The Wave on the attack
Battle lines were drawn up in particular between Alinghi and The Wave, Muscat. It was a game of cat and mouse as the Swiss and Omani flagged teams hunted each other around the compact race course, which at times resulted in a few near misses and protest flags being unfurled.
Alinghi did well to defend her lead and cling onto a three-point advantage at close of play, as both teams have one eye firmly fixed on each other while looking over their shoulders at the rest of the fleet where only 20 points separates positions two to six – the difference of just two races - going into tomorrow’s penultimate day in China’s Olympic Sailing City.
After yesterday’s open water racing Morgan Larson, helming Ernesto Bertarelli’s team Alinghi in Qingdao, had a 11 point advantage over the fleet but today initially struggled with the flukey conditions allowing some of his advantage to slip away. Cool as ever, Larson did well to remain calm, despite McMillan piling on the pressure.
As Larson reflected after racing: “We made it too complicated in the beginning of the day. In conditions like this you just have to simplify things, keep the boat pointed at the marks and don’t get too tricky. We’ve reminded ourselves of that half way through the day and we improved again. It is fun having a little tussle with The Wave, Muscat. They are really good!"
There was a certain amount of pressure on McMillan coming into this event to perform after an out of character fifth place for his team in Singapore, and today’s reunion of McMillan with his former Team GBR Olympic Tornado crew, Will Howden, who last sailed together on these waters at the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008, seemed to give the team the golden touch sailing to three race wins and upgrading them to second place.
“Today was good for us and a bit of a turnaround after the last event and yesterday, when we made a few mistakes," said McMillan. "We have been working really hard in turning that around and made a lot of emphasis in making sure that we sail well together and we communicate well. That´s what we did today so this is the result of that hard work. The team is happy as we sailed really well and we are back to our usual groove and looking forward to the next few days."
The surrounding buildings casting a wind shadow over the race course and lots of big shifts made for another difficult day for the teams with big gains but adversely big losses to be made. SAP Extreme Sailing Team's co-skipper and tactician Rasmus Kostner, whose Danish team managed to sail a steady day to hold onto fourth place, was one team relishing the Qingdao weather. “We love it here, 15°C and rain, it’s like a Danish summer! I think in the stadium racing everything changes so quickly you just have to take what you can and if you wait too long you might miss your opportunity. We had some good races today but we also had a couple where we misread the course a bit but it happens, and I think it will be really close on the leaderboard”.
Will Tiller, the young Kiwi skipper of GAC Pindar in his debut Extreme 40 year, was a bit of a silent danger today, delivering a string of consistent results and slowing chipping away at the leaderboard before a win in the penultimate race bolstered the teams position from sixth to third place, much to his surprise after racing.
“We had no idea we had done so well today!" Tiller commented. "With stadium racing, we seem to be a bit better and I think today we managed to find our way through the pack really nicely in a couple of races and then when we got good starts we happened to have the speed to stay in front, so that was really good.”
Red Bull Sailing Team’s gold medal winning partnership of skipper Roman Hagara and tactician Hans-Peter Steinacher have sailed on these waters more than other duo competing this week including the 2005 pre-Olympics and the 2008 Olympics Games. After struggling to find their normal pace yesterday, today saw a return to form for the Austrians with a bullet in the opening race and another in race 11, resulting in a gain of three places on the leaderboard to fifth, showing just how quickly things can change on the stadium race course.
Unfortunately for Jérome Clerc’s Realteam, the scenario was reversed, and the Fushan Bay stadium punished them hard, falling four places to finish the day sixth. Mitch Booth, Extreme 40 co-creator and skipper of China Team, has returned to the Extreme Sailing Series after a three year hiatus, and it hasn’t taken long for the Aussie legend to find his feet again, as one of five teams to win races today.
As the Extreme 40s go into the penultimate day tomorrow, the teams can expect plenty of more close racing on the short stadium courses as they fight to secure their positions on the leaderboard before the final day.
Results after 13 races
1st Alinghi (SUI) Morgan Larson, Stuart Pollard, Pierre Yves Jorand, Nils Frei, Yves Detrey 102 points.
2nd The Wave, Muscat (OMA) Leigh McMillan, Ed Smyth, Pete Greenhalgh, Musab Al Hadi, Will Howden 99 points.
3rd GAC Pindar (NZL) Will Tiller, Shaun Mason, Stewart Dodson, Harry Thurston, Matt Steven 85 points.
4th SAP Extreme Sailing Team (DEN) Jes Gram-Hansen, Rasmus Kostner, Pete Cumming, Mikkel Røssberg, Nicolai Sehested 82 points.
5th Red Bull Sailing Team (AUT) Roman Hagara, Hans Peter Steinacher, Matthew Adams, Simon Cook, Graeme Spence 80 points.
6th Realteam (SUI) Jerome Clerc, Bryan Mettraux, Arnaud Psarofaghis, Cédric Schmidt, Thierry Wasem 79 points.
7th China Team (CHN) Mitch Booth, Wen Zijin, Yingkit Cheng, Liu Xue, Zhang Yiran 76 points.
8th Team Korea (KOR) Peter Burling, Matt Vincent, Mark Bulkeley, Tom Johnson, Sungwok Kim 73 points.