The towering masts of the Extreme Sailing Series fleet dominated the Cardiff Bay skyline today, as the best of the sailing world took to the water under bright skies and tactically demanding winds, that ended with the home team J.P. Morgan BAR in pole position – but a night of repairs in the pitlane for three teams, ahead of the event officially opening to the public tomorrow as part of the Cardiff Harbour Festival.
Today’s series of nine races came in thick and fast, each lasting less than 10 minutes, leaving the sailors muscling the huge sails at the front of the boat physically exhausted, and the tacticians and helms at back mentally drained. The new combination on J.P. Morgan BAR of Paul Campbell-James and Ben Ainslie – helped by some expert coaching from the legendary Kiwi Simon Daubney of the America’s Cup hall of fame – were unstoppable, timing the starts perfectly as the fastest boat off the startline according to the SAP sailing analytics, leaving the rest of the fleet in their wake. Ainslie, who hasn’t competed in the UK since winning gold at London 2012, elaborated: 'It was a very physical day for our guys and we have been working very hard on the fitness and it is beginning to pay off. We love racing in front of the home fans, we don’t often get the opportunity in the UK to race at home, and this is a great venue, so it is very special. It is a tricky course. You really need to get a good start with the shifty conditions.'
Looking ahead to the rest of the Act Ainslie said: 'The goal is more of the same tomorrow. It is one day at a time, a lot happens at times during this Series, it is very tight racing; all the teams are very strong so we just need to keep our heads down and keep working hard to be in the mix for the final day.'
By the ninth and final race of the day, the breeze was up and Race Management made the decision to remove guest sailors. Shortly after at the top of the track, GAC Pindar couldn’t hold back the pace during a tight mark rounding to keep clear of Groupama sailing team, careering into the side of the French boat on port, going from 10 knots to a standstill in seconds as shown by the SAP analytics, leaving both with a long night ahead as they fight to get back on the water tomorrow. The Olympic gold medallist at the helm of GAC Pindar, Nathan Wilmot, explained what happened: 'There was a group of around five boats coming into the top mark, we tried to go around Groupama sailing team with a few boats to leeward of us and we didn’t quite get far enough and we went through the side of them. We have a little damage to our port bow and snapped our pole, so not too bad: just a little bit of a repair to get done. Groupama sailing team had half a bow in the side of their boat so they’ve got a little more on than us unfortunately.'
Groupama sailing team skipper Franck Cammas added: 'When we realised that GAC Pindar was trying to pass behind us bearing away, we knew that they were going to crash into us. The damage on the boat is quite substantial, which is a real shame. We are going to do our best to fix the boat on time but we are not sure whether we will be able to race tomorrow.'
Nine races saw six different race winners, two of which went to SAP Extreme Sailing Team who were the model of consistency, having perhaps their best day of the year so far and showing the return to form expected from the Danish, to finish the day in second place, eight points behind the Brits. Co-Skipper Rasmus Kostner was thrilled with his team’s performance: 'We had a good day and we managed to read the pre-start very nicely and came off the line in a good spot. It becomes very difficult if you don’t get that part right as it’s so difficult to overtake in this racecourse. You just go from one manoeuvre to the next, so everything worked really well for us today.'
The Danish are one point ahead of current Series leaders Alinghi, in third place, who showed a momentary uncharacteristic chink in their amour today with three race finishes at the bottom half of the pack.
The Wave, Muscat are a further two points back, with Realteam – who were picked out by commentator and Extreme 40 veteran Nick Moloney as the team to watch this week – in fifth place, but with a night of repairs to a delaminated hull, after a scrap with Gazprom Team Russia. Oman Air, who came out of the blocks scoring a bullet in the opening race in Cardiff, are just behind the Realteam in sixth place with 44 points.
Fleet on day 1 - 2014 Extreme Sailing Series, Act 5 - © Lloyd Images/Extreme Sailing Series
With a start line just 300 metres wide and set just off the shore, the pre-start strategy was essential, with 11 boats jostling to find the best spot, hunt out clean air and trying to stay clear of the dog fight mid fleet. Emirates Team New Zealand found themselves deeper in the pack then they would have wanted for most of the day, but a late surge and a race win in race seven salvaged some valuable points. 'It was tough today and I felt a little rusty as I haven’t raced in the Series since Oman so I can see some of the other teams are at a really high level', admitted skipper Dean Barker. 'As a team we’ve got to eliminate some of the mistakes. We didn’t get off of the start line as well as we’d have liked in a couple of the races, and just made a few little mistakes around the course which adds up at the end of the day. We found ourselves as a bit of a deficit to the leading group but it’s early days so there’s still a lot of opportunity to gain back.' Standings after Day One, Nine races (22.08.14) Position / Team / Points
1st J.P. Morgan BAR (GBR) Ben Ainslie, Nick Hutton, Paul Campbell-James, Bleddyn Mon, Matt Cornwell 70 points.
2nd SAP Extreme Sailing Team (DEN) Jes Gram-Hansen, Rasmus Køstner, Thierry Douillard, Jonas Hviid-Nielsen, Brad Farrand, Nicolai Sehested 62 points.
3rd Alinghi (SUI) Morgan Larson, Anna Tunnicliffe, Pierre-Yves Jorand, Nils Frei, Yves Detrey 61 points.
4th The Wave, Muscat (OMA) Leigh McMillan, Sarah Ayton, Pete Greenhalgh, Kinley Fowler, Nasser Al Mashari 58 points.
5th Realteam by Realstone (SUI) Jérôme Clerc, Arnaud Psarofaghis, Bruno Barbarin, Bryan Mettraux, Thierry Wassem 56 points.
6th Oman Air (OMA) Rob Greenhalgh, Ted Hackney, Kyle Langford, Hashim Al Rashdi, Musab Al Hadi 44 points.
7th Emirates Team New Zealand (NZL) Dean Barker, Ray Davies, James Dagg, Jeremy Lomas, Edwin Delaat 37 points.
8th Red Bull Sailing Team (AUT) Roman Hagara, Hans-Peter Steinacher, Mark Bulkeley, Shaun Mason, Stewart Dodson 33 points.
9th Groupama sailing team (FRA) Franck Cammas, Romain Motteau, Tanguy Cariou, Thierry Fouchier, Devan Le Bihan 33 points.
10th Gazprom Team Russia (RUS) Igor Lisovenko, Phil Robertson, Matt Adams, Pete Cumming, Aleksey Kulakov 26 points.
11th GAC Pindar (AUS) Nathan Wilmot, Hugh Styles, Ed Smyth, Seve Jarvin, James Wierzbowski 21 points. Extreme Sailing Series