TWENTY FOUR of the World's top professional sailors will converge on Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong next week for the first round of the new Extreme Sailing Series Asia. The six top teams include the host nation's, China Team, as well as the Skipper of the Green Dragon entry in the last Volvo Ocean Race, Ian Walker . The sailors have a myriad of sailing accolades amongst them including three double Olympic Gold Medals, 23 World and 28 European Championship titles, 8 Round the World navigations, 19 Olympic Games attended, and from 7 different nations. Also announced today is that Austrian double Olympic champions Roman Hagara and Hans Peter Steinacher join as a new challenger with the Red Bull Extreme Sailing Team on the Asian Circuit.
The award winning European series has been running for three years and has revolutionised the way sailing is seen. This inaugural Asian series will focus on sharing this exciting new facet of sailing with local stakeholders, VIPs and the media – with the aim of returning in the future with a fully public orientated event.
The first round of the Extreme Sailing Series Asia will run from 20 – 24 November, based out of the prestigious Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club right at the heart of this iconic city. Five days of racing will see the Extreme 40s, a dynamic 40-foot catamaran that can reach speeds of up to 73km per hour and “fly” a hull in just eight knots of wind. The sailors compete in a series of the short, sharp races over the five days, as well as the famous Around the Island Race on Sunday 22 November. The event will also host a youth sailing day when youngsters will be given the chance of a lifetime to sail onboard the catamarans, alongside the top professional crews.
Ian Walker, one of the most diverse sailors in the Series having skippered Green Dragon in the Volvo Ocean Race, been an America's Cup skipper and double Olympic Silver Medallist said, “It's going to be great to be back racing in China. The last time I was in the region, we were fighting atrocious conditions to bring our team home to Qingdao. To be back racing in such a spectacular location on these awesome Extreme 40s will be great and I'm looking forward to teaming up with Shirley Robertson again. The last time we were together was when I coached her in Athens when she won her second Gold medal – so I'm expecting another top ranking performance from her and the team!”
The China Team entry will be helmed by Wearn Haw Tan from Singapore, joined by Mark Stopforth, a former Olympian from South Africa now based in Hong Kong, Wang Jue from China and skippered by Thierry Barot, a Hong Kong based Frenchman with immense expertise and experience from America's Cup, Round the World Races and other world class big boat campaigns. These sailors all raced together in the 2007 China America's Cup team but new to Extreme 40 racing so will be joined by experienced Extreme 40 sailors and British Olympian Hugh Styles and Adam Piggott.
Thierry Barot, Skipper of China Team commented, “Since the last America's Cup in Valencia, Wearn Haw and myself have been sailing together to find new Asian talent with the objective of creating a new group, a ‘new generation' of Chinese/Asian sailors that are able to race in all the most valuable and high performance races in the world of yachting, like the Volvo Ocean Race, the America's Cup, match racing, TP52s and of course the Extreme 40s. Our participation in the Extreme Sailing Series Asia will be the launch of this team. Although we have not had a lot of time to get the team together we see it as part of the plan to give young Asian sailors the opportunity to get experience in one of the top class events in the international sailing calendar.”
The Extreme Sailing Series Asia fleet includes old and newcomers to the Grand Prix sailing format. Oman Sail's Masirah skipper Pete Cumming, who won the European Series in October, will be back and few will be surprised to hear the team are now looking to also claim the Asia title. There are a few changes to the line up from the successful European team including the promotion of Omani squad member Khamis Al Ambouri to a full time member of the four man team. Hot on their heels will be the second Omani team, The Wave, Muscat, skippered by double World Champion Paul Campbell-James and including the Omani powerhouse, Nasser Al Mashari.
Double Olympic Gold Medallist Shirley Robertson will be the only woman competing in the fleet on Rumbo Almería, with Ian Walker, and joined by another double Olympic Gold Medallist, Austrian Roman Hagara who will be joined by his Tornado crewman from Athens and Sydney Hans Peter Steinacher onboard new entry to the Extreme 40 scene, Red Bull Extreme Sailing Team. Round the World sailor, Nick Moloney will complete the Skippers' line-up onboard BT.
Roman Hagara, Skipper of Red Bull Extreme Sailing Team said, “We are expecting a very strong field at the Asia Tour, including both the winning and the third-placed boat from the European circuit, who both sail for Oman, nevertheless, I am still expecting us to achieve some top results in the individual races.” His tactician, Hans Peter Steinacher agreed. “Our aim for the season is to finish in the top three on the Asia Tour, but the biggest challenge will of course be the boat's huge dimensions. After all, apart from the Around the Island Race, we aren't competing in long-distance regattas, but instead coming to towns and harbours with our “machine” to get close to the shoreline.”
The award-winning Extreme Sailing Series, organised by OC Events, has been an outstanding success in Europe. In 2009, over 200,000 spectators watched the racing in such prestigious locations as Venice (Italy), Amsterdam (The Netherlands), Almería (Spain) and the home of yacht racing, Cowes on the Isle of Wight (England). This inaugural Asian series is an opportunity to showcase the Extreme Sailing Series and demonstrate to VIPs and future stakeholders the potential of a full public-orientated event in future years.
The racing in Hong Kong will take place 20 – 24 November, before the boats are packed up into their 40ft containers and shipped to Singapore (11 – 15 December) and then on to Muscat, Sultanate of Oman for the third event (1 – 5 February).
BT – Nick Moloney (AUS)
China Team – Thierry Barot (FRA)
Oman Sail Masirah – Pete Cumming (GBR)
Red Bull Extreme Sailing Team – Roman Hagara (AUT)
Rumbo Almeria – Shirley Robertson (GBR)
The Wave, Muscat – Paul Campbell-James (GBR)