Muscat: Action on the penultimate day of the Extreme Sailing Series (ESS) in Madeira came down to a single roll of the dice – one which saw the Oman Air team maintain their second place on the leaderboard and set up a winner takes all finale on the last day.
With the wind off Funchal patchy, unpredictable and arriving from all points of the compass, race organisers were left with no choice but to postpone point-scoring racing, instead running a series of exhibition races for the crowds lining Madeira’s attractive coastline.
Eventually a single race was run with the top three in the standings -- SAP Extreme Sailing Team, Oman Air and Alinghi -- all trading places and the lead several times. The high-performance GC32 catamarans were only briefly able to show off their foiling abilities in the occasional gusts of strong wind, before dropping back into the water as the breeze died away.
At the finish line it was the Swiss reigning Extreme Sailing champions Alinghi who took the win, perhaps drawing on the experience of light wind racing on their Lake Geneva home waters, finishing narrowly ahead of the Danish SAP team.
Oman Air’s third place keeps them within seven points of the table-topping Danes, and they will be hoping for more stable racing conditions in the finale to take control and a win in the Madeira Act.
“If we get a proper day in with say eight races, seven points is nothing, and the last race is double points as well – we are going to be fighting tooth and nail with SAP and Alinghi the whole way, that’s for sure,” said Oman Air’s experienced tactician and mainsail trimmer Pete Greenhalgh.
“There’s not a lot between us, SAP and Alinghi – it’s going to be really close all year. Today it was a very tricky race, and it was pretty close for a while – it was unbelievable.”
As for the waiting game out on the water, it was all about keeping calm and staying focused, he added, with the close relationship between the crew – skipper Phil Robertson, Omani bowman Nasser Al Mashari and regulars James Wierzbowski and Ed Smyth – a real advantage.
“We all get on really well, we are all really good friends,” said Greenhalgh. “We just keep it light-hearted, but you have to stay engaged with what’s going on the whole time, continually talking about the conditions because at any moment the wind could fill in and the race officers could say ‘here we go’.”
Al Mashari added: “It was frustrating to sit out there waiting to go racing, but that is sometimes part of yacht racing and the sea so we accept it. We kept focused and eventually we were able to race. We led at a couple of points, but in those conditions luck plays a big part.
“We were happy with the third place as it keeps our position on the table ahead of Alinghi and gives us every chance of catching up with SAP on the final day.”
Overall, perhaps the biggest winner of the day was the Red Bull Sailing Team which had capsized during pre-race practice and had to be towed back to base for repairs. The reduced race programme means that they have only missed one point-scoring opportunity.