Mark Lloyd / Extreme Sailing Series

Gitana surge ahead

Pierre Pennec's team on form on the second day of windward-leewards at the Extreme Sailing Series Muscat

Monday February 21st 2011, Author: James Boyd, Location: Oman

On a second consecutive day of near perfect sailing conditions off The Wave, Muscat, it was French Tornado Olympian Pierre Pennec and the crew of Groupe Edmond de Rothschild that were the star performers. With five races held in winds that peaked at around 18 knots and lumpy-ish sea state, the Swiss-backed French team claimed three of them in emphatic style, and podiumed in the other two to end the day 10 points clear of Alinghi, steered by their old helmsman Yann Guichard.

The Wave, Muscat, yesterday’s tentative leader, by admission of their new helmsman Torvar Mirsky, blew it through their own error in the first race, finishing second last, while Artemis had a consistently average day, dropping them to fifth behind the Roman Hagara-driven Red Bull Extreme Sailing.

So why have they been doing so well, thedailysail put it to Gitana crewman Hervé Cunningham. “Our new driver has been straight into it. We have been pushing hard on the trimming and training. The main target for this event was to be really on top quickly; despite the changes in crew to be on the top level straight away.”

With Pierre Pennec on the helm so Christophe Espagnon, who represented France on the Tornado in Beijing (as Pennec did in Sydney) and sailed with Groupama last year is now on board. However last year Espagnon was doing bow for Franck Cammas and on Gitana has moved to main sheet. According to Cunningham, Espagnon and Pennec are old friend, heralding from the same town near La Rochelle, where they went to school together and have been sailing against each other (like Yann Guichard and Tanguy Cariou on Alinghi) since they were 10. The union seems to be a good one: “It is easy for them to talk, so it is a really good choice and we are happy with the result,” says Cunningham.

Typically Espagnon does strategy before the start of each race and due to the speed of proceedings, Pennec makes his own calls during racing. In the three races they won, they led around the top mark. “We have a good start strategy - before the start we talk about the first upwind ‘we want to tack there and there’, and if you manage to stick to your strategy (and if your strategy is right) then it is easier. And we have good speed and speed helps a lot.”

Cunningham adds: “Once you are ahead and have clear breeze you get away from the others. When we are third we race like we are first and we are defending our position. Top five is a good place. Top five in each race at the end of the week should be a good result.”

While we were working on a theory that success in the Extreme 40 was directly proportional to the amount of pre-race training carried out, the Groupe Edmond de Rothschild team did no training in France (the new crew line-up was one of the last to be announced) and they only did 12 days in Oman immediately prior to the regatta.

So are they sailing any differently? “I think we never give up,” says Cunningham. “Every race, every start we apply the maximum focus. Every little thing we do on the boat we try to do it better each race. The boats are a pretty similar speed, so what you can do better is your movement, so you do it earlier or later. Those little things - you put them together and at the end of the day it is 1m you can cross in front of the others. And that is it.” Sounds all standard one-design technique... “Now to win an event in the Extreme 40 you have to be really consistent.

Something of a unique feature of the day was that while crews were instructed to sail with one reef for the first race of the days, when it was subsequently deemed too breezy for teams to be carrying ‘fifth men’ passengers, the race committee allowed the teams to make up their own minds whether they should sail reefed or not. So for the second race today, Sidney Gavignet’s Oman Air, currently lying sixth overall, was the only one to make the brave more and throw out the reef.

“With Sidney on board it was reef straight out – max power,” commented crewman Freddie Carr. “Which was good - we felt quick straight away by doing that. In the past we’ve only stuck a reef in at 21-22, so we were the first to go reef out and I thought we were much quicker downwind and lower and faster upwind, VMG similar. We never really sailed in clear lanes and didn’t have the starts we wanted when we had that advantage.”

They were the only boat to hold full sail for two races when as the wind dropped the rest of the fleet followed suit.

Carr, a veteran of four past seasons in the Extreme Sailing Series, including with winning The Wave, Muscat team in 2009, reckons one of the biggest changes this season is the new sails – each team allowed one main, two jibs and chutes, all supplied by North Sails France. “I think the boats are more powerful with the new sails. Both main and jib are a little fuller in the front and you are more powered up earlier on in the light stuff. The chute in the past is that they have been really closed in the leech and I think the chutes are more open and allow more flow so in breeze like today you feel less pitchy and faster through the water. The other problem we’ve had with the sails in the past is that they aren’t that one design. Two jibs will set up completely differently.”

Despite the arrival of new faces from the World Match Racing Tour such as Team GAC Pindar’s Ian Williams and The Wave, Muscat’s Torvar Mirsky and from the America’s Cup, Team New Zealand and Artemis Racing, Carr thinks the days of one team dominating the series as say happened when Alinghi won in 2008, won’t recur.

“It will be harder to win this year than last because you not only have to be a master of short course racing and the classic Extreme Sailing Series course [ie ultra-short, inshore]. You have not only got to be good at accelerating and boat handling, but now you have to hold your top end speed well, and hold your lane, so more traditional skills come into it as well. So I think a more rounded team will win this year. With nine events you could have 4-5 regatta winners.”

However tomorrow the nature of the event changes with the advent of stadium racing compared to ‘open water racing’. The last two days have been conventional windward-leewards, albeit short lasting less than half an hour. Tomorrow regardless of the wind angle the course will be set up along the beach. As Carr puts it: “tonight we have to get into a different mindset getting into the short course crash and burn stuff.” This could produce a whole different set of winners.


Pos Team R1 R2 R3 R4 R5 R6 R7 R8 R9 R10 R11 Tot
1 Groupe Edmond de Rothschild 6 7 9 11 11 5 10 11 11 9 11 101
2 Alinghi 7 8 11 6 9 8 11 10 9 5 7 91
3 The Wave, Muscat 10 11 8 7 2 11 2 7 10 11 10 89
4 Red Bull Extreme Sailing 9 5 6 9 3 7 9 9 7 8 8 80
5 Artemis Racing 11 6 10 8 5 9 7 8 4 6 2 76
6 Oman Air 8 9 7 5 10 3 5 5 8 10 4 74
7 Team New Zealand 1 10 4 4 6 6 8 6 6 7 6 64
8 Luna Rossa 5 1 5 10 7 10 6 4 1 4 9 62
9 Team Extreme 3 4 3 2 4 1 3 3 5 3 5 36
10 Niceforyou 4 3 2 3 8 4 1 1 2 1 3 29
11 Team GAC Pindar 2 2 1 1 1 2 4 2 3 2 1 21


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