Muscat: Team Oman Air have put down a marker at the start of the 2018 Extreme Sailing Series (ESS), taking the fight to their opposition in the opening races of what is set to be a long and highly competitive season.
Making the most of the home waters off Almouj Muscat, the crew came out of the blocks at speed to take a solid second place in the first race, though they then saw a commanding and winning performance count for nothing when the second race was abandoned.
The light and at times fickle breeze saw only four races completed, with Oman Air taking a win in the final one to end the first of four days in Muscat in second place overall.
“The wind was pretty tricky, and conditions were really right on the limit for racing,” said the team’s veteran British mainsail trimmer Pete Greenhalgh. “We were able to take a few boats when we needed to and converted what was potentially quite an average day into a pretty good day, so we are very, very pleased.”
Alinghi – Extreme Sailing Series champions in 2016 and runners-up last year – had a consistent opening day to top the table on 46 points, with Oman Air just four behind and a further four in front of reigning Danish champions, SAP Extreme Sailing Team.
“Finishing the day second gives us a really solid foundation to go forward from, and if a few things go our way we will be able to overcome Alinghi,” added Greenhalgh.
“We are sailing well and I am happy with the teamwork and speed we have, so roll on some more races. We were leading the first race but let Alinghi slip by, and then won the second but it timed out – as it happened we were first and Alinghi were last, so if it had stood we would be looking at a different set of results, but that’s sailing!”
Oman Air started the season with a slightly changed crew, with skipper and helmsman Phil Robertson, regular James Wierzbowski, Greenhalgh and star Omani racer Nasser Al Mashari joined by New Zealander Stewart Dodson aboard the high-speed foiling GC32 catamaran.
After several successful training days in the Sultanate, however, the new team has come together as one.
“It has been going very well and our crew work has been very good,” said Al Mashari. “It has been great to welcome Stewart to the team, and he has plenty of Extreme Sailing Series experience to share and contribute.
“We had very good wind during our training in Muscat, so now everyone in the fleet is hoping that we get more breeze and better conditions over the next three days,” he added.
Racing off Almouj, Muscat continues for the next three days, and a Race Village will be open for free public access at Almouj Golf on Friday and Saturday for the conclusion of the Extreme Sailing Series action.