At the Extreme Sailing Series in Cardiff, the crowds crammed into the best vantage points to witness Extreme 40 ‘stadium-style’ racing as Wales’ capital city proudly hosts the UK round of the tour for the first time. A festival atmosphere was predominant around the Race Village neighbouring the annual Cardiff Harbour Festival. As festival-goers took a spin on the nearby Helter Skelter, the guest sailors were experiencing their own form of a Helter Skelter ride on board the Extreme 40s in the gusty, and up and down, winds on Cardiff Bay.
Britain’s Leigh McMillan who helms The Wave, Muscat is aiming for his fourth straight win in 2012. If he does it, McMillan will match the four-straight wins of the Swiss team Alinghi in 2008 – Alinghi, skippered by Ed Baird, went on to win the overall Extreme Sailing Series that year.
Former Olympian McMillan certainly has the bit between his teeth here in Cardiff – he and his team of Ed Smyth, Pete Greenhalgh, Bleddyn Mon and Omani Hashim Al Rashdi managed the difficult conditions to overhaul Roman Hagara’s Red Bull Sailing Team.
Another eight races were staged today in similar conditions to yesterday, except the differentials in the wind speeds were greater making the reaching starts challenging in the constrained starting area rammed right up to the VIP facility and Race Village: 'The timing in the starts were really difficult today because we had starts with three knots and then gusts coming in with fifteen knots,' said SAP Extreme Sailing Team’s Jes Gram-Hansen. 'Getting the timing right was difficult. I think everyone had difficulties starting today.'
Oman Air skipper, Morgan Larson, was of the same opinion: 'That was the hardest part of the day, the trigger time was all over the place,' said Larson but he is relieved to have kept hold of second place going into the final day. 'I think we have really good depth in our team, so the shiftier, the gustier the better. I think at the beginning my lack of multihull experience was holding us back, but slowly I’m finding my way.'
There was delight for GAC Pindar, skippered by Andrew Walsh who is covering for four-time ISAF World Match Racing Champion Ian Williams. The British team may not have scored a single race win today but they were consistently finishing in the top half to claim third overall by the end of the penultimate day. 'I think we did a great job today,' said US Olympic gold medallist and two-time ISAF Sailor of the Year, Anna Tunnicliffe, who cut her knee open on the first day requiring 11 stitches but who was back racing on GAC Pindar today.
'The guys are doing a really great job with the boat handling which is making it very easy knowing that we could change our calls last minute if necessary. It’s fast paced and it’s keeping you on your toes all the time. There is no time to think and second-guess, you just have to make a call and I’m having such a blast sailing with these guys, they’re a great team.'
The nine-boat fleet screamed around the tight and complex courses, only 3,800m in distance, rounding between 9-10 race marks with some of the turning marks planted right in front of the public who responded with cheers and gasps synonymous with Extreme 40 stadium racing. The wind speed maxed at 23 knots and Team Wales recorded the highest boat speed of 23.5 knots in the last race.
The leaderboard is close, perhaps the closest this season. Only 12 points separate the top four boats, and just one point separates Alinghi in fifth place and Groupe Edmond de Rothschild and SAP Extreme Sailing Team who are on equal points, whilst one point divides Team Wales and ZouLou.
The last word from today rests with Leigh McMillan who knows the bittersweet nature of Extreme 40 racing only to well: 'No, it’s never comfortable in this event and it’s not going to be any more comfortable with one race to go or on the last race. There is absolutely no guarantees we’ll be on the podium or on the top of the podium tomorrow… We’ll just push all the way to the end.'
Extreme Sailing Series 2012 Act 5, Cardiff, Wales, UK standings after day three, 24 races (1.9.12):
1. The Wave, Muscat (OMA), Leigh McMillan, Ed Smyth, Pete Greenhalgh, Bleddyn Mon, Hashim Al Rashdi 145 points 2. Oman Air (OMA), Morgan Larson, Will Howden, Charlie Ogletree, Andy Maloney, Nasser Al Mashari 140 points 3. GAC Pindar (GBR), Andrew Walsh, Anna Tunnicliffe, Mark Bulkeley, Adam Piggot, Richard Peacock 134 points 4. Red Bull Sailing Team (AUT), Roman Hagara, Hans Peter Steinacher, Matthew Adams, Pierre Le Clainche, Graeme Spencer 133 points 5. Alinghi (SUI), Ernesto Bertarelli, Jean-Christophe Mourniac, Pierre-Yves Jorand, Nils Frei, Yves Detrey 122 points 6. Groupe Edmond de Rothschild (FRA), Pierre Pennec, Arnaud Psarofaghis, Christophe André, Romain Petit, Romain Motteau 121 points 7. SAP Extreme Sailing Team (DEN), Jes Gram-Hansen, Rasmus Køstner, Pete Cumming, Mikkel Røssberg, Jonas Hviid 121 points 8. Team Wales, Dave Evans, Torvar Mirsky, Tudur Owen, Hannah Mills, Ed Powys 82 points 9. ZouLou (FRA), Erik Maris, Philip Mourniac, Jean-Sébastien Ponce, Patrick Aucour, Bruno Jeanjean 81 points