McMillan top dog as Williams struggles


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The Independent Online

Red Bull was doing its thing in Canada, now supporting the youth America’s Cup, and looked like leading the Extreme Sailing Series in Istanbul as double Olympic gold medallist Roman Hagara and his crew were the early front runners.

But Turkish honours went to British Olympian Leigh McMillan at the helm of one of the two Omani boats. McMillan won this year’s opener in China, was second on what could be described as his new home waters in Oman, and the win in Istanbul means he remains top dog.

Chasing McMillan home in intense sunshine and 12 to 14 knots of good racing breeze was France’s Pierre Pennec in Groupe Edmond to Rothschild as Hagara had to restart the last, double points race of the day.

After three regattas, that is also the order of the top three as the circuit moves to its fourth of eight regattas in Portugal next month.

First across the line had been Ian Williams on Team GAC Pindar, which was encouraging as he had been unhappy with the way he had been starting in Istanbul. Unfortunately, he was also, said the umpires, guilty of some barging, was given a penalty, and, after the 360-degree turn, slipped to the back of the fleet and, overall, finished sixth out of the eight. 

For Williams, the problem of switching from match racing in monohulls to stadium sailing in the Extreme 40 multihulls is, if anything, becoming harder. He used to go back to the familiarity of match racing and monhulls more easily than now, when his experience and time in the multis is growing.

“If we had enough time training before each regatta it would be easier, but we have only two hours before match racing and we were restricted to one and a half days here in Istanbul,” he said before rushing off to yet another briefing.

The GAC Pindar Extreme team can sail if he is not there, and Andy Walsh will take over for the next two regattas in Porto and Cardiff. But Williams always has two different crews, which require different handling, dynamics, and communication, and he has to be there to defend his world match racing title.

At least in the match racing the crew size is known a year ahead; there is still a debate going on about whether to cut the Extreme 40 crew from five to four. The teams are split on their preference, but they are united on the need for certainty in their planning.

Williams wants to win in both events, but there is, inevitably, the target of equalling Australian Peter Gilmour’s record of four world titles. At the moment, as reigning champion, Williams shares his tally of three so far with America’s Cup holder Russell Coutts, the American Ed Baird, and Coutts’ New Zealand compatriot, Chris Dickson.

The Extreme series is also the platform for young windsurfers to race ahead of the multihulls and support for this from the Hong Kong-based Neil Pryde is expected to continue on the remaining five regattas. But, if the decision to bring kitsurfing into the 2016 Olympic games survives the current advserse reaction, could that see kitesurfing become part of the Extreme Sailing Series?

In Lisbon, another tricky tactical battle faced the six boats starting the eighth, 2,000-mile leg of the Volvo round the world race to Lorient. The course should take them offshore around the Azores before turning back up to France, but may be adjusted to take account of the weather conditions.

With the French entry Groupama, skippered by Franck Cammas, holding the overall lead by just nine points, the incentive to win the leg into its home port is strong. But Cammas was last of the six out of Lisbon and the previous overall leader, Spain’s Telefónica, is under pressure to restore the grip it held for the first half of the race.

America’s Puma and the Spanish-flagged, Australian-skippered, New Zealand-managed Camper both need good results if they are to be in serious contention on the last leg to Galway and its inshore race finale.