Sunday, October 10, 2010

Day 2: Big breeze and big action as Guichard retains top spot in the final…

© Paul Wyeth/ OC Event
Day 2: Big breeze and big action as Guichard retains top spot in the final…
The second day of the final round of the 2010 Extreme Sailing Series™ in Almeria delivered exactly what it says on the tin… Extreme racing, on the limit of control, with an abundance of thrills and spills. The thousands of Spanish public who flocked to the race village today were enthralled as the boats flew past within touching distance of the stadium walls: “It was unbelievable, the crowds give you a real buzz, it’s fantastic,” said Dean Barker, Team Emirates New Zealand skipper.

A consistent 20+ knots of breeze saw the Extreme 40s ‘fly’ along at boat speeds in excess of 30mph (46kmph). Today was about staying in control, minimizing mistakes and staying out of trouble… The race management decided that in light of the forecast the fleet would race in groups with no more than four boats on the race course at one time, set inside the tight confines of the port. Each group was determined by the current rankings after yesterday’s racing.

In the end, it was Yann Guichard’s crew on Groupe Edmond de Rothschild who did it best, winning three out of their four races, and increasing their lead to 59 points at the top of the leaderboard: “The committee made a wise choice by splitting the fleet,” said Guichard. “We showed that we had to be reckoned with even in strong winds, I think yesterday Paul said these were his conditions, but we proved they were ours too. We're in the match and I'm sure it will all go down to the last race of the last day, just like last year."

The Ecover Sailing Team posted two first places, a second and a third and this consistent performance keeps them in hot contention, just 6 points from the top spot: “It was very difficult today, conditions were very puffy, although we kept control throughout there was definitely the potential for either a nasty crash or worst still a capsize,” said Ecover Sailing Team skipper, Mike Golding. “It is nice flat water here which helps to keep the boats on their feet, but I think what is extreme here is the space, or lack of space! You make a mistake, you’re going into a concrete wall so it’s good to be back on the dock all in one piece.”

Yesterday The Wave, Muscat skipper Paul Campbell-James was relishing the prospect of stronger breeze but today their aggressive sailing nearly ended in disaster on two occasions - one a near high-speed collision with a wall and another near collision with teammates Oman Sail Masirah skippered by Loick Peyron: “We were three up coming into the downwind mark [Masirah, The Wave and Rumbo Almeria] and we were pushing hard to get the overlap,” explained Campbell-James. “We didn’t quite get it but we were in a position that we couldn’t really do anything else but go in there […to the mark]. We managed just at the very last minute to miss Masirah’s stern basically with our rudders out of the water before spinning round the mark. I’m looking forward to seeing the footage!” His team stay in third place but remain confident: “We didn’t make the most of today, it was windy and we’re normally pretty good in that stuff but we just didn’t sail very well, it’s as simple as that. But we’re still within punching distance and that’s the main thing.”

The first three races were set over a windward/leeward course of three laps – even with the mainsails reefed and no gennakers, the Extreme 40s flew round the tight course, each race taking only 6-7 minutes, each leg approximately 60 seconds! Just watching was exhausting and nerve-wracking for the public; for the sailors the adrenalin was pumping and it proved hard to control their competitive drive as the crowds witnessed some aggressive tactics. Roman Hagara, Red Bull Extreme Sailing skipper: “The boats were really exciting today especially for the spectators. The guys love it too because there is so much action on the boat, so much speed.” In their penultimate race, Hagara and his crew caught the top buoy dragging it at least 200 meters off target – their competitors complied by rounding the ‘re-set’ mark on the final lap!

Franck Cammas seemed to relish the conditions today nailing two wins early in the day until a bad mark rounding and an OCS (on course side) upset their day: “It was intense, and a good thing to race four boats at a time otherwise the starts would have been a catastrophe for everyone. It was important to start well and to manage the moments of crisis, notably the bearaways which are always tricky on these boats. We are rather fast in those conditions, but today we made two mistakes, touching a mark and starting too early, which really doesn't help on such short courses."

The forecast for tomorrow is for less wind but that won’t take the heat off the skippers as they head into the penultimate day of the final round of the season.