Flying is truly wonderful, but we are apt to get blasé about it. For example, this morning I got on a plane in Hong Kong where it was a soul-sapping 8˚, and now I am in Singapore where it is a balmy 27˚ and I’m going to have to get more ice for my g&t in a minute - and that’s what I mean by ‘truly wonderful’.
Today produced the opening strokes of the Extreme Sailing Series 2014, the original stadium-racing-high-adrenaline-right-in-front-of-the-crowd sailing event that started back in 2007. Sure, Singapore is never going to turn out the sort of crowds that have been clocked in sunny Naples or even romantic Cardiff Docks, but that’s a matter of local history and local culture, not a reflection on the event itself.
This year, the ESS and the Extreme 40s are the No 1 game in town. There’s nothing else major in the sailing calendar until the Volvo rolls out of Alicante in October. (apart from the European Olympic class circuit)
That might explain why the crew lists are packed with names like Ben Ainslie, Franck Cammas, Tanguy Cariou, Dean Barker, Glenn Ashby, James Dagg, Jeremy Lomas, Paul Goodison, Pippa Wilson and more.
Racing started this afternoon on Marina Bay Reservoir which is an ace place to watch damn fast cats racing – as long as there is wind. 5-10 knots was the official figure, which means there was plenty to get the Extreme 40s hopping. It also means that there was 5 knots here, here, and here, 10 knots over there, ad maybe nothing at all everywhere else.
Sharp eyes could pick out the little bombs coming round the corner from the direction of the Barrage, and the For sure, sailing at Marina Bay is like playing snakes and ladders, and tacticians can (and do) go from mustard to muesli and sometimes even back again in nothing flat.
Ian Williams, four times WMRT Champion and a former ESS competitor himself was enjoying the scenery from the balcony of the Land Rover hospitality lounge where you get a good view of the whole racecourse.
Williams is coaching Team Australia (Seve Jarvin, Troy Tindill, Ed Smyth, Sam Newton, Alexandra South) who are sailing under GAC Pindar colours. 'In these kind of conditions,' he says, 'it’s all about getting enough of the 50/50 calls.
There’s not enough runway to sail to a strategy or to get out of trouble once you’re in it. It’s sheer opportunism, and intuitive thinking at very high speed. Sometimes you get it wrong, and there is never the time of the wriggle-room to correct out.' We look down on the racecourse. In this race Ben Ainslie is running second last, 'and he’s no mug,' observes Williams. Behind him is Dean Barker. Nuff said.
Next to Williams on the balcony is Iain Murray, clearly a man who has not seen enough fast cat racing recently. He, too, is keeping an eye on Team Australia.
What can he see that needs a few words from a coach? 'This is really early days for these guys. We need to see them do a few hundred starts and several thousand mark rounding before we can properly identify what we can start working on.'
After racing, skipper Seve Jarvin – a 18’ skiff sailor with no less than five J J Giltinan titles to his credit, and who therefore probably
thinks that an Extreme 40 is a slug – admits that he feels the lack of a mainsheet on the cat. 'When it starts getting a bit stressy, I sort of reach for a rope to pull. And there isn’t one, which is a bit of a worry for a moment or two.'
Jarvin and Co are the first signings for Team Australia, which is Bob Oatley’s Challenger of Record for the next America’s Cup.
Says Murray, 'we are just a small group of people having a look around at the moment. We are thinking about a team that that is going to race we don’t know where under a protocol that hasn’t been decided. So, yes, we are just looking around at the moment.'
This is Murray’s first time at an ESS event: 'It’s impressive. It’s busy, They really mix it up, don’t they?'
'I never thought I’d say this, but' says Williams, 'C’mon Aussie, c’mon!'
Just this afternoon there was probably more breeze than blew during all four days of last year’s event, and all the weather forecasts are saying ‘more of the same’ for tomorrow, so that’s good.
We’ll bring you some more commentary from the sidelines, (after a suitable pause for refreshment, of course).