Tough day for Aussies at Extreme Series, as McMillan goes to the top of the table

Local knowledge was no match for Extreme Sailing experience as the final Act of the year got underway in Sydney this afternoon. After 10 races, Australia's two Olympic gold medal winning helmsmen Nathan Wilmot and Tom Slingsby sit at the bottom of the table.

With the course set across the mouth of Farm Cove from the Opera House, each leg was a short sprint with a high-speed mark rounding at the end. A bad start was death, and “pulling the trigger” on these boats is an art form that is not easy to learn.

In the second race of the day there was the bizarre sight of three gold medallists, Slingsby, Wilmot and the greatest Olympian of all time, Ben Ainslie, holding the last three places off the line.

At the other end of the fleet, Leigh McMillan (The Wave, Muscat) was doing everything he could to retain his title. Needing to win the event and have Alinghi no better than fifth, McMillan won the first day by a single point from Realteam, but his rival Morgan Larsen is sitting in third.

McMillan won two races, had two second placings and a third after an ordinary start. Alinghi won only one race but was never below sixth and that consistency keeps them in the overall lead.

McMillan summed up after racing: “It was a pretty feisty day to be honest – full on. There were big gusts and it was massively shifty so it was pretty hard to be consistent. We had to make quick decisions.”

With only two days left this season, McMillan’s attentions quickly shifted to the bigger prize: “We know we have a lot to do and Morgan’s not far behind on the leaderboard, but he had a better day than we had hoped today to be honest. We could have done with him being further back but we’ll keep working away at it tomorrow and give ourselves the best possible position we can.”

As a spectacle for the small Friday crowd, the event certainly lived up to its billing. There were shouts of surprise as boats rubbed against each other only metres from the shore and gasps of horror as Gazprom actually ran aground, scraping her centreboard across the rocks.

For Slingsby it was baptism by fire. After finishing last in three races, doing two penalty turns and with a best placing of only seventh, this multiple world champion and America's Cup winner was obviously highly frustrated. It wasn't until the last race of the day that he managed to win the start, lead narrowly around the first reach mark then extend away in clear air, making good tactical decisions in the swinging breeze to win the race comfortably.

Slingsby was characteristically very tough on himself. In a Facebook post he took full blame for the poor performance: “Tough learning conditions. I personally didn't sail well and let the team down. Well we can only move up today!”

It was similar story for Wilmot and his crew on GAC Pindar. They have now done four Acts together and were expected to be contesting in the middle of the fleet. But they also had two penalties called on them when in good position, in one race dropping from first to last as a result.

When Wilmot started back from the line and hit it at speed he was able to put the boat in strong positions but too often he was caught with no water over the hulls at the unfavoured pin end and was left wallowing at the back of the fleet.

A second place and a fourth were the highlights, but too often the light blue boat was in the 8th to 10th area instead of mid-fleet.

Wilmot was philosophical about the first day: “After a slow start today we got to grips with the conditions in the final few races. There's definitely more to come from us this week and we're looking forward to getting out on the water tomorrow.”

With the forecast for lighter winds on Saturday and Sunday, positions could change dramatically. Spectator boats are able to anchor on the edges of the course and ideal viewing can be found at Mrs Macquarie's chair or around the Opera House. Racing starts at 2pm and can be watched live on this website.

Extreme Sailing Series Act 8 Sydney presented by Land Rover standings after Day 2, 10 races (12.12.14)
Position / Team / Points
1st The Wave, Muscat (OMA) Leigh McMillan, Sarah Ayton, Pete Greenhalgh, Ed Smyth, Nasser Al Mashari 75 points.
2nd Realteam by Realstone (SUI) Jérôme Clerc, Arnaud Psarofaghis, Bruno Barbarin, Bryan Mettraux, Thierry Wasem 74 points.
3rd Alinghi (SUI) Morgan Larson, Stuart Pollard, Pierre-Yves Jorand, Nils Frei, Yves Detrey 70 points.
4th Red Bull Sailing Team (AUT) Roman Hagara, Hans Peter Steinacher, Mark Bulkeley, Shaun Mason, Stewart Dodson 61 points.
5th J.P. Morgan BAR (GBR) Ben Ainslie, Nick Hutton, Paul Campbell-James, Bleddyn Mon, Matt Cornwell 61 points.
6th SAP Extreme Sailing Team (DEN) Jes Gram-Hansen, Rasmus Køstner, Thierry Douillard, Christian Kamp, Brad Farrand 49 points.
7th Groupama sailing team (FRA) Franck Cammas, Tanguy Cariou, Romain Motteau, Thierry Fouchier, Hervé Cunningham 49 points.
8th Gazprom Team Russia (RUS) Igor Lisovenko, Phil Robertson, Matt Adams, Pete Cumming, Aleksey Kulakov 41 points.
9th GAC Pindar (AUS) Nathan Wilmot, Seve Jarvin, Matt Mitchell, Tyson Lamond, James Wierzbowski 40 points.
10th Oman Air (OMA) Tom Slingsby, Ted Hackney, Kyle Langford, Joey Newton, Ali Al Balashi 30 points.

– Roger McMillan, Editor

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