Extreme Sailing Series 2015: Old guard lay down marker


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The Independent Online

Wet, but up and down winds, on the second day of the opening 2015 Extreme Sailing Series saw the old guard lay down a marker but a couple of the new boys let them know that there would be no cheap points on offer this ninth season. Singapore provides a tricky track on a Marina Bay surrounded by wind-bending tall buildings laying some traps for the unwary. The Australian Seve Jarvin found the wall of the casino much more unyielding than the bowsprit of GAC Pindar, which duly snapped off and cost him four races.

A new Italian team skippered by Lorenzo Bressani won a race, a new Turkish team jointly skippered by Mitch Booth and Edhem Dirvana added a second win to their first day victory, but, to the top of the leaderboard went the Danish team of Jes Gram-Hansen and Rasmus Køstner on SAP by two points from Leigh McMillan’s The Wave, Muscat and Olympic gold medallist Roman Hagara of Austria, both of those on 99.

The format rolls on, with the emphasis on providing quick-fire entertainment on waterfront tracks which provide a natural arena. But the 2015 line-up has seen many changes, not least the departure of last year’s winning team, the Swiss-backed Alinghi, skippered by the American Morgan Larson. Also gone are the four teams with America’s Cup connections as they gear up for this year’s America’s Cup World Series (ACWS), while at the same time working on designs for the new 62-foot foiling catamaran and planning moves to Bermuda, which will host the Cup in 2017.

The seven-regatta series again includes St. Petersburg, though Nice, on the Côte d’Azur has been dropped. Cardiff, which has already bid to be a stopover in the 2017 Volvo round the world race, is also back in the mix, though the date had hastily to be changed when Sir Ben Ainslie’s plans for the British ACWS in Portsmouth in July led to a clash.

Perhaps under the greatest pressure is Leigh McMillan, skipper of one of the two teams entered by Oman Sail, The Wave Muscat. McMillan was champion in 2012 and, by the skin of a countback with Alinghi, he defended successfully in 2013.

But the team backed by Ernesto Bertarelli won the 2014 ding-dong and at first thought it would be back this year to defend. But Bertarelli, who won the America’s Cup in New Zealand in 2003, defended it successfully in Valencia in 2007, and then lost out to his former skipper Russell Coutts in the smash and grab multihull raid in 2010, has decided to concentrate, instead, on campaigning a catamaran on his home waters of Lake Geneva.

Which means that the vastly experienced McMillan, with Olympic double gold medallist Sarah Ayton again in the crew, should be back in pole position.

He was leading at the end of the opening eight races on Thursday while the second boat, Oman Air, is now in the hands of Stevie Morrison, who represented Britain in the high performance 49er skiff at the Olympics in both 2008 and 2012. Morrison replaces Rob Greenhalgh, whose brother Pete is in McMillan’s crew, after Rob was called up by the Spanish team Mapfre contesting the Volvo round the world race, starting the fourth leg from Sanya, China, to Auckland on Sunday.

With two more days of the Extreme left, there is all to play for. The Volvo sets off into what is expected to be a hostile South China Sea on Sunday, and waiting to settle the world match racing championship in Johor, Malaysia, are Britain’s Ian Williams and the U.S. Virgin Islander and defending champion, Taylor Canfield.

Add to that a beefed up Sail Arabia The Tour and February is proving a busy month.