If anyone knows the Extreme Sailing Series, it’s David ‘Freddie’ Carr.
The British sailor raced in the inaugural circuit in 2007 – back then for the iShares Cup – before going on to win it in 2009 with Oman Sail Masirah. He is now part of the 2014 broadcast commentary team and, as such, he has seen the Series from both sides of the track.
With the 2014 season at its halfway stage, Freddie takes a look back at the first four Acts of the year, which have provided an action-filled five months in stadium venues across the globe, and reflects on the evolution of the circuit, the results so far and the inevitable question on foiling.
Over the last two years, two teams have really dominated and locked horns in the Extreme Sailing Series, with The Wave, Muscat and Alinghi very much at the forefront and setting the – incredibly high – standard. Coming into this season, it was obvious they were going to come out of the blocks very strong at Act 1, Singapore and Act 2, Muscat because they’ve raced on these Stadium racecourses before, and they knew there would be new teams joining this season, who would potentially take a little longer to gel. These two elite-level teams are without doubt the standout crews and I take my hat off to them, as I thought the newer teams would put them under more pressure than they have after four Acts. Realteam and Emirates Team New Zealand managed to get in-between them in Qingdao, but other than that, they’ve finished in first and second position in every Act so far – maybe I underestimated just how good those two skippers are (Leigh McMillan, The Wave, Muscat and Morgan Larson, Alinghi). They’ve been phenomenal so far this year.
Another standout team for me has been Realteam. They got a third place in Singapore after a big crash with Oman Air, where they were given a redress. There were a few mumbles on shore but they’ve gone and backed up that third place with a second position in China and a fifth in Russia, quashing any doubts they may be a one trick horse. Jerome Clerc and those guys are sailing so well, and they’re the real surprise team for me this year – they’re mixing it up, they’re sailing the boat well and they’ve really stepped up this season – and there isn’t a single rock star name onboard.
The majority of chat has focused on the new teams, and the team leading the charge is Emirates Team New Zealand – they’re just the consistent team. Day in, day out they’re chipping away at the top five positions and they’re doing that whilst changing their crew, and putting new people through their programme. I think that’s all credit to their sailing philosophy where they’ve taken Peter Burling, Blair Tuke and young Edwin Delaat and they’ve already moulded them into their Emirates Team New Zealand style of sailors. I really think there’s chance that the team can go on and win a regatta in the second part of the 2014 season.
The venues we’ve visited this year have been superb, they’re just brilliant Extreme 40 sailing venues. When I first competed in the Series in 2007, event organisers OC Sport had a vision of what the event could be, and it just kept getting 10% better each year. I stepped away from the Series and did the America’s Cup, and have come back to commentate in 2014, and it’s just blown me away! In the early days there was this big conversation about ‘Stadium Racing’, making sailing exciting and close to the shore, and Race Director Phil Lawrence has absolutely hit that nail on the head with the good quality racing at each Act. There’s been a shift within the sailors mind-set that Stadium Racing is the future of sailing and I believe the Extreme Sailing Series is still the only out–and-out Stadium Racing Series.
Act 1, Singapore was phenomenal. You’re in the guts of the city racing in amongst the skyscrapers. We were worried that there was going to be no wind, but to be honest, the gusts that were coming in over the skyscrapers from five to 12 knots were hitting so fast that it tested the sailors more than they’ve ever been tested. We saw the crash between Oman Air and Realteam, Alinghi almost capsize and then that phenomenal incident between Team Aberdeen Singapore and Groupama sailing team – it was just such a fantastic way to start the season.
Then we went to Muscat, and the thing that was great about this event was that on the final day, rather than just two teams gunning for the Act win, we had any one of five teams that could have won. Act 3 was in China, and Qingdao never fails to deliver. With the mixed conditions it was just a completely different test for the sailors each day. We had that huge collision between Red Bull Sailing Team and Alinghi, which was one of the biggest crashes I’ve ever seen. That aside, it was just great racing in the 2008 Olympic venue.
Act 4, Saint Petersburg was unbelievable. It took an immense amount of effort from the organisation team to get the Series racing in the centre of the city, and on the final two days it was arguably one of the best venues I’ve ever seen in terms of ticking all the boxes – a venue in the heart of a massive city, an incredible backdrop with short, sharp, fun Extreme 40 racing which tested the sailors skills to the very limits.
The Series is now starting to make a history at the venues it’s returning to. It’s built strong relationships with those cities, and the crowd numbers are genuinely growing as people come back year on year to watch the world-class sailors in action. During the 34th America’s Cup, foiling catamarans became very prevalent, and was put to the forefront of the sailing world. Foiling is a lot of fun, but in the Extreme Sailing Series, the Extreme 40 is designed to race on bits of water that no other boat can feasibly race on. If the organisers turned the Extreme 40 into a foiling boat, the fact is, we couldn’t go to these awesome venues like Singapore, Saint Petersburg and Cardiff. Yes, we could race close to shore, but the racecourse would be double the length, which wouldn’t benefit the spectator group we’ve built. You have to look at what the Series is pitching itself to be. You have to look at how flying a boat out of the water compares to flying a really high hull in the sky. Having stood on the shore watching a bit of both, you get as much of a gasp of excitement as a big gust hits and puts a boat on a massive hull versus when it pops out of the water and flies.
I think the Series has to keep delivering what it says it is – it’s a global Stadium Racing tour that really appeals to its sponsors. It’s just awesome, the venues we go to and the areas we race in. The Extreme Sailing Series is all about bringing sailing close to shore in these amazing, iconic cities.