Extreme Sailing Series: 22 races and still only one point separation
Despite 22 races now having been sailed over three days at the Extreme Sailing Series Muscat, the leaderboard shows no sign of easing up with season favourite Groupe Edmond de Rothschild, steered by French Tornado ace Pierre Pennec, still just one slender point ahead of Oman Air and her newbie crew led by American Morgan Larson. However the chasing pack are gaining momentum, with the Leigh McMillan-steered The Wave, Muscat closing to within four points of her teammates, leaving five of the eight teams in contention for the podium at the end of play tomorrow.
Today, the first of the weekend here in Muscat, Oman, the wind speed nosed into double figures for the first time and had veered onshore. The start line and leeward gate were positioned close to the VIP tent and spectator area allowing a bird's eye of the Extreme 40s as they undertook reaching starts, followed by a short opening leg and the heavy high speed congestion at the first mark and subsequently flew by the spectators on one hull under genniker. The tight stadium sailing action resulted in numerous penalties and a few scrapes, while Alinghi found herself entangled with race marks on two occasions.
Pierre Pennec’s crew on Groupe Edmond de Rothschild scored the first bullet of the day, but could only claim one more in today's eight races. Loick Peyron helming Eric Maris' Zoulou scored her first race win of this regatta in the second race, with Alinghi taking the third, then GAC Pindar.
In the next race GAC Pindar crewman Mark Bulkeley suffered a minor injury to his forehead, diverting the crew’s attention as Pennec claimed the win.
“Coming in for a hoist, the spinnaker gets thrown round the shroud to keep it out of the way,” explained the former British Olympic Tornado sailor. “And the furling unit just caught me on the side of the head – there was a bit of blood but nothing too serious.” With Bulkeley’s head injury attended to the British team bounced back to win the next race.
Leigh McMillan’s crew on The Wave, Muscat had the most consistent day on the water, winning the penultimate race helping them to close on the two overall race leaders. “The firsts reach was only about 100m long so we always came to the first mark, 3 or 4 boats wide, gennakers unfurling, lots of close contact manoeuvres, full on!" he said. "We managed to keep it quite clean, only get 1 penalty today – we got to close to Red Bull and took a penalty but that’s what the racing was like today. We’re getting into a good place and we’re hoping to go out tomorrow and finish it off.”
The Roman Hagara-steered Red Bull Sailing Team also sailed well, managing to hold on to fourth place ahead of GAC Pindar.
Tanguy Cariou, tactician on seventh placed Alinghi commented: “It was tough and too many marks too round! It was the first ‘real’ Extreme stadium day as yesterday was quite light and longer races. Today was a lot more intense with the course and the reaching starts. From the start full-speed on 16-17 knots boat speed and it was a tough day for us. As a team we have so many things to learn to be efficient.”
But once again, the new kids on the block aboard Oman Air, remain the toast of this regatta. “Radical!” said skipper Morgan Larson. “It was an entertaining day definitely. We knew we might struggle a bit when the breeze came up with me and my timing, mainly it was the starting as I didn’t have any training on the reaching starts and I need a lot! I guess when you go out there and do 8 races, you can some practice, and finally in the last race I got it. It’s a challenge, there’s a lot of team pushing hard and it can go either way on the start if you get it one second wrong you get shot out the back or over early. Today has tightened the field up a lot with Red Bull and Pindar, and The Wave who had an awesome day, are right on our heels and anyone can still win this one.”
Getting a taste of the Extreme 40 action today was Omani footballer, Saad al-Mukhaini, who was celebrating his team’s win against Thailand the night before to continue on their World Cup qualifying journey. Al-Mukhaini, who is taking part in selection trials for Arsenal, went racing with Oman Air while watching the racing was His Highness Sayyid Tariq bin Shabib Al Said, of the Sultanate of Oman royal family.
Tomorrow racing will start an hour earlier than scheduled at 0900 GMT (1300 local time) to take advantage of the good winds forecast. Live streaming will start at 1030 GMT. As always, the racing will conclude with a double-points final race decider.
Results after day 3, 22 races
1st Groupe Edmond de Rothschild (FRA) Pierre Pennec / Jean-Christophe Mourniac / Hervé Cunningham / Bernard Labro / Adeline Chatenet 121 points
2nd Oman Air (OMA) Morgan Larson / Will Howden / Charlie Ogletree, Nasser Al Mashari, Max Bulger 120 points
3rd The Wave, Muscat (OMA) Leigh McMillan, Ed Smyth, Pete Greenhalgh, Hashim Al Rashdi, Rachel Williamson 116 points
4th Red Bull Sailing Team (AUT) Roman Hagara, Hans Peter Steinacher, Matthew Adams, Graeme Spence, Pierre Le Clainche 110 points
5th GAC Pindar (GBR) Ian Williams / Mark Ivey / Mark Bulkeley, Adam Piggot / Andrew Walsh 102 points
6th ZouLou (FRA) Loick Peyron, Philippe Mourniac, Jean-Sébastien Ponce, Bruno Jeanjean, Antoine Joubert 85 points
7th Alinghi (SUI), Ernesto Bertarelli, Tanguy Cariou, Nils Frei, Yves Detrey, Pierre-Yves Jorand 74 points
8th Team Trifork (DEN) Jes Gram-Hansen, Rasmus Kostner, Pete Cumming, Simon Hiscocks, Jonas Hviid 64 points