On a packed eight race day at Act 3 of the Extreme Sailing Series in Qingdao, the battle lines were drawn between the 12 competing international Extreme 40 teams ahead of tomorrow’s final showdown on the compact stadium racecourse, which at times resulted in a few near misses, protest flags being pulled, a man overboard for SAP Extreme Sailing Team and a collision in the final race of the day between GAC Pindar and Team Extreme Qingdao, that will see the Aussie team with a night of repairs ahead.
Alinghi – the team who have led the Act since race one – managed to cling onto a 10-point advantage at the close of play, but it was their fellow Swiss country men Realteam who had their strategy sorted, strengthening their hand with each race, including a win in the day’s opener, to head into tomorrow’s final showdown in China’s Olympic Sailing City in second place, to the delight of skipper Jérôme Clerc. 'We started in fourth place today and we are now second so we are very happy. It shows that our strategy is working. We have stayed conservative all day and didn’t take too many risks, but at the same time have had good starts and our tactics were spot on. Tomorrow we will be happy if we manage to keep Alinghi behind us.' The defending Series champions The Wave, Muscat are just two points behind Realteam, and with up to 90 points for the taking tomorrow, and huge gusts up to 28 knots set to return, the Land Rover Extreme Sailing Series Act 3, Qingdao is set to go down to the wire.
The fleet struggled to master the challenging reaching starts on the Qingdao stadium - © Lloyd Images/Extreme Sailing Series Click Here to view large photo
The first four races were played out in around eight knots of wind, and executing the starting procedure well was crucial, with decisions made in the pre-start often dictating the outcome of the race. On the short start line the fleet struggled to get away cleanly, with the on-water referees dishing out starting penalties including two general recalls, before the third attempt saw nine of the 12 boat fleet red flagged. After five races, there was a change in tempo, and a building southerly breeze outside the harbour brought with it big swell, that saw the teams punching through the waves in 12 knots of breeze. One team to relish the conditions was Emirates Team New Zealand, who finished the day strongly with two back-to back-wins, leaving them trailing the defending Series champions by just one point in fourth place. 22-year old Pete Burling, who has taken the tiller from Dean Barker this week said: 'We started the day a little slow, but in the last three races of the day we really got off the start-line well which is the first time all week we have really managed to do that. I think the level is really high right now, we’re slowly getting better each day, and we’re happy with the boat speed and hopefully we’ll be able to give it a good crack tomorrow. Tomorrow we’ll need to do the same as we did in those last races today – good starts off the line and consistency.'
Oman Air skipper Oman Air led his team to their first race win in Qingdao, during the penultimate days racing - © Lloyd Images/Extreme Sailing Series Click Here to view large photo
The battle mid-leaderboard is just as intense, with only 25 points separating positions five to eleven at close of play – little more than the difference of tomorrow’s final double points race with everything to play for. Red Bull Sailing Team led the second half of the pack in fifth place with 105 points, with Gazprom Team Russia just nine points behind. Today was an important day for Oman Air, who needed to put points on the leaderboard to cash-in on the average points they were awarded after getting knocked out of racing on day one, and Rob Greenhalgh and his team did just that, winning their first race of the Act. The Omani team head into tomorrow’s final in a solid seventh place, two points ahead of Groupama sailing team, and Kyle Langford, who has joined the team this week as mainsail trimmer, commented: 'It was our first proper day’s racing (after missing day one following a collision), and it went reasonably well. We had a race win which was good, and it was good to see that we can actually do it, so all in all it was excellent. It was easier for us to get in sync and figure out our manoeuvres. All of the races were the same so we could try to improve from each race. We’re constantly working hard and we’ll always aim to improve.'
Ben Ainslie’s J.P. Morgan BAR have not had the return to the 2008 Olympic waters they would have been hoping for at the start of the week, but the British team began to turn that around today, including a win in the sixth race of the day, giving the team a boost up the leaderboard to ninth place. Pippa Wilson, the team’s headsail trimmer who took gold in the Yngling class in 2008 as one of ‘three blondes in a boat’, commented: 'It was a bit of an up and down day, we had a sticky start and then got used to the conditions and got better and better throughout the day. It was a difficult day but we’re learning more about the style of racing as it’s quite different to anything any of us have ever done before, so it takes a bit of time to get into that and work out the trends of the day. I think we did well to get through the difficult conditions, and pulled out some good results in the middle. I think tomorrow will be quite a different day, it’s supposed to be quite breezy, so we will see what we get weather-wise in the morning and take it from there.'
The young Aussie team on GAC Pindar are really trying to hone their multihull skills this year and today began to match the more experienced players on the track with their best results of the week. It wasn’t all plain sailing for skipper David Gilmour however, and a collision in the final seconds of the final race with Team Extreme Qingdao has left them with a big gash in the stern of their right hull, and a night of repairs in the pitlane. Gilmour explained: 'We were reaching downwind to the finish and we had the pontoon to the left of us, and Team Extreme Qingdao were sailing upwind and side on to us. They had right of way and in the direction they were pointing we would have to either sail into the jetty or into them – so we tried to get in between, hit them and ruined our boat a little bit.' Taking the positives away from the day, Gilmour continued: 'Today we had a much better day than the start of the regatta. We’re really working together as a team and I’m starting to get used to these boats a bit more – it was really good fun today.'
With up to 90 points up for the taking tomorrow, including the often game-changing final double points race, and with so little separation on the leaderboard, tomorrow really is anyone’s game. The rhythm is set to change again tomorrow for the fleet, with huge gusts on the forecast as China’s Olympic sailing city continues to throw everything at the elite level sailors.
The Wave, Muscat fly a hull as they battle the rough sea state on day 3 in Qingdao - © Lloyd Images/Extreme Sailing Series Click Here to view large photo
Realteam were cool, calm and collected on the stadium racecourse and head into the final day in second place - © Lloyd Images/Extreme Sailing Series Click Here to view large photo
Red Bull Sailing Team tackle the rough sea stage and fly over a wave on the penultimate days racing - © Lloyd Images/Extreme Sailing Series Click Here to view large photo
Gazprom Team Russia punch their way through the swell on the penultimate day in Qingdao, China - © Lloyd Images/Extreme Sailing Series Click Here to view large photo
Ben Ainslie steered his all-British crew to victory in race 20 on the Qingdao racecourse in China. - © Lloyd Images/Extreme Sailing Series Click Here to view large photo
Land Rover Extreme Sailing Series™ Act 3 Qingdao, for the ‘Double Star Mingren’ Cup standings after day three, 22 races (03.05.14) Position / Team / Points
The close reaching starts caught most of the fleet out, with starting penalties dished out during almost every race - © Lloyd Images/Extreme Sailing Series Click Here to view large photo
1st Alinghi (SUI) Morgan Larson, Anna Tunnicliffe, Pierre-Yves Jorand, Nils Frei, Yves Detrey 133 points.
2nd Realteam by Realstone (SUI) Jérôme Clerc, Arnaud Psarofaghis, Denis Girardet, Bryan Mettraux, Thierry Wassem 123 points.
3rd The Wave, Muscat (OMA) Leigh McMillan, Sarah Ayton, Pete Greenhalgh, Kinley Fowler, Nasser Al Mashari 121 points.
4th Emirates Team New Zealand (NZL) Peter Burling, Glenn Ashby, Blair Tuke, Jeremy Lomas, Edwin Delaat 120 points.
5th Red Bull Sailing Team (AUT) Roman Hagara, Hans-Peter Steinacher, Mark Bulkeley, Nick Blackman, Stewart Dodson 105 points.
6th Gazprom Team Russia (RUS) Igor Lisovenko, Paul Campbell-James, Alister Richardson, Pete Cumming, Aleksey Kulakov 96 points.
7th Oman Air (OMA) Rob Greenhalgh, Tom Johnson, Kyle Langford, Hashim Al Rashdi, Musab Al Hadi 92 points.
8th Groupama sailing team (FRA) Franck Cammas, Sophie de Turckheim, Tanguy Cariou, Thierry Fouchier, Devan Le Bihan 90 points.
9th J.P. Morgan BAR (GBR) Ben Ainslie, Nick Hutton, Paul Goodison, Pippa Wilson, Matt Cornwell 85 points.
10th SAP Extreme Sailing Team (DEN) Jes Gram-Hansen, Rasmus Køstner, Thierry Douillard, Peter Wibroe, Nicolai Sehested 81 points.
11th Team Extreme Qingdao (CHN) Mitch Booth, Zhang Yiran, Liu Xue, Nick Moloney, Freddie White 80 points.
12th GAC Pindar (AUS) David Gilmour, Troy Tindill, Ed Smyth, Sam Newton, Alexandra South 66 points. Extreme Sailing Series