Extreme Sailing Series 2014: Leigh McMillan’s end of day shocker hands Extreme Series advantage to Morgan Larson

 

St Petersburg

Better, faster conditions saw the personal battle between Britain’s Olympian Leigh McMillan on The Wave Muscat and the American Morgan Larson on Switzerland’s Alinghi heat up as they stretched away from the other 10 catamarans contesting the Extreme Sailing Series regatta on St. Petersburg’s Neva River.

But McMillan finished the day with a shocker, allowing Larson to go into what is predicted to be a much more breezy day with a 12-point lead. 

The new wind allowed race officer Phil Lawrence to switch the track in front of the Winter Palace through 180 degrees and the boats to show off their paces to a weekend crowd watching from the beach.

There were still traps dotted up and down and moving around the current-dominated course but the top performers of the last couple of seasons kept picking up points and it may take until the last race is run on Sunday to know who will finish on top of the Russian hep. Last year it took a count-back to give a second title to McMillan. And a hat-trick is not going to be any easier for a crew that includes Pete Greenhalgh and double Olympic gold medallist Sarah Ayton in the crew.

This is a style of quick-fire racing that can catch out the best and even though the mighty Team New Zealand was hanging on to third place they finished with a winning flourish while Ben Ainslie, although moving between sixth and fifth overall, is still searching for consistency. A win in the penultimate race of a 10-race day, his second of the regatta, pushed the quadruple Olympic gold medallist up to fourth   

Sunday sees the start of the fourth and final leg of the Figaro Solo Race from Les Sables d’Olonne to Cherbourg. The 490 miles around Ushant, around the Lizard and up to the Needles off the Isle of Wight, are likely to see a lot more light air work and lots of opportunities for tactical gains and losses. After the three pervious legs, Jérémie Beyou has a lead of just 15min 13sec over Corentin Horeau with Charlie Dalin a further 3min 44sec astern.

Best hopes of a British celebration lie in the hands of Sam Matson, who is second of the debutant ‘rookies’ and has a deficit of just 32 minutes to make up on Gwenolet Gahinet. He has been consistently competitive throughout and was first of the new batch of Figarists into his university home port of Plymouth at the end of the first leg. He would have preferred stronger winds, as would many of the eight British contestants who have been or are going through the Artemis Offshore Academy. 

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