Following a flying start to the 2016 Extreme Sailing Series™ in Muscat, tensions are high with just one week to go before the boats are launched for Act 2 in Qingdao, China.
The fleet of eight, super-fast hydrofoiling GC32 catamarans will take their place on the water in Fushan Bay to commence battle from 29 April – 2 May.
With only one Act under their belts on the new GC32s, many of the crews are still learning the ropes on the foiling flying machines. The crews, from 16 nations, are likely to face tricky wind conditions in Qingdao, making the already steep learning curve even steeper.
In previous years Qingdao has offered edge-of-the-seat entertainment for the fans. In 2011 there was one big collision, one broken mast and four dramatic capsizes, while 2014 saw one of the biggest crashes in Series history between Alinghi and Red Bull Sailing Team.
With the weather changing from flat calms to rolling seas in a matter of minutes, and the towering skyscrapers channeling big gusts of wind that bombard the boats out on the water, the sailors will have to be on their toes, upping the risk factor and reducing the margin for error.
“Qingdao is a challenging venue that can, and does, throw anything and everything at the sailors. It’s our first time there with the GC32s and on Stadium Racing days we will be operating in the confined space of the harbour, which will be a test for the sailors,” said the Extreme Sailing Series Race Director, Phil Lawrence.
The first Chinese flagged team to compete in a full season, which will be officially launched next week, will be joined by Liu Xue, or Black, as he is known, who competes for the team for the first time in his hometown, Qingdao. Black raced on board Dongfeng Race Team, the Chinese entry that finished third in the last edition of the Volvo Ocean Race.
Having just returned from an offshore race in the South China Sea, in which he came second, Black is looking forward to making his 2016 debut: “I am very happy to have the chance to do this race, especially as the first Chinese sailor on the crew. I am excited and proud to compete in my hometown and I hope to gain some experience in this event and help my team achieve a good result,” he said.
Black joins an international crew, including skipper and helm, Taylor Canfield, who has been keeping himself busy since his Extreme Sailing Series debut in Muscat, with a record-breaking performance in the World Match Racing Tour’s Congressional Cup. “We placed third on the final day of Muscat, also the windiest day of the regatta, so bring on the breeze!” said Canfield. “The opening Act was incredible. The racing was tight and small mistakes on the water were often paid for with several places in a race. Being up on the foils in these high performance GC32s definitely adds another element to the game as we are pushing the boats to the limit,” he added.
SAP Extreme Sailing Team, winners of the Qingdao Act in 2015, are hoping history repeats itself. “We know that the racecourse in Qingdao can be difficult and test the teams to their limits but, in the past, we have celebrated some of our finest results there so we are looking forward to being back,” said co-skipper and helm, Jes Gram-Hansen. “The wind conditions and confined space will test starting and tactical skills and, if the breeze is up, teamwork will be key to getting around the racecourse in good shape.”
“Qingdao is a special venue for us as it was where our SAP sponsorship started in 2012 and the venue where we won our first Act on the Extreme Sailing Series. We are sure it will be just as close and exciting as always but also a good opportunity for us to comeback from a disappointing last race in Muscat,” added co-skipper and tactician, Rasmus Køstner.
Red Bull Sailing Team’s Austrian duo, Roman Hagara and Hans-Peter Steinacher, have a history with this venue, having competed here in the 2008 Olympics. Skipper and helm, Roman Hagara, anticipates drama: “Collisions and capsizes are part of the game when you sail against the best sailors on earth, with every team sailing their boat to its limits.”
Oman Air achieved an unprecedented victory in Act 1, winning over 50% of the races in Muscat, and the pressure is on to maintain this form in the more challenging conditions of Qingdao.
With the event falling on May Day Bank holiday in China, the racing promises to draw in the crowds to the free-to-enter public Race Village, guaranteeing a spectacular buzz, while Kiwi sailing legend Peter Lester returns to do the live commentary for those watching online.
The action begins on Friday 29 April with a day of open water racing before the teams take to the Stadium on Saturday 30 April.
Fans around the globe can watch the racing live online on the official event website at the following times:
Sunday 1 May: 1530-1700 GMT+8 Monday 2 May: 1515-1645 GMT+8
The Line-Up – Extreme Sailing Series™ Act 2, Qingdao
Skipper/Helm: Arnaud Psarofaghis (SUI)
Tactician: Nicolas Charbonnier (FRA)
Headsail Trimmer: Nils Frei (SUI)
Bowman: Yves Detrey (SUI)
Floater: Timothé Lapauw (FRA)
Chinese flagged team – name to be announced (CHN)
Skipper/Helm: Taylor Canfield (ISV)
Tactician/Bowman: Chris Steele (NZL)
Mainsail Trimmer: Hayden Goodrick (NZL)
Headsail Trimmer: Shane Diviney (IRL)
Floater: Luke Payne (AUS)/Liu Xue (Black) (CHN)
Land Rover BAR Academy (GBR)
Skipper/Tactician: Bleddyn Môn (GBR)
Helm: Leigh McMillan (GBR)
Headsail Trimmer: Ed Powys (GBR)
Bowman: Neil Hunter (GBR)
Floater: Adam Kay (GBR)
Oman Air (OMA)
Skipper/Helm: Morgan Larson (USA)
Mainsail Trimmer: Pete Greenhalgh (GBR)
Headsail Trimmer: Ed Smyth (NZL/AUS)
Bowmen: Nasser Al Mashari (OMA) & James Wierzbowski (AUS)
Red Bull Sailing Team (AUT)
Skipper/Helm: Roman Hagara (AUT)
Tactician: Hans Peter Steinacher (AUT)
Mainsail Trimmer: Stewart Dodson (NZL)
Headsail Trimmer: Adam Piggott (GBR)
Bowman: Brad Farrand (NZL)
Sail Portugal (POR)
Skipper/Helm: Diogo Cayolla (POR)
Mainsail Trimmer: Bernardo Freitas (POR)
Headsail Trimmer: Javier de la Plaza (ESP)
Bowman: João Matos Rosa (POR)
Floater: Luís Brito (POR)
SAP Extreme Sailing Team (DEN)
Co-Skipper/Helm: Jes Gram-Hansen (DEN)
Co-Skipper/Tactician: Rasmus Køstner (DEN)
Mainsail Trimmer: Mads Emil Stephensen (DEN)
Headsail Trimmer: Pierluigi De Felice (ITA)
Bowman: Renato Conde (POR)
Team Turx (TUR)
Co-skipper/Helm: Stevie Morrison (GBR)
Co-skipper/Floater: Edhem Dirvana (TUR)
Mainsail Trimmer: Cem Gözen (TUR)
Headsail Trimmer: Tom Dawson (GBR)
Bowman: Tom Buggy (GBR)
– Extreme Sailing Series