With less than four weeks until the Extreme Sailing Series global tour heads to Russian waters for the first time, the teams are preparing for what is expected to be a tactically challenging event. Russia’s second largest city, Saint Petersburg, will be the host city for Act 4 presented by Land Rover, and with 12 teams confirmed to compete on the stadium racecourse - that is only 300 metres wide at its narrowest point - Race Director Phil Lawrence is predicting a tough competition.
'Saint Petersburg is the latest exciting new venue to be opened up by the Extreme Sailing Series. Similar to Singapore the tight stadium is in the centre of the city and surrounded by iconic buildings. The event will be a 'brain buster' for the tacticians as they battle the technical challenges of light and shifty winds, strong currents and wash from the dozens of tourist and spectator boats passing our stadium exclusion zone. I expect a high scoring regatta with the teams that can minimise their bad races likely to reach the podium.'
Volvo Ocean Race winner and America’s Cup sailor Ray Davies of Emirates Team New Zealand, who is one of the world’s most in-demand tacticians, pre-empted the challenges of the Russian stadium: 'Saint Petersburg is going to be a very challenging venue, we are getting used to the tight courses but this is going to be the tightest yet with the addition of strong currents.' Giving an insight into light-wind tactics, he continued,'Light air sailing is all about finesse, keeping the boat moving as quickly as possible, which gives you options around the course.'
Aussie Stuart Pollard, who is currently top of the Extreme Sailing Series leaderboard with Alinghi, is sharing tactician duties throughout the season with Olympic gold medallist Anna Tunnicliffe. He described his role on board. 'You have to provide clear tactical instructions whilst still being very physically involved in boat handling. On a compressed racetrack like Saint Petersburg you have to complete both items in a compressed time period whilst your heart rate is going at 100%, which can obviously be quite difficult! If you make mistakes it will have a big impact on the results.'
Extreme Sailing Series 2014 - Act 3 Qingdao - © Lloyd Images
For the majority of the teams, Saint Petersburg presents an unknown, and for the tacticians this means as much pre-event preparation as possible. 2008 Olympic gold medallist Paul Goodison of the all-British J.P. Morgan BAR team gave his thoughts. 'You can get an amazing feel for a venue with Google earth, and there’s a good amount of weather and tide data on the internet. However, nothing beats standing on the shoreline with your team and looking at the wind move over the water.' Ray Davies explains that as much as you can have a plan in place, you have to react to the conditions you’re faced with. 'I would study the weather forecasts and the tidal conditions to try and learn as much as possible prior to arriving, but as each day is different you can't get locked into a predetermined plan, so learn what you can then keep an open mind.'
The Wave, Muscat’s only female sailor for the 2014 season, double Olympic gold medallist Sarah Ayton described the key factors for success on a compact stadium racecourse. 'Things change very quickly in the Extreme Sailing Series, especially in such small venues like Saint Petersburg, often the fleet are bunched together so it's really important to understand and use the rules to your advantage.' She continued, 'Getting a good start is always important, making sure the boat’s fully up to speed when the gun goes, which then gives you options. Trying not to get caught up in the raft of Extreme 40's often exiting the windward mark, and really good pre-mark rounding communication to ensure we are exiting the mark into the band/puff of pressure. Being patient often helps and, finally as always staying out of trouble!!'
J.P. Morgan BAR’s Paul Goodison summarised. 'The picture will change quickly and the crews that can communicate their tactics and change their plans the best will be the teams that sail through the fleet.' The fleet will race on the River Neva, 26-29 June, in the heart of the city, against the backdrop of the iconic Saint Peter and Saint Paul cathedral. Details of the national team will be announced soon, and the full team line-ups will be announced on Thursday, 19 June, as 60 of the world’s most elite sailors prepare for four days of close-fought Stadium Racing. Extreme Sailing Series