– Four teams – The, Wave, Muscat, Emirates Team New Zealand, Alinghi and SAP Extreme Sailing Team – in the running heading into the final race, with no room for error and just four points between them – and 20 points on the table for the taking.
– Emirates Team New Zealand snatch second from the grasp of Alinghi with just one point in it after 29 races this week.
– SAP Extreme Sailing Team narrowly denied the podium but rise up the overall Series rankings with an impressive fourth place.
It was a sweltering hot day in Muscat, Oman, for the final showdown at the Extreme Sailing Series™, where the Arabian peninsula saved the best for last, with winds that blasted across the course at a steady 20 knots, with gusts of 26, before a final race shoot out. Four teams were gunning for the top spot and there was no room for error, with just four points between them – and 20 points on the table for the taking. The defending champions and home team on The Wave, Muscat made a real statement of intent from the gun, with an aggressive start that saw them lead the fleet of the line, and Leigh McMillan, Sarah Ayton, Pete Greenhalgh, Kinley Fowler and Nasser Al Mashari didn’t look back, snatching the win from the hands of the Kiwi, Swiss and Danish teams, to claim not only the Act win, but putting them top of the overall Series leaderboard after two Acts. “It was too close for comfort, that’s for sure,“ commented an elated McMillan after racing. “Today we had a fight on our hands, we knew we had to be exceptional and raise our game. I was just enjoying the sailing, the challenge of it, the situations that were tight and it all worked out for us. The wind came in and it was absolutely amazing sailing out there, absolutely perfect for the Extreme 40s.”
Today’s racing was all about brute power and strength, requiring a huge shift in mindset for the teams, who have raced in light breeze all week. The fleet of 11 Extreme 40s and their 55 elite level crew members powered off the start line, blasting to the windward mark and wrestling their boats around the course, before unfurling their gennakers and flying downwind, trying to maximize power and speed. One team who had the formula nailed were Emirates Team New Zealand, with two race wins and a third place in the final race enough for them to claim second overall, bettering their fourth place finish from Act 1, Singapore, which for skipper Dean Barker, was the objective this week. “We wanted to improve after Singapore, we wanted to sail well and get on the podium here, and we’ve achieved it. There’s still a lot we can improve on but in saying that everyone struggles with the conditions and the guys remained very positive throughout even when things didn’t feel like they were going our way. We had a good chance to get onto the podium, and to get a second place we’re really happy.”
Overnight leaders Alinghi came out of the blocks with a win in the first race of the day, but couldn’t replicate the performance, and a fourth place in the last race left the Swiss settling for third, one point behind the Kiwis. “We should be pleased with the result in such a tough field but we were quite disappointed with how we sailed today. We need to do a better job staying out of the fray and we didn’t achieve that today and The Wave, Muscat did and you’ve got to hand it to them, they earned the win. It’s a long season ahead and if we can keep on the podium this year we’ll have a shot at the title at the end of the year, this will be our objective,” commented the team’s helmsman Morgan Larson.
The Danish match racing experts on SAP Extreme Sailing Team came heartbreakingly close to a podium position, leading the pack for most of the day, but found themselves stuck in the tussle mid-fleet in the final race, and unable to make a clean break, with a sixth place in the final race putting them in fourth position overall. The team however, have showed a marked improvement from Act 1 in Singapore, where they finished tenth, and co-skipper Jes Gram-Hansen was quick to talk about the learnings from the Act: “Of course we’re a little bit disappointed not to be on the podium, we sailed a great regatta which literally came right down to the last race. In the hindsight I think we sailed well, which is what we will take away from this. It was a difficult day today with good breeze but it was a bit up and down for us. We were a little unlucky at times but overall we sailed pretty well. I think we have a great team, a good boat and the pace to match the best teams in the Extreme Sailing Series.”
The Russian skipper on Gazprom Team Russia Igor Lisovenko seemed to have a point to prove today, and the team, helmed by two-times Series winner Paul Campbell-James, were moving through the gears, and up the leaderboard, with a string of consistent results elevating them to fifth place overall – topping their eighth place from Act 1, Singapore. Campbell-James commented: “We got another bullet today, and we almost won the last one but Leigh (McMillan) just managed to sneak around us on the second leg. Today was the best day of racing this year with a good bit of breeze, it got really exciting there in the middle where the leaderboard was constantly changing and it was just really fun.”
Realteam finish the event in sixth place, five points behind the Russians, leaving them a solid fourth place on the overall Series leaderboard, with Red Bull Sailing Team in seventh on 145 points, one point ahead of Groupama sailing team. Heading into the final day, J.P. Morgan BAR were within touching distance of the podium but the Brits struggled under the building breeze, before a hydraulics failure in the penultimate race forced them to retire for the day, dashing their podium dreams. Oman Air and GAC Pindar struggled for consistency in the testing Omani conditions, but both showed moments of brilliance, posting a handful of results in the top half of the fleet over the course of the four-day event.
Muscat has delivered some incredibly hard fought racing over 29 races, and the fleet with have just under six weeks to regroup, debrief and prepare themselves for Act 3 of the 2014 global tour in Qingdao, China, presented by Land Rover, one of the most notoriously tricky racecourses on the circuit, 1-4 May.