It's sometimes claimed that Sydney Harbour is one of the world's largest harbours but it will feel small for the six teams competing in the SailGP and Phil Robertson wouldn't be surprised if there are a few incidents on the race course that result in a "punch-up".

The highly-anticipated SailGP kicks off in Sydney on Friday afternoon, with six teams representing six nations. It's a concept created by Larry Ellison and Sir Russell Coutts to rival the America's Cup and will be sailed on F50s catamarans, or modified versions of the AC50s used at the 2017 America's Cup in Bermuda.

The fact they can potentially reach speeds of 50 knots (93km/h) and the format will be mostly fleet racing means incidents are possible and Robertson is a little worried about the consequences.

"Everyone is open and friendly at the moment but I can just see it, someone is going to do something a little crazy on the course that is going to scare the crap out of another team," he told Yachting New Zealand.


"The thing you are playing with now at these speeds is that they are very dangerous and there could be deaths so as soon as someone does something pretty marginal I think the friendships will go to one side and there will be some punch-ups in the yard. I wouldn't be surprised if someone took a swing at someone else."

There might be an element of hyperbole in what he says to hype up the event but Robertson hopes to deliver a few blows of his own on the water. The former world's top-ranked match racing skipper is the only New Zealand sailor involved in SailGP (Leonard Takahashi lives here but races under the Japanese flag) and will helm the China team. There are also teams from Australia, Japan, France, Great Britain and the United States.

Robertson has enjoyed success with a Chinese team on the World Match Racing Tour over the past couple of years, winning the world title, but is realistic about his chances in the SailGP.

The Chinese team will be one of the most inexperienced and the team's aim is to be a fully professional Chinese-crewed team in four years.

"We are working hard to get up to speed as quickly as possible and be competitive," Robertson said. "We have a long way to go and that's a motivator as well.

"The speed aspect of it is something that takes you by surprise every now and then, by how fast they get up to speed and how effortlessly they hold their speed as well.

"After the first day I was quite surprised at how much control you actually had of the yacht. The dangerous part is probably when you get a bit more confident and start to push a bit harder but there are certainly times when you feel out of your comfort zone every day."

The racing is expected to be spectacular, with all six boats involved in fleet racing over two days until the top two face off in a final late on Saturday. Sydney is the first stop in a six-round series, with the final round in Marseille in September.


Robertson is now at the point where he just wants to go racing.

"It's been on the cards for quite a while so we're pretty excited to get the ball rolling," he said. "We are pretty relaxed as a team and that's what is required. You don't want any intensity on board because it's a pretty intense experience as it is."

And that's before any stoushes at the boatyard.