Massive Omani celebrations at The Wave, Muscat as Oman Air and The Wave score a one-two, squeezing out the French team of Groupe Edmond de Rothschild who had finished every day but the last on top
Going into the first Act of the Extreme Sailing Series 2012, the all-French team of Groupe Edmond de Rothschild led by Pierre Pennec were favourites on paper and few would have predicted the final outcome that saw Morgan Larson’s team on Oman Air triumph in their debut here in Muscat, Oman. Four teams were in contention for the podium going into the final double-points race – the new Danish entry, Team Trifork, won the race, but Oman Air did enough to secure victory after an intense battle with the favourites. Leigh McMillan’s team on The Wave, Muscat muscled their way into the two-way fight and raced brilliantly on the final day to finish 2nd overall ahead of Groupe Edmond de Rothschild with Austria’s Roman Hagara (Red Bull) in fourth, having been just one point behind the French going into the final race.
“It’s an amazing feeling! It was a challenging week and obviously our learning curve was quite steep,” said Larson. “But this was really hard racing and any team could have won going into those last couple of races and we were just lucky they went well for us.” Morgan Larson’s team that includes four-time Olympian Charlie Ogletree and Max Bulger from the States, Britain’s Will Howden and Omani Nasser Al Mashari competing in his second Extreme 40 season, held on to a marginal lead from the opening race today but in the fourth race of the day the pressure mounted… Pushed over the line at the start, Oman Air had to restart and trailed the fleet, Larson’s team finished 7th leaving them on equal points with The Wave, Muscat and Groupe Edmond de Rothschild 2 points adrift. In the next race, won by Loick Peyron’s team on ZouLou, McMillan’s team finished ahead of their teammates and pulled ahead by 1 point. By the end of the penultimate race the two Oman Sail teams were back on equal points going into the final double-point decider and Pennec’s team had to win the final race with Oman Air and The Wave, Muscat finishing no better than 6th place. It was too tall an order for the French favourites who managed to get ahead of their rivals to finish the race in 2nd but Oman Air crossed the finish line in 3rd to clinch overall victory after 4 days and 29 races.
“Surely I feel disappointed about not having sailed well today,” said Pierre Pennec, skipper, Groupe Edmond de Rothschild. “But this is the nature of the sport and even if this sounds strange, I feel very happy about this week’s competition. I really enjoyed being on the water and despite the fact that this is my fourth year in the Extreme Sailing Series, we have learned a lot in these last few days. My new crew sailed here for the first time and they have shown great human, mental and technical potential. I think it’s fantastic that the two top crews here in Muscat are the local teams. They are going to be seriously competitive this season.”
It proved to be a thrilling opening Act to the season and, after five years of Extreme Sailing Series competition, there is a feeling that 2012 is going to be one of the closest yet. “It’s up to us to catch up and be competitive in China because the goal is to win overall. Third is still a good result – it could be worse! It’s a warning for us,” said Hervé Cunningham, tactician Groupe Edmond de Rothschild. Next stop China – Act 2, Qingdao 17th-20th April.
Extreme Sailing Series 2012 Act 1, Muscat, Oman standings after Day 4, 29 races (2.3.12)
Position / Team / Points
1st Oman Air (OMA) Morgan Larson / Will Howden / Charlie Ogletree, Nasser Al Mashari, Max Bulger 165 points
2nd The Wave, Muscat (OMA) Leigh McMillan, Ed Smyth, Pete Greenhalgh, Hashim Al Rashdi, Rachel Williamson 159 points
3rd Groupe Edmond de Rothschild (FRA) Pierre Pennec / Jean-Christophe Mourniac / Hervé Cunningham / Bernard Labro / Adeline Chatenet 155 points
4th Red Bull Sailing Team (AUT) Roman Hagara, Hans Peter Steinacher, Matthew Adams, Graeme Spence, Pierre Le Clainche 148 points
5th GAC Pindar (GBR) Ian Williams / Mark Ivey / Mark Bulkeley, Adam Piggot / Andrew Walsh 138 points
6th ZouLou (FRA) Loick Peyron, Philippe Mourniac, Jean-Sébastien Ponce, Bruno Jeanjean, Antoine Joubert 111 points
7th Alinghi (SUI), Ernesto Bertarelli, Tanguy Cariou, Nils Frei, Yves Detrey, Pierre-Yves Jorand 109 points
8th Team Trifork (DEN) Jes Gram-Hansen, Rasmus Kostner, Pete Cumming, Simon Hiscocks, Jonas Hviid 95 points
Quotes from the sailors:
Morgan Larson, skipper, Oman Air: “It’s an amazing feeling! It was a challenging week and obviously our learning curve was quite steep. But this was really hard racing and any team could have won going into those last couple of races and we were just lucky they went well for us. I’m sure there was a bit of beginner’s luck to this one and we just dug in and focused hard but I know its going to be a challenging season and we’ll get tougher conditions thrown at us and for sure we’re going to have to eat a few of them and we’re just need to keep enjoying the sailing as I think that was the key to our success working together. We knew if we held our position things would be good but in these boats you never know what can happen so you just have to keep on pushing all the way to the finish.”
Leigh McMillan, skipper, The Wave, Muscat: “All day long – we had some really great races, posted a win and some second places, but we couldn’t get away as they all just putting in good results as well. It was really tight and we’re very happy to get second, it came down to a very close light wind race and we got sucked in to a fight mid-fleet and Oman Air got away. But we’re really happy they got their win and it’s great for Oman as a whole.”
Hervé Cunningham, tactician, Groupe Edmond de Rothschild: “Some days you have days like this when nothing comes your way. I’m not looking for excuses but on board today nothing comes our way, it’s not working, bad rhythm, you just wake up a feel like something is wrong and it just shows on the water. The result was not good – few OCS’, too many penalties and lack of confidence because the team is old but it is a new crew. Hats off to Oman Air and The Wave. I understand that we are favourites but inside the team it is a new crew so there is no miracle, we are not as good as we were last year and the other guys have done better than us. They managed to sail at a higher level than us so its up to us to catch up and be competitive in China because the goal is to win overall. Third is still a good result – it could be worse! It’s a warning for us – it’s not going to be easy this year.”
Pierre Pennec, skipper, Groupe Edmond de Rothschild: “Surely I feel disappointed about not having sailed well today, but this is the nature of the sport and even if this sounds strange, I feel very happy about this week’s competition. I really enjoyed being on the water and despite the fact that this is my fourth year in the Extreme Sailing Series, we have learned a lot in these last few days. My new crew sailed here for the first time and they have shown great human, mental and technical potential. I think it’s fantastic that the two top crews here in Muscat are the local teams. They are going to be seriously competitive this season.”
Ian Williams, skipper, GAC Pindar: “We’re a bit disappointed with the overall result of 5th as I think maybe we deserve better. We were way off the pace on day two and those were the 20 points we gave away to pretty much everybody and after that it was very tough to get back.”
Roman Hagara, skipper, Red Bull Sailing Team: “The team did a good job but we had a few problems with communications and boat handling. We always worked hard in the races and came up from the back for the last race was not the best for us in the end but that’s the sport.”
Ernesto Bertarelli, skipper, Alinghi: “It was fantastic, fantastic. For me it’s great, a different format but I learnt so much every day, every race, it’s what I’m here for. I’m here to experience something different, something the excitement of this format and I really enjoyed myself. It’s close, it’s not very different from a normal regatta, it’s just that everything happens so much faster. In a normal regatta you have close contact or tactical situation with a boat maybe every 10 minutes, here it is every 15 seconds!”
Fighting talk on the dockside, find out what the sailors expectations are ahead of the first day of racing for 2012 A new team in the form of Team Trifork from Denmark can finally be unveiled today as the 8th team in the starting blocks for the first Act of the Extreme Sailing Series™ 2012 in Muscat, Oman. The team will be co-skippered by Jes Gram-Hansen on helm and Rasmus Kostner, tactician, who both come from a World Match Racing Tour and America’s Cup background, alongside the youngest member of the team, 26-year-old Jonas Hviid-Nielsen on bow combined with the Extreme 40 race experience of Pete Cummings (skipper of the winning Extreme 40 team in 2009) and Simon Hiscocks from the UK. It has been a long journey for the Danish team that began a year ago as Jes Gram-Hansen explained: “Rasmus and myself went into different sailing programmes like RC44 and Farr 40 after the 32nd America’s Cup in Valencia but all the time our dream was to create our own team. We analysed what kind of circuit would be the one to go with, and with the changes to the America’s Cup and the Extreme Sailing Series being more and more the series to be in, we decided to try and build a team for the Extreme Sailing Series. So we invested all our money into buying a boat a year ago and then we spent most of the year in Denmark taking out business people from companies to show them what we love and what we think would be a good way to be involved in the project. We have long-support from Trifork (a software company) which we have in been a good relationship over the years along with our clothing partner, Simon Spurr, to help get us here to the start line in Muscat.” The team’s expectations are as you would expect for the ‘newbies’ to the tour: “We have a lot of respect for the guys who have been on the tour and some of them have sailed multihulls for a long time,” continued Jens. “We’re here to learn and I’m sure we will make some mistakes but we’ve got two great English guys with us, Simon Hiscocks and Pete Cummings, so, hopefully, they will keep us out of trouble! Hopefully, we’ll improve over the season with a longer term goal of overall victory in a couple of years time.”
After various stints of team training up the Omani coast at Massanah, the racing starts for real tomorrow, Tuesday, 28th February, in Muscat. The live race coverage will start at 1130 GMT on Wednesday (29th Feb), streaming on Thursday (1st March) and Friday (2nd March). Glamour conditions expected and the sailors are talking it up on the dockside…
Roman Hagara, skipper, Red Bull Sailing Team: “We’re starting with a new team here with 2 new crew members – new bowman, Graham Spence from Australia and an amateur sailor from France, Pierre, sailing as our 5th sailor for this event – so we’re looking forward it. We did some good training in Massanah and we’re ready for the first Act. We’ve capsized here before on the Asia Tour (09/10) then last year we made it to the podium. Our goal here is to make to the podium again.”
Morgan Larson, skipper, Oman Air: “We’re looking forward to having some fun with the new team and doing really well. We’ve gelled really well with Will, Charlie, Nasser and Max so I think we’ve got a really good team. The competition is the highest it’s been in a while I think but I think we’ve got some great sailors on board and we’re expecting to be up at the front every race!”
Leigh McMillan, skipper, The Wave, Muscat: “I think we’re in pretty good shape and we’ve done some good training races but we haven’t raced in anger against any of these guys yet. We hope to get on the podium and start the season well. I think on paper Groupe Edmond de Rothschild maybe favourites but we hope that by the time we get to the end of the season we’ll be challenging for overall victory.”
Loick Peyron, helmsman, ZouLou: “I’m happy to be back here after a couple of years… We are here with a new team, good friends, good sailors although we have not raced together and we have only trained for 3 days which is not nearly enough. But the game is so interesting and so exciting, and I think it will be more ‘open’ than last year. We will be quite safe – I am fast but not furious! Tanguy Cariou, Tactician, Alinghi: “We all know the stadium racing is a very different game and we will have some good races and some bad ones! We made two training sessions with Ernesto in Massanah. I would say it is a new boat for him, a new format but we are used to sailing together on the D35 on the lake. There are new faces, new people and not all the teams have had the same level of training – I’m pretty sure that in Qingdao and Istanbul the strong teams will emerge but for the first event I’m not so sure, it’s a shakedown.”
With three races conducted in strong winds, there was opportunity for boats to make a significant move in the standings on the second day of Quantum Key West 2012. Or in some cases it was a chance to further increase leads taken on Day 1. Pisces fit into the former category, moving into the overall lead in Melges 32 class by winning two of three races on Tuesday. Skipper Benjamin Schwartz and company showed superb boat speed and made some sound tactical decisions and now lead the 19-boat fleet by tiebreaker over John Kilroy and the Samba Pa Ti team. “We are a new program so it is a tremendous feeling to be doing well in a big-time regatta like Key West. Hopefully, we can keep it going,” said Schwartz, who joined the class last summer and promptly placed fourth at U.S. Nationals. Schwartz has America’s Cup veteran Ed Baird calling tactics and Quantum professional Scott Nixon trimming the jib and spinnaker. “You have to give Ed and Scott a lot of credit for getting our boat up to speed,” he said. “I’m fortunate to have a great crew. Today was very challenging because the wind velocity was up and down and the sea state was not very forgiving, but the guys never stopped working and we were able to change gears pretty well.” Race committees on all three courses completed three races in 8-14 knot easterly winds.
With five races in the bag, organizers with Premiere Racing are already halfway to the stated goal of holding 10 races during the five-day regatta. There was a lead change in the Farr 40 class as well with Charisma (Nico Poons, Monaco) and Struntje Light (Wolfgang Schaefer, Germany) overtaking Groovederci (John Demourkas, Santa Barbara, Cal.). Struntje Light has posted a pair of seconds and finished no lower than fourth in the seven-boat fleet, but Charisma holds the overall lead via tiebreaker by virtue of winning Race 5. “We had a very good day on the water and are happy with where we stand at the moment,” Schaefer said. “We have nice boat speed upwind and our crew work has been excellent. We have a very good tactician and he’s made some fantastic calls that have kept me in phase.” Renowned Italian professional and America’s Cup veteran Vasco Vascotta is calling tactics aboard Struntje Light, which has competed in Farr 40 class at Key West ever since 2002 with a top finish of third. “Wolfgang is doing a good job of driving and is getting better every day. The guys onboard have a great attitude and are ready to fight to the end. The good news is that we can still improve our performance.” PowerPlay lived up to its name by making a strong move in IRC 2 class with a strong line of 1-3-4 on Tuesday. Owner Peter Cunningham, a resident of Georgetown in the Cayman Islands, has a nice mix of amateur and professional crew with tactician Tony Rey, trimmer Dave Scott and bowman Geordie Shaver among the superstars aboard. “We’ve only had the boat for six months and we’ve made a lot of modifications during that time,” Cunningham said. “We’re pretty happy with our performance so far. We’re sailing fairly well and having a lot of fun.” Quantum Racing, skippered by Doug DeVos, continues to set the pace in the 52-foot class and leads PowerPlay by six points. Terry Hutchinson, helmsman for the Swedish syndicate Artemis Racing that is Challenge of Record for the America’s Cup, has made strong tactical calls in leading Quantum to victory in three races and second in the two others. “Today was far from straightforward. The wind was very shifty and there are some tricky current patches to deal with,” Hutchinson said. In other classes, the three-race day merely served as an opportunity for the early leaders to extend on the competition.
Ran, a Judel-Vrolijk 72-footer, continues to sail impressively in the Mini Maxi class (IRC 1), winning all five races so far. Red, skippered by Joe Woods of Great Britain with Paul Goodison aboard as tactician, has accomplished the same feat in the inaugural Farr 400 class. “I guess we’ve just figured the boat out a little faster than the other teams,” said Woods, who has previously sailed a Melges 32 at Key West. “We’re winning, but not by much. The racing has been awfully close.” West Marine Rigging/New England Ropes has posted straight bullets in Melges 24 class and built a commanding 10-point lead over Alan Field and the WTF team. Detroit resident Bora Gulari is steering and getting tactical advice from Australian native and North Sails pro Jeremy Wilmot as West Marine Rigging/New England Ropes seeks to follow up on its 2011 national championship. Groovederci, skippered by Deneen Demourkas of Santa Barbara, Cal., has won all five races in Farr 30 class. Teamwork, a J/122 owned by Robin Team of Lexington, N.C., has posted two bullets and a pair of seconds in grabbing a narrow one-point lead over the 1D35 Tres Hombres in PHRF 1. “We’re having a great time because the conditions have been terrific and the competition has been spectacular,” said Team, who has his brother and two sons in the crew. “We’ve been mixing it up with Tres Hombres and finished overlapped with them in the first two races today. Rush is also tough so I think it will be a dogfight the whole way.” Rush, a J/109 skippered by Bill Sweetser of Annapolis, was named Lewmar / Navtec Boat of the Day after posting a superb score line of 3-2-1. Tom Babel is calling tactics while Quantum pro Tad Hutchins is calling tactics on Rush, which is currently third in PHRF 1 and second in the J/Boats Subclass. “The conditions were very good for us today. When the wind is 14 knots or less we can fly our big jib, which is kind of like our secret weapon,” Sweetser said. “We pay for that jib in our rating so it’s good whenever we can use it.” It’s been close but no cigar for Rush at Key West as Sweetser’s boat has finished first or second in class several times, but never come away as overall winner at week’s end. “One of these years we’re going to finally break through and it’s going to be wonderful,” he said. Regatta dates are January 15 – 20, 2012.
For more Key West Race Week photos by Tim Wilkes check out Tim Wilkes Photography