With what looks to be the most exciting Extreme Sailing Series to date on the horizon, defending champions The Wave, Muscat are hopeful their preparations ahead of the start of Act 1 in Singapore on Thursday have placed them in the league of title contenders for 2014.
Oman is represented by two campaigns this year. Skipper Rob Greenhalgh (GBR) is seeking a repeat of his 2007 Extreme win with a revamped Oman Air campaign and Leigh McMillan’s The Wave, Muscat sets out on a bid for a third consecutive championship success.
Both teams have been training in waters around Singapore for a week as guests of the National Sailing Centre whilst acclimatising to the conditions and shaping expectations for the season. Other Extreme 40 teams have been training in Britain and the Mediterranean, but McMillan is hoping The Wave, Muscat can hit the ground running when the start gun is fired.
The Wave Muscat skipper Leigh McMillan (GBR) - © Lloyd Images
'I think the training has put us in a good position for the season but I’m not sure that training in Singapore necessarily gives us an advantage for the Singapore races because it is such a tricky and random venue and anyone can win there,' he said.
In 2013, McMillan found the light conditions extremely ‘tricky’ and posted a fifth place that knocked them off the top of overall leaderboard. It proved the spur they needed to up their performance across all conditions, which ultimately led to winning the championship.
'Hopefully we will be starting where we left off last year but you won’t see us being miles ahead at the first event,' McMillan said. 'It will be extremely tough this year given the level of competition but I do think we will be in contention.
'The new crew has gelled really well. Sarah Ayton has picked things up really quickly and is very focussed on getting the details right. Routines, debriefs and note taking were a big part of her Olympic campaign and that ability to quickly assess situations has already proved beneficial to us.
'Nasser Al Mashari is a real talent and relishing the opportunity to be part of the team – he has only been in the sport for four years but has a real feel for sailing. Kinley has been a perfect replacement for Ed Smyth – very high skill levels and a fantastic ability to multitask. He has a light-hearted touch and comes up with the right sort of remark at the right time which could be useful as the year evolves.'
Al Mashari is one of three new members of The Wave, Muscat and having spent last year out of Extreme 40 racing is raring to go and keen to grab the opportunity to be part of a winning team.
The Wave Muscat crew - © Lloyd Images
'We have been training for a week in Singapore and have had up to 18 knots of wind so hopefully we will get the same when racing starts. We are all new to the team but all know each other well and understand our roles so hopefully we will be strong and have some fun. We are feeling comfortable, in fact we are very excited and will be doing our best.'
While out in Singapore, Ayton who has two Olympic gold medals but no experience in racing Extreme 40s, was immediately struck by the challenges that lie ahead. 'We had a look at the venue – the race course is quite small for 12 boats so I think it will be very hectic and quite different from what I’ve known before in terms of how quickly things happen. It will be challenging.
'I’ve been impressed with Leigh and Pete Greenhalgh – it has been a real pleasure sailing with them, Nasser and Kinley. They are all focussed and want to do well. We all know there will be no room for mistakes and we are under no illusion that it will be tough but we are all very excited.'
Pete’s brother Rob Greenhalgh takes up the reins of sister ship Oman Air for the first time in 2014 and is happy to be getting into the swing of things without a burden of expectation.
'We have no pressure on us apart from the pressure we put on ourselves and we want to do as well as we can. Everyone will win races and everyone has a good chance of finishing on the podium at the end and that includes us. It is all down to how we evolve over the year.'
Rob’s team on Oman Air includes the Omani duo from last year’s The Wave, Muscat crew Hashim Al Rashdi and Musab Al Hadi, who are also working on an Olympic campaign, plus Leigh McMillan’s former Olympic partner, Will Howden and young prospect from Australia making his debut on the Extreme 40 circuit, Tom Johnson.
'A lot of the new teams are green to it all and they might be slow off the mark but they will get better. It could be a bit of a scrap but we are looking forward to some good racing.'
A star-studded line up of 12 boats will be jostling for the best possible advantage when the start gun is fired on Thursday 20 February to mark the start of the 2014 season. Extreme Sailing Series