Oman Sail welcomes back America’s Cup winner Kyle Langford to Extreme 40 racing this week as both Oman Air and series leaders The Wave, Muscat head to China for the Land Rover Extreme Sailing Series™ Act 3 Qingdao.
Langford, 24, is the second member of the successful Oracle Team USA crew to join the Omani squad for the 2014 season after New Zealander Kinley Fowler was unveiled as one of the new members of The Wave, Muscat at the start of the year.
Kyle Langford - Land Rover Extreme Sailing Series 2014 - Oman Sail
He teams up with Rob Greenhalgh on Oman Air as tactician and is hopeful that his America’s Cup experience, where he was involved in one of the greatest comebacks in sporting history, will contribute to the team’s performance.
'I haven’t sailed with the guys yet but am looking forward to it, this team has the potential to be right up there,' he said.
Oman Air are currently lying in 10th place overall and skipper Greenhalgh expects Langford’s tactical expertise, wedded to his previous Extreme 40 experience on The Wave, Muscat in 2011, will make a difference.
'We wanted to ramp things up a little bit because in the two events so far, we have been very close to doing well,' Greenhalgh said.
'Although this is a subtle change, we think it will make quite a difference. We are a new team with very little training so although we would like to be doing better than 10th overall, we can’t really expect to be storming up the rankings. But if you start doing well, you pop up the overalls very quickly.'
Leigh McMillan - © Lloyd Images
For Leigh McMillan on The Wave, Muscat, two-time champions and current leaders of the 2014 series, storming up the rankings is an ever present aim though the vivid memories of the previous Act in Muscat where a dramatic final race became a triumphant ‘winner takes all’ affair will serve as an extra spur for the champions.
Their last visit to Qingdao in 2013 was also a tense affair with McMillan again snatching victory in the final race. Ideally, he will have things sewn up well before the finish this time he says, though admits that the thrill of pulling off a last gasp victory adds something extra to the competition.
'We have had more than our fair share of dramatic finishes over the past two and a half seasons and managed often to come out with the result we were hoping for,' he said.
'I don’t especially enjoy a close finish to an event but it is exciting and I tend not to step back when the pressure is on. In fact I probably push a bit harder.'
Despite the Stadium racing course at Fushan Bay being one of the most challenging on the Extreme Sailing Series circuit, McMillan believes there are enough strong cards among The Wave, Muscat’s crew for a winning hand and a successful defence of the Qingdao trophy.
TThe Wave, Muscat bowman Nasser Al Mashari (OMA) - © Lloyd Images
Oman’s Nasser Al Mashari spent the past couple of weeks working on improving his skills against a massive J80 fleet at Spi Ouest as part of a first-time all-Omani crew racing a European regatta and will be bringing that experience to bear at Qingdao while Sarah Ayton will be making an emotional return to the scene of one of the greatest triumphs of her career, where she won her second Olympic gold medal six years ago.
'Nasser has been exceptional this year and has really developed as a professional sailor so it is great to have him with us while it will be exciting for Sarah to be going back to Qingdao for the first time since she won her gold in 2008. She will have some pretty good notes which will be a big help to us,' McMillan said.
'Qingdao will be tough. It’s a small course and we are not expecting a huge amount of wind which will make things difficult but we need another solid event because we have a one point lead over Alinghi at the moment so there is a lot of pressure.'
Al Mashari is a big fan of Qingdao having previously raced there on Oman Air and is excited to be getting back on board an Extreme 40 after his recent experiences in France.
'We had 80 odd boats lining up at Spi Ouest and I think that experience will help me a lot in the Extreme 40s – in terms of thinking fast, organisation and tactics. After Muscat, we all feel stronger and more excited and we are hoping to be able to do it again in China.'
Racing at the Land Rover Extreme Sailing Series™ Act 3 Qingdao, for the ‘Double Star Mingren’ Cup, starts on Thursday May 1 with four days of public Stadium racing with the final double points race set for Sunday May 4. Crowds are expected to watch the action from the free public Race Village in Fushan Bay.
The Wave, Muscat and Oman Air - © Lloyd Images
Oman Air skippered Rob Greenhalgh (GBR) with headsail trimer Will Howden (GBR), trimer Tom Johnson (AUS), bowman Hashim Al Rashdi (OMA) and bowman Musab Al Hadi (OMA) - © Lloyd Images
Oman Air skipper Rob Greenhalgh (GBR) - © Lloyd Images