Extreme Sailing Series
An established circuit
Text: Loïc Le Bras
After four European seasons, the Extreme Sailing Series has in 2011extended to the rest of the world, with stops in Oman, Singapore, and Boston. Quite a revolution for its creator and organizer, the British Mark Turner. “It was a big risk for us”. It isn’t anymore the same event today as it was five years ago. 2012 is the year of consolidation. The only novelty this year is the addition of a fifth team member on the first leg in Oman. “This is a test”, said Turner. “The fifth crew must either be female, less than 23 year old or an amateur. We will decide before Qingdao if we continue with four or five crew for the rest of the season”. The innovative format of the Extreme Sailing Series, -intense, very short regattas closer to the public on shore-, has even inspired the organizers of the America’s Cup for their America’s Cup World Series on AC45 wing catamarans. “It’s very flattering that the Cup has integrated this element”, welcomes Mark Turner. “But I do not think it’s quite the same thing as their regattas take place further away from the public.” Another difference, the Extreme 40s race thirty to forty legs in four days against a small dozen for the AC45 in one week! Extreme 40 crews are therefore subjected to a very intense pace. And the short distance courses require constant maneuvering.
A difficult start for Alinghi
A pace that Ernesto Bertarelli has discovered, as a newcomer on the circuit at the helm of the Extreme 40 Alinghi: “I appreciate the Extreme 40 circuit because it is well-balanced”, explains Bertarelli. “But it is true that we have to redefine our limits. The circuit wouldn’t be called Extreme if that was not the case”. After Ed Baird and Yann Guichard, it’s the boss’s turn to take the commands of the Swiss catamaran. “I could not helm last year because of my schedule. This year, I will take part in the two D35 and Extreme 40 circuits, even though I won’t do all of the legs on the Extreme Sailing Series,” added the double winner of the America’s Cup. Despite two wins in Muscat, Alinghi finished seventh out of eight teams. The level is high and to master the Extreme 40 is not straightforward, especially to try and keep speed in light winds. “It is a real challenge for me, as I am the only amateur helmsman,” analyses Ernesto Bertarelli. “But it’s not impossible and that’s why I’m doing it. It’s by rubbing shoulders with the best that we learn to be the best…”
Gitana, the favourite
Among the best teams that Bertarelli has been up against, Pierre Pennec’s Gitana team is definitely this season’s favourite. Second behind Luna Rossa last year, Pierre Pennec is hungry for revenge. With Yann Guichard before him at the helm of the Group Edmond de Rothschild, it’s the third consecutive year that the Gitana Team just failed to win. To break this sequence, the French helmsman has changed his crew, calling on Bernard Labro and Jean-Christophe Mourniac, joining Hervé Cunningham. The Baron Benjamin de Rothschild’s crew has also offered themselves this year the services of a coach, Thierry Peponnet. The French gold medalist at the Seoul Olympic Games in 470 is a highly sought-after advisor. He has already assisted Synergy (Louis Vuitton Trophy and Audi MedCup) and is coaching Groupama for the Volvo Ocean Race in-shore regattas.
Oman Sail, two serious competitors
But, despite an elegant domination the first three days, the French on Gitana stumbled on the last day in erratic winds, allowing the two Omani teams to take their first double in Extreme 40. Oman Air’s new helmsman, the American Morgan Larson performed a coup de maître during his first leg in Extreme 40. For those who were concerned about the circuit’s level this year after Luna Rossa, Team New Zealand and Artemis have left for the Cup, the two Omani crews have showed that they will be in the hunt this season. Loick Peyron, the discipline’s specialist yet only ranking sixth in Oman is well aware of it. With the America’s Cup changing to multihulls, the Extreme 40 circuit has many beautiful years to come. “Many racers now want to participate in the Extreme Sailing Series“, says Mark Turner. “They have understood that they needed to sail multihulls for their CVs”.
For its sixth season, the Extreme 40 circuit still attracts as many champions. In 2012, a dozen teams including the Swiss of Alinghi will fight in Extreme 40 on the eight legs that are now spread all over the world.
Extreme Sailing Series Season 2012
Act 1 : Muscat (Oman), February 28 – March 2
Act 2 : Qingdao (China), April 17-20
Act 3 : Istanbul (Turkey), June 7-10
Act 4 : Porto (Portugal), July 5-8
Act 5 : Cardiff (Great Britain), August 30 - September 2
Act 6 : Trapani (Italy), September 13-16
Act 7 : Nice (France), October 18-21
Act 8 : Rio (Brazil), November 29 - December 2