A major crash on the final day of the Extreme Sailing Series regatta in Qingdao, China, did not stop Ernesto Bertarelli’s Swiss Alinghi team, skippered by the American Morgan Larson, topping the table and moving further ahead in the 2014 series.
Larson was hit by the Austrian Red Bull, skippered by Roman Hagara, boat at the start of a race reduced to six boats as conditions on the Olympic waters of Fushan Bay forced race officer Phil Lawrence to split the fleet in two in a bid to improve safety.
But Alinghi had been in the lead from the first of the four days and, while Larson and crew had to scurry back to the marina for repairs and watch the remaining races from the shore, they were awarded average points in redress. They also made it a one-two for Switzerland as Jerome Clerc continued the remarkable progress of Realteam.
Which was bad enough for the 2012 and 2013 champion Leigh McMillan, whose The Wave, Muscat is looking for a hat-trick of championship wins after winning his second on a points countback last year was over Alinghi. But McMillan was finally squeezed into fourth place by just one point by Emirates Team New Zealand, with Peter Burling on the helm as a rotational replacement for Dean Barker.
There could be quite a fight between those two for the driver’s place in the run up to the 2017 America’s Cup. Barker took over from Russell Coutts for the final race of the 2003 defence and then lost to him as Coutts switched to the successful challenger, Alinghi, in 2007.
Coutts, skipper for Larry Ellison’s successful Oracle challenge in Valencia in 2010 and San Francisco defence last year, was on hand in Qingdao, where other potential challengers from Britain, France and Australia are also competing. There would be considerable value if the Chinese were also to join the 2017 fray.
For the British there was the satisfaction of seeing the BAR/JP Morgan team, led by Sir Ben Ainslie, pip Franck Cammas’ Groupama by 129 points to 128 after struggling in the early part of the regatta.
“It is intense racing with the short races and courses, but we are working together to master the style of racing,” said Sir Ben. “I think all of the teams would probably prefer to race together as a whole fleet, but then you see a crash like Red Bull Extreme Sailing and Alinghi, you think the best decision was made - to race in the two groups for safety reasons.”
For the Australians from the Hamilton Island Yacht Club, home of the challenger of record but sailing on the GAC Pindar boat, China has not been happy. With David Gilmour as skipper, they carried the red tail light for the 12-boat fleet of 40-foot catamarans. They will be looking for significant improvement at the next regatta in St. Petersburg at the end of next month.