The opening day of competition in the Extreme Sailing Series offered a sign of things to come in the 2014 season with defending champions The Wave, Muscat and sister ship Oman Air both taking time to get into the swing of things in the fickle breeze of Singapore amid a seriously upgraded Extreme 40 fleet.
Light and shifty winds posed a stern test for all 12 crews who were having to manoeuvre their 40-foot catamarans around the tightest of stadium courses surrounded by high rise office blocks and shopping malls.
The upshot was some exciting bumper-to-bumper racing in which Extreme 40 experience counted for little. There were also a clutch of mistakes on the start line and issues on the racetrack including with Leigh McMillan who earned a 45 second penalty following a collision with GAC Pindar.
By then however, McMillan’s new look crew, featuring Olympic gold medallist Sarah Ayton, America’s Cup sailor Kinley Fowler and Nasser Al Mashari as well as seasoned professional Pete Greenhalgh had already posted their first outright victory of 2014 with an emphatic win in Race 3.
But across the day, consistency, the quality that has earned them two consecutive championship titles in 2012 and 2013 proved elusive as the unpredictable, fickle conditions and the arbitrary nature of the competition produced six different winners in eight races.
'It was a very difficult day – we had some good starts but we kept getting pinged on the wrong side of the course so the results didn’t go our way,' said McMillan.
'The day didn’t pan out as well as we hoped but we know there will be a few days like this so we have to push on. We don’t need to change anything except to sharpen up a little bit and keep cool.'
After her first day of Extreme 40 racing, British Olympic gold medallist Sarah Ayton was relishing the experience.
'It was full on. We did a lot of racing and they all roll into one but it was good fun. We had a crash, Kinley fell out and we got a penalty turn but we have come away knowing we are a strong team, always looking for an opportunity so although we have a long way to go, we can’t wait to get out there again tomorrow.'
Extreme Sailing Series 2014 Act 1 Singapore - Oman Air skippered by Rob Greenghalgh (GBR) - © Lloyd Images
Rob Greenhalgh’s crew on Oman Air saved their best until last with an exciting tussle at the finish of Race 8 with Dean Barker in Emirates Team New Zealand. The Kiwis edged over the line first but Oman Air were worthy runners up, achieving their third podium place of the day and closing their day in eighth place overall, one place ahead of The Wave, Muscat.
'The day was as hard as we expected,' Greenhalgh said. 'It was very shifty and gusty so it was a matter of rolling the dice a little bit and keeping your fingers crossed. I think there is some method to the madness but there is a high degree of lottery because there were 90-degree wind shifts and it was patchy. By the end of racing, some trends had started to emerge – being aggressive on the right side of the course paid off – but it will be different tomorrow.'
A debrief after the day’s racing saw all the crews analyse their own performances and on Oman Air, there were two striking conclusions, according to Musab Al Hadi. This Extreme 40 contest was as good as it gets in top-level competitive sailing and there is a long way to go. 'This is a full on contest,' said Al Hadi who campaigned on winning boat The Wave, Muscat in 2013.
'It was very difficult and quite stressful. There are some great guys in this fleet so we have a lot to learn but on the evidence of the first day we are in the mix and that is a good place to be.' Oman Sail