moment which threw us to the back. It was a massive dive at the mark We came from a late jibe and the boat was slipping a bit, we had a little grip, then we launched out of the water. That was the worst case scenario and that’s one of the toughest maneuvers.

Robertson said it was a little disappointing, but it was part of the learning process.

“We’re on the hunt (Sunday), that’s where you want to be at the end of day one,” he said.

Burling led Emirates Team New Zealand to back-to-back America’s Cup victories and won three Olympic medals with teammate Blair Tuke, including one gold.

“It was great for us to execute some things well,” Burling said. “Obviously there are a lot of things to work on tonight, but I really didn’t think we would end the first day with so many points.”

The Kiwis have received a boost with the addition of Olympic gold medalist and former world champion strategist Jo Aleh. They finished second in the first two fleet races before winning the third. Canada won the first race and Australia won the second.

Slingsby has won five consecutive SailGP regattas and seven of eight regattas over two seasons aboard his “Flying Roo” catamaran, which has a large yellow kangaroo on the sail. An Olympic gold medalist and former America’s Cup champion, he steered the Aussies to the $1million Championship, win-win in each of the first two seasons.

Ainslie called his three starts “terrible” and the British cat was involved in a collision at the start line in the first race with Spain, which was penalized four points.

“We had a little accident with Spain at the start, then in the second race Canada came through and stole our place, so we had two starts where we had a little trouble getting through the fleet,” said Ainslie, the most-decorated Olympic sailor of all time with four gold medals and one silver.

USA skipper Jimmy Spithill continued to struggle with a 9-6-7 finish and is eighth with just 11 points.

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Bernie Wilson, The Associated Press

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