In the third act of the 2013 Extreme Sailing Series, Qingdao saved its best for last on the final day and the pressure was understandably on from the first start gun with no quarter given on the water as the teams used classic match racing tactics to try and outwit their nearest rivals. The nine races came in thick and fast in the best conditions the fleet have sailed in all week in the heart of Fushan Bay which has once again demonstrated how they became such a successful Olympic sailing venue.
Heading into the final classic Extreme Sailing Series style deciding double-points race, the battle for victory was well and truly on between Alinghi and The Wave, Muscat tracking each other around the course and mirroring each other’s moves.
The Swiss America’s Cup winners used their experience to try and outwit Leigh McMillan’s team and although they won the final double pointer, it wasn’t enough to win the Act and an ecstatic, and somewhat relieved McMillan commented: 'It's a massive relief! To actually get the better of Alinghi in the light winds was a big achievement for us. When it comes to the pure boat on boat battle, they (Alinghi) tend to get the better of us. It's a tough battle, they are a very tough team to beat and tough competitors. The rest of the year is shaping up to be really exciting.'
Morgan Larson, who has taken the tiller from team’s skipper Ernesto Bertarelli at this Act, was visibly frustrated to lose out in the final seconds, and talked through the tactics on the final race. 'We had The Wave, Muscat on starboard so we hunted them a little bit, made them tack back and forth and then we just held them and pinned them out until Red Bull Sailing Team and SAP Extreme Sailing Team got in there. We just managed to get our spinnaker up in time to be ahead of Red Bull and SAP and that was with the points we needed, but you have to hand it to The Wave, Muscat. Those guys were sailing so sharp all week they didn’t give up, they fought back and passed the two boats to the finish.' The Swiss team still leads the Series after posting third and first places in Acts 1 and 2 respectively.
SAP Extreme Sailing Team were firing on all cylinders from the word go, winning three races including the first of the day and gradually eating into GAC Pindar’s advantage held from the beginning of the day.
In the final race, the co-skippers on SAP Extreme Sailing Team, Jes Gram-Hansen and Rasmus Kostner executed the start with precision and never looked back. Helmsman Gram-Hansen said, 'We're very happy! It's a fantastic result for us, hopefully something we can build on and as a team everyone is doing a great job. The Wave, Muscat and Alinghi are sailing very well, but I think today we proved that we can also sail just as well. We are definitely getting closer to them so we will go away, debrief and see how we can improve.' This is the second Act in a row the Danish outfit has finished on the podium, matching their third place from Singapore just three weeks ago.
Despite slight frustration at losing out on their first ever podium position at the final hurdle, GAC Pindar’s young Kiwi skipper Will Tiller, who is making a real mark on this Series in his debut year, was upbeat dockside. 'We're a little disappointed with the results but overall really happy as a team. Finishing the regatta in fourth is just brilliant for us and we would happily take that any day! We will keep pushing these top teams. We have been battling with SAP Extreme Sailing Team from day one and well done to them, they sailed really well today. Hopefully in Istanbul we can flip the coin and get ahead of them!'.
The double Olympic gold medal winning duo Roman Hagara and Hans Peter Steinacher on Red Bull Sailing Team sailed an inconsistent regatta by their standards on the Olympic waters they know so well, but did manage to muster fifth place overall after a slow start to the week, and sit third on the overall Series leaderboard.
The local contingent China Team had the support of the home crowds this week, with four of China’s talented young sailors stepping up to the challenge, a clear sign of the successes of China Team in developing their national sailing talent. Aussie sailing legend and skipper Mitch Booth commented: 'It's been great to be with the local team, the local support has been just phenomenal and they're following these youth Chinese sailors with great interest. It's really satisfying when you are teaching 20 year old kids that have never raced catamarans before to come and join this high level racing Series, it's just great. For me it's just great to be back involved in something that is a real passion of mine.'
Earlier this week, the iconic British brand Land Rover announced a three-year sponsorship of the global sailing series as Series Main Partner, and celebrated the launch of the partnership with the unveiling and naming of their Land Rover branded Extreme 40, which has made its world debut in Qingdao and will be used as a platform to host VIP and media guests.
Co-organised by the Qingdao Yachting Association, China has delivered a festival atmosphere on and off the water including a spectacular opening ceremony, a programme for local schools to meet the sailors and a closing ceremony that finally brought proceedings to a close.
Next the Extreme 40s head to Istanbul, 20-23 June for Act 4 as the Series approaches its halfway stage and we can expect the pressure to turn up another level as the teams look to set themselves up for the second half of the year.
Extreme Sailing Series 2013 Act 3, Qingdao standings after Day 4, 26 races (5.5.13)
Position / Team / Points
1st The Wave, Muscat (OMA) Leigh McMillan, Ed Smyth, Pete Greenhalgh, Musab Al Hadi, Will Howden 202 points. 2nd Alinghi (SUI) Morgan Larson, Stuart Pollard, Pierre Yves Jorand, Nils Frei, Yves Detrey 200 points. 3rd SAP Extreme Sailing Team (DEN) Jes Gram-Hansen, Rasmus Kostner, Pete Cumming, Mikkel Røssberg, Nicolai Sehested 191 points. 4th GAC Pindar (NZL) Will Tiller, Shaun Mason, Stewart Dodson, Harry Thurston, Matt Steven 181 points. 5th Red Bull Sailing Team (AUT) Roman Hagara, Hans Peter Steinacher, Matthew Adams, Simon Cook, Graeme Spence 168 points. 6th Team Korea (KOR) Peter Burling, Matt Vincent, Mark Bulkeley, Tom Johnson, Sungwok Kim 163 points. 7th Realteam (SUI) Jerome Clerc, Bryan Mettraux, Arnaud Psarofaghis, Cédric Schmidt, Thiery Wassem 154 points. 8th China Team (CHN) Mitch Booth, Wen Zijin, Yingkit Cheng, Liu Xue, Zhang Yiran 145 points.
Extreme Sailing Series 2013 overall standings after Act 3, Qingdao
Position / Team / Points
1st Alinghi (SUI) 27 points. 2nd The Wave, Muscat (OMA) 26 points. 3rd Red Bull Sailing Team (AUT) 24 points. 4th SAP Extreme Sailing Team (DEN) 20 points. 5th Team Korea (KOR) 16 points. 6th GAC Pindar (NZL) 16 points. 7th Realteam (SUI) 14 points. 8th Team X Invitational 13 points.