Extreme Sailing Series Act 5, Cowes has reached the penultimate day six in which The Wave, Muscat has managed to hold on to their lead.
Spectators watching the racing from the race village
In the late afternoon, the wind dropped below twenty knots and the turning tide flattened out the sea to allow racing to begin. Perhaps the greatest surprise given the damp overcast weather was the huge turn-out of spectators crowding to Egypt Point, and the beach surrounding the Extreme Sailing Series Race Village.
The Extreme 40 crews have been tested to the limit in the breezy conditions that have dominated Act 5, and it has been a case of ‘taming the 40-foot beast’ to the best of their abilities. Asked to compare their Extreme 40s to an animal, the skippers came up with some surprising answers! Check out the video here.
By the time racing started later than usual at 1640 BST the wind had dropped to the teens. 'It was quite windy, gusting to almost twenty knots so it wasn’t nearly as ‘extreme’ as we have had for the rest of this week: nice and flat water as well which made the tacking and boat handling a little easier, so you didn’t see too many rudders out of the water today, but still a windy day and a hard day to battle a boat around the course,' described Luna Rossa helmsman Paul Campbell-James.
Alinghi helmsman Tanguy Cariou said that in the conditions it was still hard work on board: 'It was really physical, really tough for us especially at the end as you had to come in so close to the shore before tacking it was quite difficult, but I think we were quite solid and I think anything could happen tomorrow.'
Team Extreme skippered by Roland Gaebler powering along during racing - Extreme Sailing Series Act 5
The eleven Extreme 40s were divided into groups as the conditions on the penultimate day were still on the limit to race the fleet in one group with reefed mainsails but gennakers permitted after the first two races much to the publics' delight. With half of the fleet racing at a time, the tactical objective for the crews was to get as far into the shore as possible on the beat to make the best of the favourable eddy off Eygpt Point and definitely out of the 2.5 knot counter current offshore.
As Campbell-James put it: 'There was one way to do it – to come off the line, hit the beach and push your luck on the rocks. Whoever nailed that strategy was the guy who usually came up in first at the windward mark.'
The most tense moments came on the first beat of each race when the Extreme 40s would get as close as possible into shore and occasionally not get enough room to tack. But despite some hair-raising moments none of the boats went aground.
In fact it was the strong tide that proved the major stumbling block with several crews underestimating the angle of the rope tethering the weather mark. As a result several snagged it on their rudders causing them to pop up, perhaps the most dramatic being when Luna Rossa careered off downwind seeming to gybe twice accidentally before they got their Extreme 40 under control.
Campbell-James described it: 'We just skimmed the windward mark on the way round and that popped the leeward rudder up. It was pretty dangerous in the big breeze with the one rudder in and one out, so we got to the leeward marks and we stuck it head to wind, did our penalty while putting the rudder back down. It was all a bit of a drama, but we managed it. Alister [Richardson] hurt his back a little bit a bit in the process.'
Team Extreme suffered the same fate in the third race and crewman Benedikt Wenk cut his hand as he attempted to get the rudder back down. Wenk required a couple of stitches and Roland Gaebler’s team had to retire from racing for the day.
Star of today’s competition was ex-Tornado sailor Pierre Pennec and the crew of Groupe Edmond de Rothschild who won three of their four races. Their third race was the tightest of the day with Leigh McMillian at the helm of The Wave, Muscat first to the top mark with the French team on their transom.
There were whoops from the crowd ashore as the French crew came close to rolling past their Omani rivals. However, the real coup for the French team came on the second run when The Wave, Muscat crew thought they had crossed the finish line only to find that the race had been extended to finish on the next upwind leg. This wavering allowed the French team to overhaul them and to take their third bullet of their day by a matter of centimetres.
Fans cheer on The Wave, Muscat - Extreme Sailing Series Act 5
Alinghi won their third race of the day and Tanguy Cariou was satisfied with their performance. 'Today it was quite good, quite solid team work and good manoeuvres. We fought well against the other opponents.' In contrast it wasn’t such a good day for the Italian team on Luna Rossa who prior to their rudder incident at the top mark had suffered a broken outhaul shortly after the start of the first race.
At the close of play The Wave, Muscat continues to lead with a margin of ten points on Luna Rossa, Alinghi third with Groupe Edmond de Rothschild fourth, now just six point shy of the podium. But as Paul Campbell-James points out it could inevitably once again come to tomorrow’s double points-scoring final race. 'Leigh is in front of us as he had a really good day today, so we’ve just got to put in a solid day tomorrow and see what happens in the double points last race,' said Campbell-James. 'Basically it will be man against man with Leigh which I have been doing since I was nine years old!'
The weather forecast for tomorrow is looking good – eleven to fifteen knots and sunshine, which will mean the Extreme 40s can, once again, race as one fleet for the for the final day of Act 5.
Current overall standings, day six
Position / Team / Skipper and crew / Points
1st The Wave, Muscat (OMA), Leigh McMillan / Kyle Langford / Nick Hutton / Khamis Al Anbouri 138 points
2nd Luna Rossa (ITA), Max Sirena / Paul Campbell-James / Alister Richardson / Manuel Modena 128 points
3rd Alinghi (SUI), Tanguy Cariou / Yann Guichard / Nils Frei / Yves Detrey 117 points
4th Groupe Edmond de Rothschild (FRA), Pierre Pennec / Christophe Espagnon / Thierry Fouchier / Hervé Cunningham 111 points*
5th Red Bull Extreme Sailing (AUT), Roman Hagara / Hans Peter Steinacher / Will Howden / Luke Cross 104 points
6th Oman Air (OMA), Sidney Gavignet / Kinley Fowler / David Carr / Nasser Al Mashari 101 points
7th Team GAC Pindar (GBR), Ian Williams / Mischa Heemskerk / Andrew Walsh / Jono Macbeth 93 points*
8th Niceforyou (ITA), Alberto Barovier / Stefano Rizzi / Daniele de Luca / Simone de Mari 81 points
9th Emirates Team New Zealand (NZL), Adam Beashel / Richard Meacham / Andrew McLean / Chris Ward 73 points
10th Aberdeen Asset Management (GBR), John Pink / Rick Peacock / Greg Homann / John Gimson 69 points
11th Team Extreme (EUR), Roland Gaebler / Nahid Gaebler / Benedikt Wenk / Dan Morris 51 points
12th Artemis Racing (SWE), Santiago Lange / Andy Fethers / Michele Ivaldi / Phil Jameson 23 points*
Extreme Sailing Series Act 5, Cowes website