After a much-improved showing at the Extreme Sailing Series in Cardiff, the Australian GAC Pindar team stumbled on the final day but managed to avoid the wooden spoon.
The down-side of winning a day's racing is that you are no longer the hunter. Suddenly you become the hunted and the gaps that might have opened up when you posed no threat suddenly get slammed shut.
So it was that Nathan Wilmot found getting off the line at the pin end much more difficult on the final day. In the first two races he scored only five points and was back at the foot of the table.
The definition of stupidity is to keep doing what you've been doing, expecting a different result. Wilmot changed ends and it paid dividends with a second placing, followed by upper mid-fleet finishes that scored him 5, 6 and 7 points and elevated GAC Pindar above Emirates Team New Zealand for the first time.
The Kiwis tried to hit back, but a disastrous bingle at the bottom mark saw them stuck in irons and almost the entire fleet flew past. Then, in the next race, both antipodean boats were caught out at the start, had to duck the fleet twice and finished with a point apiece.
Now there were just six points between eighth and eleventh place. GAC Pindar was eighth on 139, a single point ahead of Groupama, five ahead of Gazprom and six ahead of ETNZ.
At the front, Alinghi continued to mix good results with very poor ones and JP Morgan moved up to equal points with them, seven behind The Wave, Muscat.
After a general recall, it was announced that there would be just one more race and it would be for double points. There was an instruction to put a reef in the main as the wind had built to nearly 20 knots, which also caused the guest sailors to be removed from all boats.
The equation for the Australians was fairly simple – beat Groupama and don't let the Kiwis or the Russians get more than one boat in front. Leigh McMillan on The Wave had to finish within three boats of JP Morgan and Alinghi to win the Act.
The suspense was compounded by shifting winds which delayed setting the course, and there were some nervous sailors as the fleet finally lined up right in front of the grandstand.
In a bizarre final race, the four lowest-placed boats finished in the top four, and the three highest-placed boats finished in bottom three!
The Australians started mid-line, which has never worked for them, and sadly they were again gassed and blown out the back. Gazprom led from start to finish to snatch eighth place overall, followed by ETNZ, Groupama and GAC Pindar. The Australians equalled their best finish ever at 10th, but it could have been so much better. Groupama were ninth and ETNZ in an uncharacteristic last place.
Match racing at the front, all three contenders got into trouble and all were forced to do penalty turns. Ironically, last place was easily good enough for Leigh McMillan and The Wave, finishing five points ahead of Alinghi and seven ahead of JP Morgan.
Nathan Wilmot was disappointed to have fallen short of eighth place, but was pleased with the progress. “The team did a really good job and fought hard,” he said. “Apart from a few races on the first day, for the rest of the regatta we sailed pretty well. Our starts were a lot better and it's a shame we only get one point, when we sailed pretty well all week.”
He added that they had tried to keep the boat calm and do the simple things. “We watched Alinghi and saw that when they had problems they went back to basics. We tried to sail simple and it worked.”
The Extreme Sailing Series moves to Istanbul in Turkey for Act 6 from September 11 to 14. Act 7 is in Nice, France, from October 2 to 5 and the season finale will be held on Sydney Harbour from December 11 to 14.
– Roger McMillan