Morgan Larsen and his Alinghi crew all but wrapped up the 2014 Extreme Sailing Series today in Sydney. The American skipper on the Swiss boat had two wins but more significantly was never below the middle of the pack, effectively putting paid to the hopes of defending champion Leigh McMillan on The Wave, Muscat. McMillan had a win and two second placings, but was at the back of the fleet too often and sits in third place in the Sydney series, behind Alinghi and Realteam.
Conditions were excellent for Extreme catamaran racing, with a moderate southerly slowly moving round to the east during the afternoon, allowing race officials to set a course that pleased the thousands of fans who packed Mrs Macquarie's Chair.
They had plenty to cheer about as the two Australian skippers led at various times around the top mark which was placed only 30 metres from the shoreline.
Nathan Wilmot, the 2008 Olympic 470 champion sailing GAC Pindar, was the first to receive loud applause as he nailed the start of the second race and swept around the mark with a big lead. Course announcer Nick Moloney reminded the crowd it was Nathan's 35th birthday and they erupted with loud clapping and cheering. Wilmot chanced a glance over his shoulder and gave a nod of thanks.
Unfortunately, showing the inconsistency these Extreme 40s are famous for, Wilmot was OCS in three of the next four races but would receive the plaudits again in the seventh of the eight races when he again nailed the start and led all the way to the finish.
Wilmot commented: “Birthday's don't get much better than picking up wins in front of our home crowd on Sydney Harbour. Racing was really competitive today but it was great to record a couple of wins. Consistency wasn't there for us but there were some really positive signs of improvement, particularly when the team came alive in the races we won.”
Perhaps the revelation of the day, though, was the performance of 2012 Olympic Laser champion and America's Cup winner Tom Slingsby and Oman Air. Claiming he had “let the team down” the previous day (his first ever racing an Extreme 40), Slingsby came out with all guns blazing. Although he didn't win a race, he had two seconds and three thirds and was tied with Morgan Larsen as winners of the second day.
Slingsby is an aggressive sailor and the close-quarter racing of the Extreme circuit seems to suit his style. As he cleared a space for himself on the line for the last race, the other announcer, Neville Witty, commented that he wouldn't like to start directly above Slingsby. “You could probably describe him as a wolf in wolf's clothing,” he said.
The solid performance from both Australians has seen them climb off the bottom of the table. Oman Air lies seventh and GAC Pindar ninth.
Crash and Bash
It was an unfortunate day for another Olympic champion, GBR's Sir Ben Ainslie. In the second race of the day he was involved in a very tight mark rounding and was hit from behind by Realteam. The sound of the collision carried clearly to the crowd and their were gasps of surprise. Most also heard a few expletives from Ben's bowman.
The impact sheared the tiller bar and left JP Morgan BAR with no steering and for a moment it looked as though they would hit the rocks where the spectators were perched. But quick action from the support rib saw a line attached and the boat was towed to Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron for repairs.
It cost Ainslie two races, for which he will probably receive redress, before he got back on the course just in time to sneak round the pin as the gun went for race five. As well as a penalty turn in race two, Realteam was given a 45 second start penalty in the next race. In Extreme Sailing they sort things out on the water.
It was another spectacular day of close racing and everyone in the crowd was buzzing with excitement. I took the time to walk among them and ask what they thought and the most common response was “awesome”.
The event wraps up tomorrow with another tight schedule of 8 – 10 races which start at 2pm.
Boats can moor next to the course and excellent viewing is available free of charge at Mrs Macquarie's Chair.
Extreme Sailing Series Act 8 Sydney presented by Land Rover standings after Day 3, 18 races (13.12.14)
Position / Team / Points
1st Alinghi (SUI) Morgan Larson, Stuart Pollard, Pierre-Yves Jorand, Nils Frei, Yves Detrey 127 points.
2nd Realteam by Realstone (SUI) Jérôme Clerc, Arnaud Psarofaghis, Bruno Barbarin, Bryan Mettraux, Thierry Wasem 125 points.
3rd The Wave, Muscat (OMA) Leigh McMillan, Sarah Ayton, Pete Greenhalgh, Ed Smyth, Nasser Al Mashari 120 points.
4th J.P. Morgan BAR (GBR) Ben Ainslie, Nick Hutton, Paul Campbell-James, Bleddyn Mon, Matt Cornwell 108 points.
5th SAP Extreme Sailing Team (DEN) Jes Gram-Hansen, Rasmus Køstner, Thierry Douillard, Christian Kamp, Brad Farrand 103 points.
6th Red Bull Sailing Team (AUT) Roman Hagara, Hans Peter Steinacher, Mark Bulkeley, Shaun Mason, Stewart Dodson 100 points.
7th Oman Air (OMA) Tom Slingsby, Ted Hackney, Kyle Langford, Joey Newton, Ali Al Balashi 87 points.
8th Gazprom Team Russia (RUS) Igor Lisovenko, Phil Robertson, Garth Ellingham, Pete Cumming, Aleksey Kulakov 83 points.
9th GAC Pindar (AUS) Nathan Wilmot, Seve Jarvin, Matt Mitchell, Tyson Lamond, James Wierzbowski 79 points.
10th Groupama sailing team (FRA) Franck Cammas, Tanguy Cariou, Romain Motteau, Thierry Fouchier, Hervé Cunningham 73 points.
– Roger McMillan, Editor.