In the third act of the Extreme Sailing Series in Qingdao, the skippers and crews competing could have woken up in a different city today, after a thick fog descended overnight masking the buildings around Fushan Bay. The fleet waited patiently on shore for the fog to clear and they thought it was all over for the day, but at 1630 local time it finally abated, the roof tops reemerged and four leaderboard changing races were sailed.
Leigh McMillan certainly seemed to have his mojo back today, winning two of the four races to overhaul Alinghi’s 14 race reign at the top of the leaderboard and setting his team The Wave, Muscat up with a 12 point advantage for tomorrow’s final day. If possible, the battle on the rest of the leaderboard was even tenser and after another testing light wind day, only 11 points separate positions three to eight at close of play– the difference of tomorrow’s final double points race with everything to play for.
The Wave, Muscat strengthened their hand with each race and had their strategy sorted, executing the starts with precision as a clearly relieved McMillan explained: 'The strategy to start with was trying to be out of phase with the other boats, because with such a narrow course and lots of tacking there weren’t many opportunities for overtaking. If you are in phase with the other boats you just slow each other down, so we tried to avoid that as much as we could, and that seemed to work well for us. We are just happy to be racing well and actually working well as a team, and generally everyone sailing well on the boat, so that is the bonus'.
Where The Wave, Muscat triumphed today Alinghi faltered with the biggest blow coming in the final race when a collision with their Swiss counterparts Realteam resulted not only in a penalty for helmsman Morgan Larson for a simple port-starboard incident, but damage to Alinghi’s port stern. Back on shore, the umpires reassessed and after concluding that Realteam could have avoided the collision Jerome Clerc will be penalized with a starting penalty tomorrow. But for Alinghi that will give little solace with a night of repairs ahead and the team will have to regroup and dig deep tonight to come back fighting tomorrow, as Larson explained: 'It just didn’t click from the word go, I can't really pin-point one area. You just have to get the little things right, get a good start, maintain good speed and not over-think it and not get yourself into a sticky predicament. We let a lot of points slip but tomorrow's another day, there's going to be a lot of races and there will be chances to get a comeback. I'd be really unhappy if we didn’t push The Wave, Muscat right to the finish line.'
Qingdao continued to test the teams today in light winds of only five knots on short courses that lasted less than 15 minutes. In the final short one lap windward-leeward race, three teams, SAP Extreme Sailing Team, GAC Pindar and the local boat China Team, were all fighting each other hard with the high stakes of a podium position up for grabs to set them up for tomorrow’s finale.
GAC Pindar’s Will Tiller, who only made the switch from match racing to Extreme 40 stadium racing this year, did well to hold his nerve and maintain the third place he came into going into today, explain after racing: 'We are so happy to still be in third and still to be going well. It’s interesting to see Alinghi were not so untouchable today so there's always the chance that if we sail well to catch up to them.'
The local contingent, China Team have been spurred on by the support of a home crowd this week and upgraded their position from seventh to fifth at the end of today after a string of finishes in the top half of the fleet, and well within touching distance of the overall podium. Skipper Mitch Booth, who is leading the team of some of China’s finest young sailors, was aware of the challenges tomorrow will bring, but couldn’t help having an eye on what could be his first ever podium finish in the Extreme Sailing Series.
'We didn’t expect to be so close to the podium, that's for sure! I think to be realistic we've been quite lucky with this regatta so far, it's been light so we've covered a few of our mistakes, but we're pretty happy with where we're doing on the boat. I have never finished on a podium in any Extreme Sailing Series event; it would mean a lot to be on the podium for a change!'
Red Bull Sailing Team had another mixed bag of results today, including a win in the first race but wavered in the second finishing last, which ultimately cost them one place on the overall leaderboard. SAP Extreme Sailing Team are hungry for their second consecutive podium place after finishing third in Singapore only three weeks ago, while Team Korea and Realteam are in pursuit of their first top three finishes in both of the teams’ debut year.
All of the teams will be heading into tomorrow’s final day plotting their course for the podium, with so little separation on the leaderboard and a final double points race to come, tomorrow really is anyone’s game. The fleet will race in two sessions in the morning and afternoon to make the most of the conditions in Qingdao, which are set to be another testing day of light winds on the 2008 Olympic waters.
Extreme Sailing Series 2013 Act 3, Qingdao standings after Day 3, 17 races (4.5.13)
Position / Team / Points
1st The Wave, Muscat (OMA) Leigh McMillan, Ed Smyth, Pete Greenhalgh, Musab Al Hadi, Will Howden 132 points. 2nd Alinghi (SUI) Morgan Larson, Stuart Pollard, Pierre Yves Jorand, Nils Frei, Yves Detrey 120 points. 3rd GAC Pindar (NZL) Will Tiller, Shaun Mason, Stewart Dodson, Harry Thurston, Matt Steven 111 points. 4th SAP Extreme Sailing Team (DEN) Jes Gram-Hansen, Rasmus Kostner, Pete Cumming, Mikkel Røssberg, Nicolai Sehested 110 points. 5th China Team (CHN) Mitch Booth, Wen Zijin, Yingkit Cheng, Liu Xue, Zhang Yiran 106 points. 6th Red Bull Sailing Team (AUT) Roman Hagara, Hans Peter Steinacher, Matthew Adams, Simon Cook, Graeme Spence 105 points. 7th Team Korea (KOR) Peter Burling, Matt Vincent, Mark Bulkeley, Tom Johnson, Sungwok Kim 103 points. 8th Realteam (SUI) Jerome Clerc, Bryan Mettraux, Arnaud Psarofaghis, Cédric Schmidt, Thiery Wassem 97 points.