Oman Sail hoping to achieve the 1-2
Oman Sail starts the final event of the 2012 Extreme Sailing Series in the Brazilian hotspot of Rio de Janeiro in a strong position, holding the top two positions in the nine boat fleet.
In fact with an 8.5 point margin, Leigh McMillan’s crew on The Wave, Muscat has one of the biggest leads going into a season’s last event, in the history of the Extreme Sailing Series. This follows an incredible season where they have won three events - in Qingdao (China), Istanbul (Turkey) and Porto (Portugal) - and finished second in the three others. If The Wave, Muscat maintains this consistency in Rio then they are set to win the 2012 Extreme Sailing Series by the largest margin since Basilica’s victory in 2007.
Being the final event of the season, results in Rio are weighted with a 1.5x co-efficient. This means that if Oman Air wins, then The Wave, Muscat must finish better than sixth to secure the 2012 championship. But with as many as 30 races to sail off the South American hotstop, skipper Leigh McMillan says they are not resting on their laurels: “It would be easy enough to mess it up, so we have to push as hard as we have all year. The reality is we don’t want to go out on a bit of a negative and just scrape it. We want to continue the form that we’ve had all year and have a good last event. It would be quite an achievement to finish inside the top two all year.”
The Wave, Muscat is once again sailing with Welsh Olympic 470 silver medallist Hannah Mills in the ‘fifth man’ position, as she was in Nice.
The race area this week is spectacular - off Flamengo Beach just inside the mouth of the harbour, with Rio de Janiero’s iconic Sugarloaf Mountain as a backdrop. This will make conditions challenging, particularly as the long term forecast indicates racing will be held in predominantly light winds.
Across the two Omani teams, a few of the crew have raced in Rio before. The second ever event for the Extreme 40s was sailed here in 2007 during the Volvo Ocean Race when McMillan and Will Howden were competing on Motorola and Pete Greenhalgh was on Basilica.
Aboard Oman Air, Morgan Larson hasn’t had the benefit of previously sailing in the venue that will in 2014 host the FIFA World Cup Final and the 2016 Olympic Games. It should be remembered that while McMillan is an old hand in the Extreme 40s, this is the Oman Air skipper’s first season racing the high performance catamarans, so to be holding second place at this stage is testament to his ability as a competitive yachtsman.
Larson says that while he would very much like to beat his teammates on The Wave, Muscat, of more importance is defending Oman Air’s second position. For they face two stiff challenges, one just two points behind them in the form of the highly experience Groupe Edmond de Rothschild, led by Pierre Pennec, the other from Red Bull Sailing Team, skippered by Austrian double Olympic gold medallist Roman Hagara, a further 2.5 points behind Pennec’s team.
While a 1-2 would be Oman’s best ever result in the Extreme Sailing Series, the program also aims to provide Omani sailors with experience competing at the highest level. While old hand Nasser Al Mashari is sailing on Oman Air, Hashim Al Rashdi is on his way to completing his first season on The Wave, Muscat.
“Our game has moved on massively and Hashim is getting better and better with each event and we are pushing him harder and harder as he gets more in tune with the boat,” says Leigh McMillan. “For his first season he’s done really well and we want to continue to help him improve and to be a real natural Extreme 40 sailor. He has developed into one of the core crew, so he has to learn to adapt to every situation, take on different roles if people get out of place and we get behind, etc. He is getting there.”
Morgan Larson, who has been around the blocks, from Olympic 49er sailing to the America’s Cup to numerous keel boat classes, is impressed with Nasser Al Mashari: “He is a really talented athlete. He’ll go far in sailing. We are pushing to have a second Omani on our boat next year, if we continue.”
Al Mashari is excited, but also proud, of the possibility of Omani teams ending the 2012 Extreme Sailing Series in the top two spots. “Inshallah, if it happens like that, that will be the first time for us in the Extreme Sailing Series. Of course, I’d love Oman Air to win, but if another Omani team wins the series it achieves the goal of raising the Oman flag at the top.”
Racing gets underway on Thursday, 6 December with an open water course off Rio’s famous Copacabana Beach, before moving inside the harbour with stadium sailing off Flamengo Beach from Friday, 7 December, the event concluding on Sunday 9 December.