The iShares Cup fleet had their final shakedown before the final of the 2008 series today, with three practice races before the serious business of deciding the overall champions begins tomorrow.
The 10 Extreme 40s took to the IJ-Haven canal, a narrow strip of water just a few minutes away from Amsterdam city centre, off Java Island. Cheered on by scores of school children who lined the dockside to marvel at the Extreme 40s whizzing past just inches away, the iShares Cup skippers all put on a show by flying a hull and waving to the cheering spectators.
The home crowd had plenty of local sailing stars to cheer for — with ten Dutch sailors on board the Extreme 40s, a quarter of the top quality fleet are from the host nation. Herbert Dercksen skippers the all-Dutch Volvo Ocean Race crew, and helped develop the Extreme 40 class specifically for this kind of sailing in the city. 'It’s great that you can fly a hull in such a small space, it’s really good, just what the boats are designed for. It’s all excitement, we had an entire school on the side of the canal cheering for you and they even know the team names — what more you could you want!'
'We hope to do really well here, and put in a good performance. It’s going to be a great venue, a lot can happen. If you’re last then you could still be first, and if you’re first then you could suddenly be last, so a lot could happen!' he added.
The iShares Cup fleet were joined today by four Dutch Olympic medalists for the informal afternoon of racing. Marcelien de Koning, silver medalist in the 470 class crewed onboard iShares, whilst Herbert Dercksen stepped aside from his usual position on the helm of the Volvo Ocean Race Extreme 40, as the team were joined by Mandy Mulder, Annemieke Bes and Merel Witteveen, who have just returned from winning silver in the Yngling sailing class at Beijing.
'I had to do the hard job!' joked Herb, as he moved from the tiller onto the mainsheet winch. 'I had two of the Yngling girls who won a silver medal at the Olympic Games, they steered the whole day and did a fantastic job. Mandy’s ready for helming one of the 40s that’s for sure.'
'It was really, really cool! We weren’t the fastest, we have to practice a little, but we need a girls’ boat next time!' said Merel after racing. 'It was wonderful sailing,' added Mandy, who helmed for the day — including a tricky spinnaker start. 'The downwind start was a bit difficult to begin with – there were boats everywhere and Herbert was saying ‘Go between them!’ and we were saying ‘No, we can’t!’.'
There was plenty more Dutch interest in the fleet as Olympic sailor Marcelien de Koning joined the iShares catamaran for the day’s racing, having won a silver medal at Beijing in the 470 class. 'What an awesome experience. I’ve heard a lot about these boats, but have never been on one, so to have the chance to sail today with iShares in Amsterdam was too good an opportunity to miss. I’ve had such a great time, I hope to come back over the weekend and cheer the team on.'
The bright orange Holmatro catamaran is also flying the flag for the home country. Skipper Andreas Hagara was looking forward to having plenty of supporters at the iShares Cup final: 'We are going to be really busy with a lot of guests because Holmatro is a Dutch company and half our crew is Dutch.
'Amsterdam is a fantastic place to have the final. Racing this close to the harbour walls will be exhilarating for both the teams and the spectators. I can’t wait for the first start tomorrow.'
Tommy Hilfiger skipper Randy Smyth and his team got things off to a good start today by winning the final practice race, while Shirley Robertson on JPMorgan Asset Management again showed her skill in light and shifty winds to take the first of today’s races.
The Amsterdam venue could well be one of the trickiest so far, with light winds, sudden puffs and shifts, and an ultra-small racecourse to contend with, but it didn’t phase Randy Smyth. 'Actually we kind of like this stuff, it’s like we have a really short attention span!' he joked about the continually changing places.
'It’s funny, last year we had eight boats and it was kind of crowded, but this year there’s 10 boats on the same sized body of water but what you can really see is that we’re all sailing the boats better. All the teams are experienced and they can predict each others’ moves, so it’s not as hair-raising.'
Racing takes place tomorrow from 1.00pm, with a parade of sail along Java Island before races in the IJ-Haven, Amsterdam. http://www.isharescup.com