Spending much of his life on the water, Sir Russell Coutts knew there was a gap in the sailing market.

As more and more professional sports introduced shorter forms, sailing was being left behind. But alongside Oracle founder Larry Ellison, Coutts sought to change that.

Last month, the pair saw their years of planning come to fruition, as the first ever leg of the SailGP was contested in Sydney.

The concept is relatively simple: six national teams compete on the same, high-speed catamarans at six stops around the world annually — one regatta at each country represented on the water.


"There's been talk about doing something like this for some time now," Coutts told the Herald on Sunday. "In many ways, sailing needs a consistent platform that goes to the same venues each year and there's a repeatable format — like most, if not all, other professional sports have."

At each location, the teams compete in five fleet races across two days, before the top two teams from the five races go head-to-head to find the winner.

Points are accumulated in each race throughout the season, culminating with a final match race between the top two teams for the SailGP Championship, with a US$1 million purse and trophy presented to the winning team. The competition is entirely bankrolled by Ellison, while on the sailing side of things the design, shore logistics, boats and equipment transportation are handled by SailGP.

"You look at the way modern sport is evolving; the shorter formats are becoming more watchable and therefore more successful commercially. We've currently planned for 16-minute races, with three races in the day," Coutts said.

"We thought quite a good formula had been developed using high-speed boats with a short racing format ... it all comes down to who sails the best on the day, I think that will be a popular format."

Coutts said the goal for the competition at this stage is to expand to accommodate 10 teams, with 10 stops on the circuit rather than the initial six.

And while this new, fast format has created plenty of buzz, Coutts said it was designed with no intention of being a rival competition to the America's Cup.

Coutts and Ellison have both been heavily involved in the America's Cup over the years, and Coutts said there was no reason for the two competitions to rival one another.


"You look at Twenty20, one-day and test match cricket, those three formats don't exclude the players from competing in each of them, so that's the way we see it," he said.

''There's a hole for this within sailing ... it complements the other formats within sailing quite well."