Dolphins on SailGP Christchurch course see racing called off

The SailGP F50 catamaran fleet is pictured on Lyttelton Harbour on Friday, March 22, 2024. Photo:...
The SailGP F50 catamaran fleet is pictured on Lyttelton Harbour on Friday, March 22, 2024. Photo: Felix Diemer for SailGP/Handout image supplied by SailGP
The presence of dolphins on the racecourse forced a cancellation of the opening day of racing in SailGP’s return to Christchurch.

Returning to the South Island on relatively short notice after the proposed Auckland event was scrapped due to land at Wynyard Point being unavailable to use as a spectator venue, fans were sent home without seeing any racing on Saturday evening.

SailGP regattas are run over two days, with the first day featuring three fleet races with all 10 teams. The second day features two more fleet races, before the top three teams after the five races meet in the podium race to find an event winner.

Racing was due to get underway on Lyttelton Harbour around 3pm on Saturday afternoon, however there were dolphins swimming around the starting line and the teams were forced to sit and wait.

SailGP have protocols in place for when wildlife is seen or detected on or near the race course, with racing being brought to a halt until the marine life passes on. A similar delay was seen in the global foiling league’s first foray into New Zealand last year, with dolphins on course causing teams to wait to get underway on opening day last year as well.

But while last year’s delay didn’t limit the amount of racing, Saturday’s racing was delayed for about 90 minutes before the call was ultimately made to call it off as the dolphins had not moved on.

The league is expected to release a statement about the decision later today. — The New Zealand Herald

By Christopher Reive


SailGP will not return to Christchurch - Russell Coutts

SailGP says it is working with host city partners in New Zealand and around the world to finalise next season's event calendar, after its chief executive announced the tour will not return to Christchurch next year.

Speaking on the eve of the New Zealand race leg in Lyttelton this weekend, Russell Coutts told One News last night that Lyttelton Harbour was a fantastic venue but "minority interests" had made things too difficult.

Christchurch stepped in to host the event for a second time when Auckland pulled out of hosting duties in November.

But there have been concerns about collisions with endangered Hector's dolphins which are found in and around the harbour.

SailGP organisers are expecting a record crowd of 22,000 people to watch the high-speed sailing this weekend.

A Lyttelton business owner said it is disappointing SailGP won't return next year because everyone was working together to keep the dolphins safe.

Grace Uivel from Ata Ceramics said SailGP had been working "really well" with local hapū and the Department of Conservation.

"At the end of the day the minority group would be the people who want to see these dolphins harmed.

"I think we're really all on the same team here so it's disappointing that we can't make it work."

This afternoon's first first race was delayed by more than an hour after a dolphin sighting.

A spokesperson told RNZ that Sail GP expected to confirm events for Season 5 next month, adding that it would include an expanded schedule.

"That process includes extensive feasibility and planning to finalise a schedule that aligns with global shipping timelines."

She said that for now, SailGP was "totally focused on delivering another spectacular event in Christchurch, which has proven to be one of the very best destinations in our global racing championship".

Christchurch City Councillor for Banks Peninsula Ward Tyrone Fields told RNZ it was sad that Russell Coutts had felt compelled to make his announcement on the day before racing started.