At the Extreme Sailing Series, strong winds with brutal gusts and a move to stadium racing in Qingdao raised the degree of difficulty for sailors on the second day but defending champions The Wave, Muscat held firm to maintain their position on the leaderboard and Oman Air moved determinedly out of the starting blocks.
Race officials also had a challenging day ensuring that racing was safe and contending with wind speeds that varied between five and 25 knots and gusts that reached 32 knots. The fleet was split into flights of four boats each on the tiny Fushon Bay racetrack for a total of six races.
It proved to be one of the trickiest days in ESS history and the challenge for Leigh McMillan and his crew on The Wave, Muscat was to stay focussed and consistent which they did successfully with three podium places in three races. They came off the water relieved to have finished unscathed and happy with their performance.
'The wind was very strong which made things very challenging but we did well to maintain our position,' said The Wave, Muscat’s bowman Nasser Al Mashari.
'On days like today, my biggest lesson is the importance of being physically fit and strong because it is really hard work going up and down, up and down in these kinds of conditions. I was hoping that all those hours spent in the gym would pay off but I think I have to work a bit harder!'
The Land Rover Extreme Sailing Series 2014 - © Lloyd Images/Extreme Sailing Series
'It was quite unpleasant really,' added skipper McMillan as he stepped off the boat after a day that was more about survival! 'So close to the city with massive gusts, it made it difficult to handle the boat and there was a definite emphasis on just surviving the day. It would have been nice to have put more points on the board but it was a good effort by the team to keep things rolling. We are already looking ahead to the next two days with a few more races and more points up for grabs.'
There were a few hair-raising moments, McMillan continued but no damage. 'You still have to do the same things to stay consistent in these conditions. Push hard but take fewer risks. It didn’t turn out too badly for us. We had a tricky moment at the first leeward mark with a big gust and we thought at one point we’d had it. We could have done without that and did well to come back from it.'
Sarah Ayton is used to the conditions in Qingdao and made the most of them in 2008 to win her Olympic gold medal but today, the emphasis was on staying safe, she said. 'We had one windy day in the Olympics but it was a steady 25 knots. Today we had five knots one minute and 25 the next with massive gusts so it was a really tough day but we did ok. We are still in second place overall. It is hard to be consistent but the main thing is to stay safe.
'It’s important to be patient and stay calm. When you run into a light spot you have to make adjustments and work harder to make the boat go fast. We need to check out the forecast for the remainder of the weekend to see if we will still have this breeze but tomorrow I’m sure it will be more of the same.
The Land Rover Extreme Sailing Series 2014. The Wave, Muscat. Skippered by Leigh McMillan (GBR) with tactician Sarah Ayton (GBR), trimer Peter Greenhalgh (GBR), headsail trimer Kinley Fowler (NZL) and bowman Nasser Al Mashari (OMA) - © Lloyd Images/Extreme Sailing Series
After a night spent in the boat shed after being t-boned by GAC Pindar on Thursday, Oman Air came out of the starting blocks with a strong resolve to settle in to their new crew composition and put some points on the board – the first few races proved tricky for the new team, but they rounded off a difficult day with a promising third place in the final race.
'Sailing does not get any more difficult than this,' said Kyle Langford who is racing his first Extreme Sailing Series in three years and comes fresh from winning the America’s Cup with Oracle Team USA. '150 degree wind shifts and from five to 25 knots in a matter of seconds. It was hard work!
'But any race we can do is good for us and we learned a lot today. What made it difficult was how shifty and gusty it was and how quickly you have to react.
'My experience in racing these boats with this crew is obviously limited which made for a trying day but it was good fun. I made a bit of a mistake in race one so hopefully now that I’ve got that out of the way, we can move on. The more time we have on the water, the more we will improve.'
Oman Air is expected to receive average points after racing on day three (Saturday) for the day that they sat out in the pit lane after GAC Pindar ploughed into their port hull just 30 seconds into the start.
Thousands of spectators turned up to the free public Race Village in Fushan Bay to watch the Extreme 40s in action and after a wave of Extreme publicity, thousands more are expected over the remaining two days.
The Land Rover Extreme Sailing Series 2014. Act 3, Qingdao . China. 'The Double Star Mingren Cup'. Oman Air shore crewman Hilal Al Zadjali (OMA) works on a the hull - © Lloyd Images/Extreme Sailing Series
Extreme Sailing Series
The Land Rover Extreme Sailing Series 2014. Qingdao. China. Oman Air skippered Rob Greenhalgh (GBR) with headsail trimer Kyle Langford (AUS), trimer Tom Johnson (AUS), bowman Hashim Al Rashdi (OMA) and bowman Musab Al Hadi (OMA) - © Lloyd Images/Extreme Sailing Series