The Wave, Muscat back in the groove
Sailing conditions were perfect; a building sea breeze that eventually hit 17 knots for the final two races, and the open-water format with long downwind legs allowed the Extreme 40s to really stretch their legs meaning plenty of bow-down, hull flying and water-spraying action.
After scoring first blood in the first race, Leigh McMillan and his crew on race favourite The Wave, Muscat start the 2013 Series where they left off in 2012 - at the top of the leaderboard at the end of day.
"It went pretty well - a solid opening day," commented McMillan who is sailing this year with two Omani sailors in the crew, rather just one. "It was really fantastic sailing conditions on a normal race course, upwind-downwind in 15 knots – it doesn’t get much better. It was pretty exciting and the racing was really close and we enjoyed it. It started out at 11 knots and gradually built up to 15-16 right at the end. It gave everyone a chance to warm up in the building breeze and get used to it. We had a bit of space so it wasn’t too close and too crash bang – like you get with the stadium racing. It was a good opener for everyone trying to get warmed up and get going."
Roman Hagara and his crew on Red Bull Sailing Team certainly seemed to have wings today, scoring two bullets and getting their 2013 campaign off to a flying start. They finished the day just one point shy of The Wave, Muscat. Hagara, in this morning’s press conference it clear this year nothing but the podium would suffice, said: “It was perfect today, I mean we had good conditions, we had good boat handling and the team were doing a really good job on the course. I will be taking it day by day now, the hardest thing will be staying in the top, I think tomorrow it will change because we’re inside and it’s a completely different game, but still we always try to be on the top.”
While Oman Air may not be back this year, their skipper Morgan Larson is and came out firing on all cylinders as tactician on Ernesto Bertarelli’s Alinghi. Despite problems furling the spinnaker in race three which quickly saw them fall from first to last, the Swiss entry didn’t let it break their stride, finishing the day in third.
On sailing with a new team, Larson commented: “Alinghi is a polished team. They’ve been doing it for a very long time, so they don’t need to talk, they just sail the boat, so the hardest part for them is probably working me into the equation! I made a boat handling mistake that cost us, but as a team we sailed well and I think we should be happy with today’s performance. The level of racing was excellent – we have gained some new boat’s this year who are pushing hard so I think all and all its very competitive.”
Robert Greenhalgh showed he has lost none of his edge as skipper of Team Duqm Oman, the invitational team in Muscat. Winner of the inaugural Extreme Sailing Series in 2007, Greenhalgh turned it on today, finishing in fourth overall but tied on points with Alinghi.
"I think it has evolved quite a bit," said Greenhalgh of how the ESS has come in his five year absence from the circuit. "The teams are quite a bit more competitive now, so it is just getting used to it again. We had a good day. It wasn’t the easiest opening day. It was quite breezy - up to 18 knots and a very small course and quite choppy, testing conditions. The hardest thing is sailing with four guys I’ve never sailed with before. But we are pretty happy with how we got on, We have got room to improve and there’s plenty to come.
"We have got some good results, including four thirds today. The first two races we were sixth and seventh when we were finding our feet. But most of it is just me seeing how the races unfold and how people get around the race course these days. We are pretty happy with our first day with my having been out of it for five years. It could all change tomorrow."
Realteam, a completely new entry for 2013, relished the breezy conditions, and skipper Jérôme Clerc, the 2012 D35 champion showed some of that winning multihull form today, sailing to victory in race two. “This is very different to all our training and it’s completely different to how it looks in the videos!” he commented. “Considering it was our first day it was quite good for us and tomorrow will bring its own challenges in the stadium. There will definitely be more wins for our team this week – I hope!”
Will Tiller also made his debut today as skipper of GAC Pindar and while he has some experience of big catamaran sailing from the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup, today was his and his crew's first taste of real Extreme 40 racing. “It was pretty different out there, but a lot of fun though! These boats are awesome, and with that much breeze we had quite a bit on.”
When asked what their focus is on tomorrow: “Pretty much everywhere! I mean I felt we were OK speed wise and we had a few races where we were in the mix. The last one we were second and then given a penalty which dropped us right back to last – so I am pretty gutted about that! Other than that, it’s feeling more comfortable around the boat, it’s been about a week sailing on these so just about improving as much as we can.”
Team Korea, another new squad for 2013 and one of the pre-season form guide favourites with Olympic silver medallist Peter Burling at the helm found out just how challenging the Extreme 40 race course can be, finishing the day eighth.
1st The Wave, Muscat (OMA) Leigh McMillan, Ed Smyth, Pete Greenhalgh, Musab Al Hadi, Hashim Al Rashdi 62 points.
2nd Red Bull Sailing Team (AUT) Roman Hagara, Hans Peter Steinacher, Matthew Adams, Pierre Le Clainche, Graeme Spence 61 points.
3rd Alinghi (SUI) Ernesto Bertarelli, Morgan Larson, Pierre Yves Jorand, Nils Frei, Yves Detrey 47 points.
4th Team Duqm Oman (OMA) Robert Greenhalgh, Bleddyn Mon, Will Howden, Andrew Walsh, Nasser Al Mashari 47 points.
5th Realteam (SUI) Jérome Clerc, Bryan Mettraux, Arnaud Psarofaghis, Cédric Schmidt, Thierry Wasem 43 points.
6th SAP Extreme Sailing Team (DEN) Jes Gram-Hansen, Rasmus Kostner, Pete Cumming, Mikkel Røssberg, Nicolai Sehested 40 points.
7th GAC Pindar (NZL) Will Tiller, Brad Farrand, Stewart Dodson, Harry Thurston, Shaun Mason 34 points.
8th Team Korea (KOR) Peter Burling, Blair Tuke, Mark Bulkeley, Sungwok Kim, Matt Cornwell 30 points.