‘NASCAR on the Water’: Chicago to host global sailing league race


CHICAGO — Nine of the fastest boats in the world will be putting on a show for Chicago this weekend.  

For the first time, Sail-Grand Prix, the premier global sailing league will stage a race in Chicago, bringing boats from nine countries to compete on Lake Michigan in what is described as ‘NASCAR on the Water.’

“SailGP is the world’s best sailors on the world’s fastest boats sailing in probably the most iconic venues around the world,” said 43-year-old Jimmy Spithell, the CEO and driver for Team USA. 

On Wednesday, the team pushed their two-ton carbon fiver sailboat to the water’s edge. A heavy-duty construction-style crane was used to lift the boat into the water.

The F-50 catamarans are even faster than the boats used in the America’s Cup and can reach speeds of 60 miles per hour (or more, depending on the wind) thanks to a specialized ‘lifting’ technology called a hydrofoil that reduces drag and gives the boat the feel of flight.   

“A foil is kind of like a stick that goes down from underneath your surfboard or sailboat and when you get enough speed, you’re surfboard or sailboat lifts out of the water,” says 18-year-old CJ Perez of Hawaii, the youngest person ever to join SailGP. 

Perez is also the first Latina woman in the history of the sport. She’s one of the six athletes who will be on the Team USA boat amid the racing this weekend. Perez is the team tactician, monitoring pressure differences, wind shifts, and speeds.    

“It’s fast fun and dangerous – it’s everything that makes you feel alive,” Perez said.  

The boats are outfitted with state-of-the-art software sent back to a tech hub in real-time and shared with coaches and competitors, a pressure-raising twist that allows all of the sailors to access each other’s data and keeps the racing very close.   

“The races are very, very, fast, very short, and aggressive,” Spithell said. “It’s much more like, probably like NASCAR.” 

There will be three races on Saturday and three races on Sunday on a tight course between Navy Pier and the Adler Planetarium. Click here for information on how to watch. 

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