by Duncan Murray
SYDNEY, Feb. 13 (Xinhua) -- An audacious new international sporting event, the SailGP, makes its world premiere in Sydney on Friday, with China being one of six nations lining up to leave their mark on sailing history.
The two-day regatta features boats from Britain, Australia, France, Japan, China and the United States, sailing identical, high performance, F50 catamarans capable of reaching speeds over 50 knots -- close to 100 kilometers per hour.
Colored end to end in red, and sporting a sleek dragon graphic, the Chinese boat looks striking amongst the fleet on Sydney Harbour. Crew member Liu 'Black' Xue hopes that the team's performance will be equally impressive.
"Red represents good luck in China and I hope our first race is as red as possible," he said.
Liu is amongst China's top performing sailors representing his country in two of the sport's most prestigious events, the America's Cup and Volvo Ocean Race, the latter of which they won in 2017-18.
Different however from the marathon ocean races Liu has done before, the SailGP is a short course running between two 'gates' placed within the harbor.
"For this it's only 20 minutes racing, so every thing will happen very fast," Liu said. "If you lose, you lose so you have to be very focused and very efficient."
For a 15 meter boat, the F50 catamarans are extremely quick and manoeuvrable, running on foils which raise the hull above the water's surface to eliminate drag and tension.
As the sport is fairly new to China and Japan, those two teams will have assistance on board from foreign sailors with the aim to build towards crews of 100 percent native nationality by the event's fourth season.
At the helm of the red boat on Friday will be New Zealand-born skipper Phil Robertson, who as well as winning the World Match Racing championship in 2016 competed in his first Ironman triathlon the year before.
"I've been surprised at how fast we've been learning as a team and how fast the Chinese guys on board have been learning. I've been very impressed to be honest," Robertson said.
"[The F50s] are unbelievable machines, they're so fast and incredibly advanced technology wise. All five of us on board have to be all working in sync and in unison together to get the thing around the track safely."
According to Liu, preparations to achieve that unison have been tough but the team has come a long way. Already they have spent months, receiving safety instruction in France, simulator training in Britain, and drilling off the coast of New Zealand to prepare them for this unique competition.
With sailing still unknown to many people in China, events like the SailGP, which aim to make the sport as interesting and accessible to spectators as possible, will go a long way to expanding its popularity and rapid development.
"It's a big step for China," Liu said, "I think because of events like the SailGP more and more people are going to be watching sailing and it will help sailing in China to grow very fast."
Throughout the year the five stages of the SailGP will take teams to the east and west coast United States, England and a final event in France where the two top ranked boats will match race for a one million U.S. dollar prize.
Before that though, the boats line up to race for the very first time on Sydney Harbour, at which point -- anything can happen.
"I think it's going to be very exciting to see six boats on the starting line," Liu said.
"This has never happened before -- it's going to be very interesting."