Extreme Sailing Series 2014: Leigh McMillan and Morgan Larson renew their rivalry as the latter takes opening victory in capricious conditions

Constinency over the four days will determine the winner as last year's top-two with Sir Ben Ainslie lying in sixth

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The Independent Online

The America’s Cup boys may add quality to the fleet, but the hand to hand fight between reigning champion Leigh McMillan and the man he pipped in 2013, Morgan Larson, was resumed at the top of the Extreme Sailing Series on the opening afternoon of the St. Petersburg regatta.

McMillan on The Wave, Muscat, had to give second best to his American rival Larson at the helm of Ernesto Bertarelli’s Alinghi but the conditions on the Neva River, running past the Winter Palace, are so capricious that it will be consistency over the four days that will pay greatest dividends.

Race officer Phil Lawrence will be challenged to come anywhere near to completing the full 32-race schedule by Sunday afternoon. Only three were scored on Wednesday.

Five times Olympic medallist Ben Ainslie could be forgiven for thinking that lying sixth going into the clubhouse was not a bad thing, something like having a par on the card when traps abounded. It is unlikely that was what he was thinking. And the hugely talented Franck Cammas is also still coming to grips with the short-track stadium racing stage on which this competition is held.

The Australian challenger of record for the America’s Cup, Team Australia, sailing the GAC Pindar boat, has its third skipper/helmsman of 2014 in Olympic gold medallist Nathan Wilmot. Watched by team boss Iain Murray, they lifted themselves further up the table to ninth, one ahead of the second Oman Sail entry, Oman Air, skippered by Rob Greenhalgh.

But it was Team New Zealand, with Peter Burling on the helm and having looked so good in practice, that may have been disappointed, though not surprised, to see the second Swiss entry, Realteam, led by Jérôme Clerc, edge ahead of them into third place. Like Alinghi, also with its home in Switzerland, they are well versed in the vagaries of lake sailing and have been improving rapidly.

Sam Matson of Exmouth and Plymouth is still the top performing British sailor and top debutant overall after the third leg of the Figaro Solo Race from Roscoff to Les Sables d’Olonne. He set the mark at the end of the first leg from Deauville and around Wolf Rock to Plymouth and is 14 overall with just the final leg to Cherbourg to race.

First Brit into Les Sables d’Olonne was Jack Bouttel in GAC Pindar but the winner was Gildas Mahé, followed by Yann Eliès, who would surely be leading overall if he had not been dismasted on the opening leg. Instead the leader isthe third man on Leg 3, Jérémie Beyou.

In Lorient, French skipper Charles Caudrelier announced four Chinese crewmembers in a squad of 10 for the Dongfeng entry in the Volvo round the world race which starts from Alicante, Spain, in October. Six boats, the latest being from Spain, have been announced and a seventh, expected to be a private initiative and the second with a Dutch heritage is due to be confirmed soon. The Australian Chris Nicholson is front-runner to be skipper.