Tauranga sailor gets European chance

Tauranga's Jason Saunders will race for Switzerland in SailGP. Photo credit. SailGP.

New Zealand yachtie Jason Saunders has landed a full time SailGP contract with expansion team Switzerland.

The former Tauranga Boys’ College student showed enough in his fill-in roles with New Zealand and the United States in 2021 to get the call-up for season three of the global league that is sailed in foiling 50-foot catamarans.

Saunders, who contested the London and Rio Olympics in the 470 dinghy and Nacra 17 catamaran respectively, narrowly missing out on the podium both times, faces a busy buildup learning a new role.

In a year when the Tokyo Games affected the SailGP lineups, Saunders filled in as wing trimmer for Blair Tuke on the New Zealand boat for some European regattas, and had the same role briefly on the United States boat after Paul Campbell-James broke a leg in a high-speed crash.

But for the new season that starts in Bermuda in May, Saunders will be flight controller on the Swiss boat, responsible for adjusting the foils and the flight height of the hulls.

It’s a big break for the ambitious Saunders, who has made a living on professional circuits in Europe, basing himself in La Rochelle in France.

Born in Tauranga where he attended Tauranga Boys’ College with Peter Burling and fellow Olympian Sam Meech, Saunders has had an eye on high-speed action since helping Burling and Tuke win the 2013 Youth America’s Cup in San Francisco.

The 31-year-old will be a senior member of a young Swiss crew, helping them get comfortable in these large cats.

Switzerland and Canada are the new teams for season three, taking the SailGP fleet to 10 syndicates and promising even more crowded action on the tight courses used around the world.

SailGP’s second season is set to close in San Francisco on March 28-29 with the US$1m winner takes all grand final race completing that weekend.

New Zealand were an expansion team for the second season and have found the environment challenging, sitting mid-table in fifth despite a crew stacked with champion America’s Cup sailors and Olympic talent.

Kiwi expertise is rapidly spreading across the fleet. Former world match racing champion Phil Robertson has been named to head the new Canada entry after some outstanding work developing teams from China and Spain over the opening two seasons.

- Stuff/Duncan Johnstone

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