Victory for Gitana in Oman
The Extreme Sailing Series season opener here at The Wave, Muscat in Oman, has been won by French former Olympic Tornado sailor Pierre Pennec and his crew of Christophe Espagnon, Thierry Fouchier and Herve Cunningham aboard Groupe Edmond de Rothschild.
The Gitana team never seemed to excell but their consistency was enough to finish the five day regatta 10 points clear of Terry Hutchinson's Artemis Racing. 10 points sounds like it wasn't close, but this end result was after an incredible 32 races (a record?) and a double points concluder, with Pennec's team scoring 253 (in the high points scoring system).
'So what's the secret to Gitana's success?' we put it to headsail trimmer Thierry Fouchier. "I don’t know if there is any secret. The main thing is that Pierre [Pennec] was new at the helm. We know he knows how to drive a catamaran because he had done the Tornado Olympic campaign before, but the Extreme 40 is a tricky thing and he needs a lot of information and we tried to give him that every day, to improve himself and we need to improve ourselves also. The key was to stay low profile, to sail race by race and the thing with this is you can get a first place and after that get an eighth so you really have to stay focussed. The main thing was to give Pierre confidence and to let him look outside of the boat as soon as possible because we know we have to be fast and not do silly things."
For example today Gitana opened the batting with a second, then a 10th and then a win, in the 11 boat fleet, once again in the stadium format, today the Omani crowds swelled substantially it being the first day of their Thursday-Friday weekend.
"The first day when it was breezy we had a good day, because we knew the boat and we had good speed. So it was a good beginning for us and after it was just trying to do the best we can," continued Fouchier, sailing his second season on Baron Benjamin de Rothschild's blue catamaran having previous raced the 33rd America's Cup operating the headsail on BMW Oracle Racing's winning USA 17 trimaran.
"The America’s Cup was more like a speed race around the track. Here it is also a speed race but also the course is very short and tricky and you have to stay out of trouble, to get no penalties. And you have to make good start – a big part of the race is the start, so that is what we tried to do this week. We did well, but I think everyone is going to step up so we need to step up with them and try to compete."
Just four points behind second placed Artemis Racing, making up the podium was Olympic Tornado double gold medallist Roman Hagara and his Red Bull Extreme Sailing team, which scored their best result since joining the circuit at the beginning of last year. For this season Hagara and his regular Tornado crewman Hans Peter Steinacher have two strong crewmen in Extreme 40 veteran Will Howden and the Popeye figure of Finn bronze medallist and America's Cup grinder, Craig Monk.
"As the week went on the team bonded and we got tighter and tighter, the racing got tougher and tougher though so a nice regatta and we are pretty happy with outcome. Getting a podium in our first regatta, it is a good start to the season," said Monk. Despite his very conventional monohull Olympics and America's Cup background, Monk says he has been enjoying the stadium racing. "It is nice doing so many races and options and lots of mark rounding and opportunities. It keeps it open. It is easy to come 11th."
They too were not immune to incidents and in one race today were held up at the weather mark when the boat ahead of them went head to wind and got caught in irons. "The thing is about this racing is that you can brush off a bad race. You don't dwell on it, you just move on." After his week here and the training her put in in Oman beforehand, Monk returns to the opposite end of the sailing spectrum competing with fellow Kiwi Hamish Pepper in the Star class at the Bacardi Cup in Miami. "I’ll be trying to forget everything I have learned here! I don’t think starting on port is going to work!"
In fact the highest scorer today was Paul Campbell-James' Luna Rossa team which today scored 11 points more than the second placer, Dean Barker and Emirates Team NZ, to end the regatta in fifth place.
Luna Rossa coach, Ben Durham, one of James Spithill's original posse commented on his first Extreme Sailing Series regatta and catamaran experience: "It is a bit different, but it is the same basic concepts of sailing you have to get right and you get punished if you don’t get it right. In the light airs today keeping the boat moving and staying out of trouble was important. Today we had three wins and it was a great way to finish with good starts and sailing a clean race and keeping the boat going fast. The basics are all the same in any boat you sail. It is a tough fleet with plenty of talented sailors here."
Durham is sold on the stadium sailing format, although he has found the techniques for this is different to the more conventional 'open course' racing held on the first two days here. "In stadium it is more the technique of keeping the boat going and looking for a little bit of puff and keep it flying. For the longer races there was probably a little bit more in the boat speed in understanding the trim and tune of the boats." Durham is now off to Perth to sail an Etchell with Australia 2 America's Cup legend Skip Lissiman.
For Torvar Mirsky, helmsman of the home team's boat, The Wave, Muscat today was generally disappointing, despite running race 30, today's fifth to end the regatta seventh.
"No matter what happened, we were going to be happy and we are," commented skipper Torvar Mirsky. "It is just a bit of a downer that we started the regatta so well and we finished a little bit poorly.
"I found it really tough. The competition is really hot and the boats are demanding nd the format, the size of the stadium course is really small. Obviously it is going to be really cut throat if you make a mistake, you lose one boat and then you lose another five boats. I just have to make sure we learn from what happened and build on that. The first two days when we were out on the larger course was much more like our training. I think we felt quite comfortable with that and our results showed that. Once we got to the very cut-throat, very quick, small course stuff, I don’t think we were very prepared for that and it really showed. We were struggling and our performance went down."
Unfortunate from her due to the boats being shipped to the next regatta in Qingdao, China, then on to Istanbul, Boston and Cowes, there isn't going to be much opportunity to train.
This was not helped by incidents both today and yesterday when they avoided going aground but collided with Alinghi while today, more embarrassingly, they hit their team mates on Oman Air. "That does not make our boat builder Phil happy because he has some work to do now." Yesterday it was the port bow being worked on. After today's prang, boat builder Phil now has the starboard bow to work on. "We have to make it up to him some way."
Following the Oman regatta, the Extreme Sailing Series now moves on to Qingdao to be held over 13-17 April.
|1||Groupe Edmond de Rothschild||2||10||1||7||2||5||5||59||253|
|3||Red Bull Extreme Sailing||9||4||3||10||4||4||3||56||239|
|4||Team New Zealand||4||3||7||9||7||2||2||60||236|
|7||The Wave, Muscat||5||8||8||6||1||9||8||43||208|
|11||Team GAC Pindar||6||9||10||11||9||11||11||18||62|