Muscat: Team Oman Air made a solid start to the 2017 Extreme Sailing Series (ESS) after fighting their way into the top three following a couple of difficult early races.
With their recent convincing victory in the GC32 Championship, Oman Air went in to Act 1 of the Extreme Sailing Series hoping to continue their impressive form on home waters.
However, any expectations that they could immediately carry on where they left off were quickly reset against the spectacular backdrop of Oman’s rugged coastline and Muscat’s old town of Muttrah.
A fifth and seventh place in the opening two races saw them lying in the middle of the highly competitive nine-strong fleet. After that a race win and three further podium finishes allowed them to claw back into contention to finish in third overall, just four points off the top.
“It was an awfully tough day for us, we were a bit behind the eight-ball all day and we never really found our groove,” said skipper and helmsman Phil Robertson.
“Conditions were changing quite fast so we were always on the back foot and we were struggling to keep up. We managed to pull it together a little bit at the end and put a string of podiums together,” he added.
Robertson was crowned the World Match Racing Tour champion last year, before joining the experienced regular core Oman Air crew of Pete Greenhalgh, James Wierzbowski, Ed Smyth and Omani bowman Nasser Al Mashari.
An upbeat Al Mashari agreed with his new skipper that there was work to be done: “We have three more days to do better than today. Our boat handling was pretty good but we can improve in the days ahead.”
And he concluded: “It was the first day of the event, so we’re pretty happy so far with third.”
The strong early wind and a lively sea state provided ideal conditions for the super-fast foiling GC32 catamarans to properly demonstrate why they have become a must-see yacht racing spectacle, the fleet got off to a flying start on their foils.
Star performer of the day was the Danish SAP Extreme Sailing Team, which took three wins to top the leaderboard with Robertson’s old friend and rival Adam Minoprio at the helm. Even at this stage it looks set to be a season-long battle.
“He’s a very good sailor and so is the whole of the SAP team, so it’s going to be a tough year that’s for sure,” said Robertson. “Pretty much what we expected and we’ve just got to work a little bit harder to make sure we are at the other end of the leaderboard.”
The Red Bull Racing Team also started with a bang, the Austrian outfit posting four straight podium finishes including a race win to put down their marker as serious contenders, ending the day just a point off the leaders.
Oman Air’s fight back was all the more memorable as they were able to pip their arch-rivals Alinghi to third spot. The Swiss team had snatched the 2016 Extreme Sailing Series title from Oman Air’s grasp at the season finale in Sydney last December.
Another team to make an indelible impression were the elite New Zealand youth sailors aboard Tawera Racing, who took two race wins to claim some bragging rights within the fleet.
With three more days of racing, including the Extreme Sailing Series’ signature Stadium Racing, there is plenty to play for.