Cardiff hosts Extreme Sailing Series regatta - and receives boost from China


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The Independent Online

With a re-shuffled cast of players, Cardiff has also become the launch city for a new Chinese yacht racing team as it hosts this weekend’s Extreme Sailing Series regatta for the second year in succession.

China Spirit, in fiery red colours, has picked up an existing crew, formerly Waka Sailing, skippered by New Zealander Phil Robertson. This year there is a commitment to complete the 2013 series with regattas in Nice, France, and Brazil, but it is part of a much more ambitious plan – not the first – to grow the sport of sailing in China.

Robertson makes no secret of having studied the Oman Sail programme, which is spending on everything from dinghy sailing at home to ocean racing on a 70-foot trimaran. And Oman has made a determined effort to introduce more women in to sport in general and sailing in particular. There was an Omani female sailor among the crew on the recent Rolex Fastnet Race.

The China Spirit initiative will be based in Shanghai and Robertson says that, after six months of deliberation, it has official government backing.

Oman Sail is represented in Cardiff by the defending Extreme Series champion Leigh McMillan who is neck and neck this year with Ernesto Bertarelli’s Alinghi. Bertarelli is competing in Australia at Hamilton Island Race Week but is scheduled to be back for the regatta in Nice. He has handed the helm to Californian Morgan Larson, who has recruited British-born U.S. Olympic gold medallist Anna Tunnicliffe, a talent also approached in the past by Extreme 40 rival Team GAC Pindar.

Returning to the 40-foot catamaran in Cardiff is GAC Pindar’s reigning world match racing champion Ian Williams, who will be tactician for skipper Brad Farrand, who is sitting in for another Kiwi, William Tiller, who is in San Francisco for the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup, who will also be back in Nice.

Williams next returns to match racing at October’s Argo Bermuda Gold Cup, where he will find Ben Ainslie bidding for a third win in that event but with an emotionally motivated crew. He has renamed the Ben Ainslie Racing Team (BART) in memory of his Olympic squad colleague, Andrew ‘Bart’ Simpson, who died in a training accident on San Francisco Bay with Sweden’s Artemis Racing on its 72-foot America’s Cup challenger.

He also wants to raise awareness funds for the Andrew Simpson Sailing Foundation. That crew will include Simpson’s medal-winning skipper and friend, Iain Percy along with Christian Kamp and Matt Cornwell.

Cardiff sees sailing as an important part of its sport and arts attractions and will welcome the Volvo Ocean Race as the British stopover in 2017-18. With the Extreme 40s now being strongly backed by Land Rover, the battle is also given a local flavour as part of the sponsorship sees support for a local team.

This is led by Olympic hopeful Dave Evans and cheering them on is Welsh 2012 silver medallist Hannah Mills, back on the Olympic road to Rio in the 470 dinghy with Saskia Clark.

A couple of bad starts undid them at the recent world championship in La Rochelle “but we are nearly back,” said Mills. “Next regatta is an Olympic test event in Santander next month and we should be right back up there again,” she added.

The Extremes come under the umbrella of Cardiff Harbour Festival, where an unusual addition is Vladimir Murnikov, who designed the Soviet Union yacht Fazisi for the 1989-90 Whitbread Race. He has a 30-foot prototype of a future 50-footer. Two round the world solo sailors, Mike Golding and Jonny Malbon, are in charge of keeping it upright.