Wet, wild and windy conditions forced race management to cancel the first day of racing on Sydney Harbour at the Extreme Sailing Series presented by Land Rover, with the city’s famous 'Southerly Buster' playing havoc on the racecourse before the fleet even left the dock. It is only fourth time in the eight-year history of the Series mother nature has forced the organisers to cancel racing, and the first day of racing missed this year. The 10 elite level teams will have to wait another day before the final showdown of the 2014 season begins.
As Race Director Phil Lawrence explained, the unmanageable conditions coincided with the anticipated start of racing and the strong wind showed no signs of abating. “Unfortunately the weather forecast was very accurate. As predicted, the breeze built to over 30 knots at the scheduled start time. The very experienced Extreme 40 sailor Mitch Booth was on the water with the Land Rover Extreme 40 beforehand, and he confirmed it was quickly building and too gusty for the boats to race safely. Tomorrow the conditions look lighter, so hopefully we can get this show on the road.”
With the breeze building to 45 knots along the coast, Australia’s 2008 Olympic champion in the 470 class and GAC Pindar skipper Nathan Wilmot agreed with the decision: “I think it’s the right decision; it would have been carnage had we gone out. It’s a bit of a shame not to get out on the first day but it is only the first day of the regatta so we would all look a bit silly if we went out there and capsized, broke masts and no one was able to go out tomorrow”.
Looking to the week ahead, Nathan continued: “We’re going to try and get around the course as safe as possible, be up there and mix it up with the top guys and hopefully hit towards the top of the leaderboard by the end of the regatta.”
One man who is eager to get as many points on the leaderboard as possible is Leigh McMillan, and there was much chat at the skippers press conference of the stakes. Speaking after racing was cancelled, McMillan said: “It’s obviously disappointing that we couldn’t get out on the water today, we want to get as many races in as possible, but we know we will be smashing out lots of races over the next couple of days and we’ll go out and give it our all. We’re not going to let it go easy.”
In a country famous for being huge sports fans, some of its biggest stars and Land Rover Ambassadors came to the harbour today to show their support. Two of the country’s most decorated and successful sporting talents Phil Waugh and Sally Fitzgibbons both had a chance to sail on the Land Rover Extreme 40 before the breeze built too much.
Speaking after, Sally relished the opportunity. “It’s really exciting to be here today and experience something completely new, and going out of my comfort zone flying around Sydney Harbour – you don’t get to do that every day. I think it’s so dynamic out there for the sailors to be able to jump about the boat. I loved being in the team environment and seeing how being in sync is so important in operating such an on-edge boat. I loved the gusty conditions, and it should go on record that I helped Phil Waugh who was holding onto the boat, so safety Sal was here!”
Three more days of racing remain at the Extreme Sailing Series in Sydney, and three more days of the 2014 season, and with the conditions expected to subside enough tomorrow to begin racing, the teams are gearing up for plenty of action. The Aussie public are expected in their thousands over the weekend to the public Race Village at the Royal Botanical Gardens, while online fans can follow it all on the official event website with expert commentary from 1430 local time (GMT +11) www.extremesailingseries.com.
– Andrew Hawkins/ESS Media