Four way tie at the top
Despite six races being sailing on this, the opening day of the 2011 Extreme Sailing Series here at The Wave in Muscat, competition closed with four of the 11 catamarans competing tied on 49 points, after a fine day sailed under a brilliant Omani sun, in winds that peaked at 18 knots.
Anyone who was looking for a clearer picture as to whether Cup teams or Extreme 40 veterans would come out on top this season, was in for disappointment, the four way split dividing between two ‘Cup’ teams – Artemis Racing and Alinghi – and the top two teams from last year - The Wave, Muscat and Groupe Edmond de Rothschild - although both have new helmsmen for this season.
Once the firsts and second place scores had been tallied up it was The Wave, Muscat that was lead from the Rothschild boat (in fact also their final result from the 2010 season with Artemis and Alinghi rounding out the top four.
Young Australian match racer Torvar Mirsky was understandable ecstatic about his result on The Wave, Muscat. Despite taking over from Paul Campbell-James as the helmsman of the 2010 winning boat, Mirsky started the year with next to no catamaran sailing background. However – and this is significant – he and his team of Kyle Langford, Nick Hutton and Khamis Al Anbouri (the latter two who sailed on board in 2010), have spent the last month and a half training in Oman.
“We really needed it,” admits Mirsky. “I had no idea what these boats were like before that, so to have that time to practice was invaluable.”
Mirsky admitted that the day hadn’t been incident-free. At a bottom mark-rounding in one of the earlier races today they had a contratent with Groupe Edmond de Rothschild, where they came out on top. However in race five they weren’t so lucky when attempting to port tack into the top mark, they came up short...and in irons.
As Mirsky described it: “We didn’t make the top mark when we tacked on to starboard. You can’t do that because the boats are approaching at 20 knots into a big traffic jam and we were holding it all up. So the umpires kept us spinning, which we well deserved. We got two penalties – they were waiting until we were in last spot which we deserved.
“We are definitely pushing the limits and finding our boundaries, but it goes to show how tight this racing is. Even though these boats are fast you are fighting for 1-2m at a time.”
On board Alinghi, tactician Tanguy Cariou admitted that they had opted to be quite conservative on this opening day of the regatta. “I think it was good not to have any bad races on the first day. We didn’t do any particularly good starts, but on the race course we managed the difficult situations well, the roundings, etc. We still have a lot of points where we can improve, but we are in a good way and we look forward to the next four days."
Alinghi’s Extreme 40 is the only new boat for the season and is the 20th to be built since the class was launched prior to the Volvo Ocean Race before last (the teams previous X40s including their 2008 Ed Baird-helmed winner have been sold). The boat and team arrived in Oman at the end of January but they found themselves spending more time getting the boat sorted out, so they didn’t start work until into February.
“We didn’t focus enough on the racing,” admits Cariou. “We were quite short in terms of time.”
While it appeared that Cariou might have been on the helm this season (in 2010 the former 470 Olypmian was stand-in helmsman on Groupama when skipper Franck Cammas was off playing maxi-tris), in fact recently the team has scooped up the talents of formed Gitana skipper Yann Guichard, who it seems will be sharing helming duties this year with Alinghi principal, Ernesto Bertarelli, who was here in Oman last year training with the team.
Guichard, Cariou says, he has known for some 25 years since they both sailed against each other in Optimists and then 420s in Brittany. But this is the first time they have sailed together. While Guichard is new to the team, Cariou, Nils Frei and Yves Detrey are all long term members of the Alinghi team and have been competing on the D35 catamaran circuit in Switzerland together.
A team perhaps expected to be doing better today was Team New Zealand, sailing their second Extreme Sailing Series regatta following on from Almeria at the end of last season. With skipper Dean Barker and the team’s keelboat regulars James Dagg and Jeremy Lomas is cat guru, multiple A-Class World Champion and Beijing Tornado silver medallist, who has moved on from BMW Oracle Racing (where he coached James Spithill prior to the 33rd America’s Cup) to the Kiwi Cup team.
“It is great to be back in the 40s,” Ashby told thedailysail. “I haven’t been sailing in a 40 footer since I was on the BT boat with Darren [Bundock – his Tornado helm] and Nick Moloney [here as coach for Artemis]. I am really enjoying it. It is great racing and nice and tight and it keeps you on your toes.”
Team New Zealand (no Emirates for this regatta) put in six days of training on their Extreme 40 before this regatta. “We haven’t done as much as the other guys have done,” states Ashby. “It is a great stepping stone just for the communication and the teamwork side of things before we move ahead with the AC45s and 72. We are using this as a learning curve and to get a bit of racing under our belts was well.”
While they haven’t sailed the Extreme 40 much, Dean Barker is clearly becoming a top catamaran sailor. At the A-Class Australian Championships earlier this year, in a 73 boat field he finished 5th. Ashby of course won it...“We’ll spend a bit more time doing regattas like that in the future but essentially the team work side is where you need to work and the A-class gives you an idea of the feeling of how things are supposed to work but on a small scale, but the big boats are the way forward with the learning,” says Ashby.
Someone coming ashore with a big Cheshire cat grin was brick ^%$!house America’s Cup grinder and 1992 Olympic Finn bronze medallist, Craig Monk, a man with forearms like average homosapiens thighs. Currently with Artemis for the next America’s Cup, Monk is here racing as bowman for Roman Hagara on Red Bull Extreme Sailing, currently lying sixth in the 11 boat fleet. Monk knows his double Tornado Gold medallist skipper from his Olympic days.
“It is my first time,” Monk exclaimed. “I have done two weeks in the training camp. I am not in a rush to get back on a monohull! Every leg you look forward to. I really enjoy the downwind legs, the acceleration. It is completely different sailing for sure. You just have to change your mindset over. Speed is everything. Wind shifts – we haven’t really done those yet! With these boats – there’s a lot of feeling. Getting the hull up and getting the weight right, out of the top mark. That’s where the dinghy sailing comes into it. I am all over the boat. I have a heart rate of about 200 most of the time! It is a great sensation. I can’t wait for the big guys [the AC72s].”
But the greatest learning has certainly been done by Torvar Mirsky, who told us what he’s been getting to grips with: “Apparent wind and what sort of angles and the feel of the boat. It takes a while to learn a new boat but this is in a whole new bracket to what I’m used to. And because it is fleet racing, every little edge you can get makes it really important. The angles you sail upwind and downwind and how you accelerate, the rotating mast, etc.”
In addition to helming, Mirsky is to be seen frantically pumping the hydraulics. “That is a little new to me. I am not used to having to control the main sheet, Cunningham and outhaul as well. I was a little upset when I had to start concentrating on that but the team are doing a good support network on me and we’re doing pretty well.”
Starting – where the boats line up, stop and then accelerate away from the line, a little like dinghies - has also taken a little getting used to. “It is surprising. You set up at 3 minutes to go is really important. We were fortunate to have pretty good starts today and when we got it right we did really well. There were a couple of times when we didn’t and we got average results.”
Six or so races are planned for tomorrow.
|The Wave, Muscat||10||11||8||7||2||11||49|
|Groupe Edmond de Rothschild||6||7||9||11||11||5||49|
|Red Bull Extreme Sailing||9||5||6||9||3||7||39|
|Team New Zealand||1||10||4||4||6||6||31|
|Team GAC Pindar||2||2||1||1||1||2||9|