Extreme Sailing Series director predicts fewer events


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The Independent Online

South coast gales in an English summer were in stark contrast to the race track off Istanbul, between the Aegean and the Bosphorus, as the founder and organiser of the Extreme Sailing Series, Mark Turner predicted: “There will be less professional sailing events in the next three to five years.”

No, the top end of the game would not die, there was still a hunger for events at a good level, and many cities wanted to stage events. But there had to be a match between the commercial side and the core of a sport “which appeals to kings and top businessmen but which also attracts big audiences. We had over 270,000 spectators at our events last year,” said Turner.

To the accompaniment of pounding pop music, except when there were amplified muezzin calls to prayer, the first seven rapid fire races – the target is about 11 minutes each - saw Britain’s Leigh McMillan in The Wave, Muscat, leading. Not so happy was the other British skipper, Ian Williams, seventh out of the eight-boat fleet in Team GAC Pindar.

As Friday is a normal working day in Istanbul, and the schools are just completing their end of year examinations, the crowd on the shore was down. But predicted continued sunshine and a strengthening breeze are expected to see crowds estimated as being in their thousands, line the trackside over the weekend.

This is the sixth year of the Extreme Sailing Series, which grew out of an inshore addition to the Volvo Ocean Race. The Volvo starts its penultimate, eighth leg from Lisbon to Lorient on Sunday. Lorient is the home port of the current overall leader, Franck Cammas’ Groupama, but any of the top four boats could win, with three inshore races and a final offshore leg to Galway remaining.

No-one knows exactly how much it is costing to stage the current America’s Cup cycle – well, Oracle boss Larry Ellison knows - but it is way into nine figures, and the Volvo, even with six entries, probably creeps into nine. The Extreme Sailing Series, estimates Turner, turns over, in total, between €15m and €18m. a year.

In times when “economic austerity” and “sustainability” crop up every other sentence, Turner has put everything and more on the line to meet the three objectives of crowds on the shore, VIPs in the hospitality tent, and a television audience watching either at home or on an internet stream. “It is pretty hard to keep any commercially-funded event going right now,” he says. “And I am not just talking about sailing.”

He is also working towards being an event that is an international measure of who is top dog. “There is no question that nation versus nation is the most important thing that we don’t have that I would like to have,” he says. It is an aspect of the game that is also exercising the minds of the America’s Cup.

In Weymouth, with the wind gusting up to 40 knots, all attempts to stage racing in the Skandia Sail for Gold Olympic classes regatta were abandoned. That leaves the top 10 from each class, but not the paralympic classes, to settle the medal positions in the double points finale. The forecast is for about 15 to 20 knots of south-westerly.

In the paralympic classes, Britain goes home with one silver, Helena Lucas in the singlehanded 2.4mR, and two golds. Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell won the two handed Skud, with John Robertson, Hannah Stodel, and Steve Thomas on top in the three-handed Sonar.