30 knot day
It was a full pressure day as the fleet moved into stadium racing mode at the Land Rover Extreme Sailing Series in Qingdao, described by the skippers as "radical", "full-on", "unpredictable" and "gnarly", with gusts up to 32 knots weaving their way through the surrounding skyscrapers like bullets and on to the race course.
The experience of both Alinghi and The Wave, Muscat was evident, and the teams relished today’s big breeze, remaining first and second respectively, while one first and two second places for the Kiwis on Emirates Team New Zealand upgraded their overall position to third.
There was plenty of hull flying, bows down and extremely close mark roundings, with the fleet reaching top speeds of 25 knots as the crews attempted to predict the huge wind shifts and gusts which saw the breeze go from 10 to 32 knots in a second.
Before racing, Race Management made the call to split the fleet, first into groups of eight, and then groups of four, to minimise the chance of collisions on the tight race track given the tough conditions.
Leigh McMillan, skipper of The Wave, Muscat who is out to defend his title in Qingdao, commented: “We like it when the breeze is up, today was pretty radical. Gusts and big shifts is quite a handful. But we’re happy to have made it through the day with no big collisions which is great – it was pretty full on out there.”
Today required a change in mindset for the teams, with the conditions a stark contrast to yesterday’s light airs, as acting skipper of Alinghi, Morgan Larson explained: “At times the boat that would come off the line last would go on to win races. That goes to show that today there was opportunity, whereas yesterday you needed to have a good start and the positioning needed to stay the same – with the shifty winds today it really created opportunity. Most of the time you have to be aggressive on these boats to do well, if you back off and be conservative that’s when trouble seems to happen. So balancing that today was really key and I think we did a good job – we positioned ourselves conservatively but we sailed the boat physically hard, and I think the results show.”
At the hands of 49er World Champion Pete Burling, Emirates Team New Zealand took its first race win of the regatta. London 2012 49er silver medallist Burling and headsail trimmer Blair Tuke are among the hottest duos in sailing at the moment, having won both the Hyères and Palma de Mallorca ISAF World Cup events recently, and showed their versatility alongside their Kiwi teammates, with their first race win in Qingdao helping to elevate their overnight position from fifth to third, four points ahead of the Swiss Realteam.
Another team relishing the conditions was the French Groupama Sailing Team, which, after struggling to get near the top half of the fleet during yesterday’s opening day, turned it around with a win in the final race elevating them from seventh to six place, now three points behind the home nation entry, Team Extreme Qingdao.
Groupama skipper Franck Cammas talked team tactics: “Today was difficult. After yesterday’s racing we had a debrief; we talk all the time and even after each race we try to talk through and analyse our performance. Sometimes it is hard to go into racing with a big plan as you have to react to the opportunities you are faced with at the time. It’s difficult, but our main goal is to be consistent, and then overall I think we will do well.”
The Austrian Red Bull Sailing Team was also on form today, and even a collision in the first race of the day at the bottom mark with Realteam that knocked them out of the race with damage to their rudders couldn’t put them off their stride, going on to win their next two races.
Skipper Roman Hagara was pleased with his team’s performance: “Today was good (despite the collision). It’s really tricky sailing inside the stadium in these conditions, and we know this from past years – we just have to be focused on our skills, we know we have good crew work, our boat handling is good and you just have to make the right decisions. A good start helps, but it’s still tricky on the racecourse with the big gusts – we did well in the races and managed to win two so it’s great.”
Mistakes on the racecourse were punished hard, and misjudging the wind shifts and getting caught in a lull on the track left some teams frustrated. Two time winner of the Series, Paul Campbell-James, helm of Team Russia alongside Russian skipper Igor Lisovenko, felt that was the case for their team: “We’re a little bit frustrated to be honest. We were a bit lackluster in the first race, and we gave away two places in the last run after a stupid manoeuvre. We gave away two spots in the last race and lost two boats by about a metre so we turned what would have been a good day into an average day. We’re racing in the middle of a big city, with 90° wind shifts and breeze going from 5-25 knots – it’s good fun at the end of the day.”
The Russian team is tied on points with SAP Extreme Sailing Team on 55 points, five points behind Groupama Sailing Team.
Following a night of repairs after yesterday’s collision with GAC Pindar, Oman Air was back on the water today and a protest hearing by the International Jury ruled the team will be awarded average points for the eight races it missed yesterday at the end of tomorrow’s racing.
Tomorrow the conditions are expected to abate for the penultimate day’s racing, and the fleet will likely race with all 12 teams, but Sunday’s final showdown looks like it could be played out in even bigger gusts then were seen today, with plenty more action and plenty more races still to be played out.
1st Alinghi (SUI) Morgan Larson, Anna Tunnicliffe, Pierre-Yves Jorand, Nils Frei, Yves Detrey 90 points.
2nd The Wave, Muscat (OMA) Leigh McMillan, Sarah Ayton, Pete Greenhalgh, Kinley Fowler, Nasser Al Mashari 76 points.
3rd Emirates Team New Zealand (NZL) Peter Burling, Glenn Ashby, Blair Tuke, Jeremy Lomas, Edwin Delaat 73 points.
4th Realteam by Realstone (SUI) Jérôme Clerc, Arnaud Psarofaghis, Denis Girardet, Bryan Mettraux, Thierry Wassem 69 points.
5th Team Extreme Qingdao (CHN) Mitch Booth, Zhang Yiran, Liu Xue, Nick Moloney, Freddie White 64 points.
6th Red Bull Sailing Team (AUT) Roman Hagara, Hans-Peter Steinacher, Mark Bulkeley, Nick Blackman, Stewart Dodson 63 points.
7th Groupama sailing team (FRA) Franck Cammas, Sophie de Turckheim, Tanguy Cariou, Thierry Fouchier, Devan Le Bihan 61 points.
8th SAP Extreme Sailing Team (DEN) Jes Gram-Hansen, Rasmus Køstner, Thierry Douillard, Peter Wibroe, Nicolai Sehested 55 points.
9th Gazprom Team Russia (RUS) Igor Lisovenko, Paul Campbell-James, Alister Richardson, Pete Cumming, Aleksey Kulakov 55 points.
10th J.P. Morgan BAR (GBR) Ben Ainslie, Nick Hutton, Paul Goodison, Pippa Wilson, Matt Cornwell 50 points.
11th GAC Pindar (AUS) David Gilmour, Troy Tindill, Ed Smyth, Sam Newton, Alexandra South 34 points.
12th Oman Air (OMA) Rob Greenhalgh, Tom Johnson, Kyle Langford, Hashim Al Rashdi, Musab Al Hadi 16 points.*
*Team awarded average points for the races missed following tomorrow’s racing.