Above photo: Canada’s SailGP team celebrates winning the ITM New Zealand Sail Grand Prix. Credit: Ricardo Pinto for SailGP
From June 1–2, 2024, Halifax Harbour will play host to the first-ever ROCKWOOL Canada Sail Grand Prix (SailGP).
The race, which will take place a short distance from the shores of Halifax between George’s Island and the MacDonald Bridge, will see Canada’s home team compete against Australia, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, New Zealand, Spain, Switzerland and the United States.
Competing teams will race in the F50 foiling catamarans; a one-design boat class that is maintained and operated by SailGP. F50s have the distinction of being one of the fastest racing classes in history, clocking in at top speeds of nearly 100 kilometres per hour.
The catamarans are operated by a crew of six consisting of a helmsman, a wing trimmer, a flight controller, two grinders and a team strategist.
The event consists of five races, where points are awarded depending on placement. The top three teams in those qualifying races move on to a winner-take-all final. The current reigning three-time champion is the Australian team, which is helmed by Tom Slingsby. Canada’s team, which joined the event in the 2022–2023 season and is helmed by Phil Robertson, is currently placed eighth in the SailGP leaderboards.
The worldwide event, which is a first for Canada, and Halifax in particular, was celebrated by the premier of Nova Scotia, Tim Houston, in a recent press release.
“SailGP offers an exciting opportunity for Nova Scotia to showcase our ability to host major sailing events, as well as highlight our province’s sports, culture and heritage to international audiences,” said Houston. “We are thrilled to be the first Canadian jurisdiction to host this world-class event.”
This buzz around the 2024 event was echoed by SailGP CEO Russell Coutts, who said the Halifax venue has been in the works between SailGP and the event stakeholders for a long time, and he is glad to see SailGP’s first Canadian event added to their season four roster.
“The venue is set up well for our stadium racing, allowing the fans to get a very close view of the action,” said Coutts. “I can’t think of a better stop for our first Canadian Sail Grand Prix and can’t wait to see the F50’s racing on Halifax Harbour.”
The Canadian event was bid on by five separate Canadian cities, with Halifax coming out on top due to the efforts of Sail Nova Scotia.
“We submitted a couple of bids, and there was a lot of back-and-forth and some delays, and here we are today. We’re certainly very, very excited,” said Sail Nova Scotia’s Executive Director, Frank Denis. “The reason we can pull it off as Sail Nova Scotia is because of the fantastic support from the stakeholders — the province, the city, Build Nova Scotia — it’s just been fantastic. Nobody had to be convinced that this was a great event to go after and support.”
According to Denis, the event is liable to bring a lot of attention to Nova Scotia’s capital in the 2023–2024 season of SailGP. He said that the province and the city recognized the economic boon that hosting a worldwide event such as SailGP would be for Nova Scotia at large.
“It’s broadcast right around the world with a 200 million-person audience. Every time they have an event, TSN is showing it live. So, it’s a big deal,” said Denis. “[Our stakeholders] know what this can do for our city and our province when it comes to sailing, to tourism, the economy; all of that stuff. So it’s win-win-win, and they were able to recognize that, and we were able to work with them for the last 18 months to put this all together.”
According to Denis, Sail Nova Scotia is working out the details of events they will host surrounding the SailGP races in Halifax. Given the magnitude of the event, Sail Nova Scotia is working with Build Nova Scotia to create a “festival atmosphere” around the races.
“We’re thinking about concert series and things like that. You’ve got to remember that these events are two hours in the mid-afternoon, and so if there’s an opportunity to keep people downtown for longer and benefit bars and restaurants and the social scene, then why not?” said Denis.
Sail Nova Scotia also intends to tie in the SailGP Inspire Program, which is a youth sailing program that teaches young sailors about foiling crafts.
“We hope to tie that in with encouraging some kids to come out and try sailing for the first time and get excited about it,” said Denis. “We recognize that June or late May is not the best time as far as the temperature of the water goes, but we are going to work closely on that.”
Ticket sale prices, venue capacity and the events surrounding the Grand Prix will be announced closer to the June 1st event. Denis said that flags will be sold for those who own boats to get a front-row seat to all the action in 2024.
“If you own a boat, come out and watch and you can be on the water there, but if you have a flag, you’ll be closer to the action,” said Denis. “I expect them to sell out very, very quickly.”