“Not my finest hour,” was how 2008 Olympic 470 gold medallist Nathan Wilmot described a collision with Groupama on the first day of the Extreme Series in Cardiff.
Trailing at the back of the fleet in the ninth and final race, Wilmot mis-judged his approach to a mark and, travelling at nearly 17 knots, GAC Pindar speared the French boat with its port bow. Damage to the Australian boat was minor, but Groupama was immediately towed to the crane and the verdict was “one day at least” to get her back in the water. The Australians will start the first race on Saturday with a 15 second penalty and Groupama will be given average points for Saturday.
It was another frustrating start to a series for the Australians who are placed last of the 11 teams after four Acts. They showed flashes of brilliance but could not hold on when in good position and were continually swamped by the fleet.
“We were a little bit late or not getting our acceleration right at the starts,” said Wilmot. His comments were echoed by tactician and main trimmer, Seve Jarvin, who said, “We're just not pulling the trigger at the right time.”
Ainslie on Fire
It was a totally different story onboard JP Morgan BAR, where four times Olympic champion Sir Ben Ainslie turned on a superb performance for the home crowd.
Out of the top four only once in nine races, the Brits turned in a scorecard of 9,7,3,7,10,10,8,7,9 for a total of 70 points, eight more than SAP and nine ahead of series leaders Alinghi on 61.
The seven minute races on a tight stadium course make consistency hard to achieve, so the British effort was quite exceptional.
“It was really physical out there and we've been working on that,” Ainslie said. He credited some great crew work and added that the team had made “a few tweaks” that paid off.
He also called in four-time America's Cup winner Simon Daubney to offer some coaching from off the boat for this Act. Daubney said that what had impressed him most about the day's racing was the way the team held or improved their position at every mark.
“It's a shit-fight out there,” Daubney told me. “It's difficult to choose the right side and there's so much on it's almost impossible to get your head out of the boat and see what's happening. But that's what the boys did. To have only one finish below fourth in nine races is amazing.”
Certainly, the short races on tight courses took their toll on the other teams. SAP finished the day in second after coming last in the opening race and Alinghi went through a bad patch of three consecutive poor results, book-ended by top-three finishes at the start and end.
The up-and-down nature of the results was emphasised towards the end of the day, when progressive scores were read out and GAC Pindar had a two point lead over Roman Hagara's Red Bull Racing. In the very next race, Red Bull were second behind Alinghi and GAC Pindar finished last.
Today's conditions were cold and overcast, with winds in the mid-range. Early in the afternoon they averaged 10-12 knots, climbing to 14-18 knots for the final races. Inside Cardiff Bay, the sea was dead flat.
The starting sequence is a simple countdown from three minutes, with the 11 boats lining up with about 90 seconds to go. The first leg was predominantly a tight reach and some skippers chose the boat end, where they could deploy their gennakers, while most selected the pin where the distance was shorter and the pressure slightly stronger.
Nathan Wilmot fought for the extreme pin end on most occasions, earning him the nickname “Ricko” from his crew. This was in reference to Mark Richards, the skipper of Wild Oats XI, who always puts the big silver boat at the pin end for Sydney-Hobart starts.
Most of the time the tactic worked for the Australians, but they were quickly gassed by the Kiwis, who also started at that end and seemed to have more boat speed.
The start proved pivotal in most races, with the leader at the first mark extending away in clear air while the pack fought to get round. However, the spectators were also treated to some tight finishes as the 40ft cats rounded the final mark in front of the grandstands and deployed their gennakers for a very short run to the finish. On several occasions the inside boat mis-timed its turn and the pursuer snuck across the finish line a few centimetres clear.
The time between races held its own drama as team ribs dashed across the course to deliver advice and food to their charges, Extreme Series ribs picked up guest sailors and deposited new ones, while 11 cats dawdled around in seemingly aimless circles as skippers and tacticians furiously worked out angles and tactics for the next seven minutes of mayhem.
The Extreme Series comes to Sydney in December and anyone who can get to the Harbour City should do so. This has been just the first day, but already there has been more action, drama and thrills than most regattas throw up in a week.
Sadly, we are down to 10 boats for tomorrow. But hopefully the Australians can bounce back from a miserable start and “pull the trigger” more cleanly between now and Monday.
– Roger McMillan in Cardiff
standings after Day 1, 9 races (22.08.14)
Position / Team / Points
1st J.P. Morgan BAR (GBR) Ben Ainslie, Nick Hutton, Paul Campbell-James, Bleddyn Mon, Matt Cornwell 70 points.
2nd SAP Extreme Sailing Team (DEN) Jes Gram-Hansen, Rasmus Køstner, Thierry Douillard, Jonas Hviid-Nielsen, Brad Farrand, Nicolai Sehested 62 points.
3rd Alinghi (SUI) Morgan Larson, Anna Tunnicliffe, Pierre-Yves Jorand, Nils Frei, Yves Detrey 61 points.
4th The Wave, Muscat (OMA) Leigh McMillan, Sarah Ayton, Pete Greenhalgh, Kinley Fowler, Nasser Al Mashari 58 points.
5th Realteam by Realstone (SUI) Jérôme Clerc, Arnaud Psarofaghis, Bruno Barbarin, Bryan Mettraux, Thierry Wassem 56 points.
6th Oman Air (OMA) Rob Greenhalgh, Ted Hackney, Kyle Langford, Hashim Al Rashdi, Musab Al Hadi 44 points.
7th Emirates Team New Zealand (NZL) Dean Barker, Ray Davies, James Dagg, Jeremy Lomas, Edwin Delaat 37 points.
8th Red Bull Sailing Team (AUT) Roman Hagara, Hans-Peter Steinacher, Mark Bulkeley, Shaun Mason, Stewart Dodson 33 points.
9th Groupama sailing team (FRA) Franck Cammas, Romain Motteau, Tanguy Cariou, Thierry Fouchier, Devan Le Bihan 33 points.
10th Gazprom Team Russia (RUS) Igor Lisovenko, Phil Robertson, Matt Adams, Pete Cumming, Aleksey Kulakov 26 points.
11th GAC Pindar (AUS) Nathan Wilmot, Hugh Styles, Ed Smyth, Seve Jarvin, James Wierzbowski 21 points.