Back in action!
The Muscat Grand Prix, which kicks off the Extreme Sailing Series 2011, began this Sunday on the waters of the Persian Gulf. For this first day of competition, reminiscent of a return to school after the holidays, the eleven competing crews benefited from some optimum weather conditions during six consistent races. The crew of Edmond de Rothschild Group, helmed by Pierre Pennec, got off to a great start by winning two races and taking the catamaran fitted out by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild to second place in the provisional ranking. This evening the four leading boats are tied on points; a unique situation which says a great deal about the intensity and the competitive level in these first races of the 2011 vintage.

Sultanate of Oman, The Wave Muscat Marina – Smooth seas, glorious sunshine and blue skies, not to mention the essential breeze of around fifteen knots, building slightly over the course of the afternoon… It was the perfect setting this Sunday offshore of Muscat to begin the 2011 season. It was a little later than 1300 hours when, one by one, the catamarans competing in the Extreme Sailing Series left the pontoons to join the race zone where the next five days of competition will be run. As they cast off, a sense of apprehension as well as determination reigned. Indeed, though the eleven crews currently forming the 2011 line-up have been able to size each other up during the training sessions, all of them are very much aware that in the racing itself it can be an entirely different ball game.

Pierre Pennec, the new skipper of the 40 foot Edmond de Rothschild Group, gave us his first impressions at the helm of the blue one design: “The day went rather well. We were very inspired at the starts and good pace upwind enabled us to regularly get up with the leaders at the windward mark. These little bonuses were the strong points in our performance today and they’ve resulted in us taking second place this evening. With eleven of us on the race zone it doesn’t make things any trickier in the start phases but it does spice things up a bit during the mark roundings. It’s pretty spectacular and there’s a fair amount of jostling. Briefly, the fleet splits in two and at the first windward mark, the first half come in on port tack and the other half come in on starboard tack, all of which takes place in a very small space as the level is very similar (note that in sailing, a boat coming in on starboard tack (right) has priority over a boat coming in from port (left) and the boat which doesn’t have priority must leave room for its adversary to get past. Where the reverse is true and there is a port-starboard incident, the port boat is penalised). Often there are just three metres between the boats in first, second or fifth or even eighth. My crew did a great job today. The manœuvres and the communication are fluid and when we’re having difficulty we just keep our heads down so we can make a comeback.”

After the six races launched by the committee, four boats played their game well by sharing the day’s top spots. This evening this brilliant foursome is tied on points, even though a ranking focusing on the teams’ consistency has been drawn up. With two victories each, The Wave Muscat and Edmond de Rothschild Group have taken the lead in the opening event, but they are being closely tailed by the newcomers from Artemis and the Alinghi crew. With the latter taking one victory each, they are respectively in third and fourth place. Everyone says it over and over again but it’s certainly a close-fought match and that makes it all the more exciting.

The crew speak out

Thierry Fouchier, headsail trimmer: “This first day didn’t allow any room to stand back and observe. You had to be in on the action from the off, which we managed to do in part. With eleven boats on the playing field there’s a lot of jockeying for position and you have to be on top of things. In order to rank among the top players, you have to avoid making mistakes and the resulting penalties. We racked up one at the first leeward mark of race 1 as we came in a bit late on The Wave Muscat. The upshot of that is that we dropped from 2nd place to 6th, which proves if need be, that the slightest error costs dearly. Today we pulled off some great moves and some not so great moves but we’re right in on the action. It’s satisfying and encouraging for the next stage in proceedings.”

Christophe Espagnon, mainsail trimmer: “It was a good first day! We enjoyed ourselves on the water and got the results we wanted. I think you’d have to be hard not to consider it as a good introduction. At the end of the various training sessions we knew that the level of the competition was higher this year and that it was going to be a close run thing on the water. These first six races confirm this with the top four boats tied on points tonight. It’s probably going to be like that the entire season so we mustn’t drop our guard”.

Provisional ranking for the Muscat Grand Prix on 20 February (after six races)
1. The Wave, Muscat – 49 points
2. Edmond de Rothschild Group – 49 points
3. Artemis Racing – 49 points
4. Alinghi  – 49 points
5. Oman Air – 42 points
6. Red Bull Extreme Sailing – 39 points
7. Luna Rossa – 38 points
8. Emirates Team New Zealand – 36 points
9. Niceforyou – 23 points
10. Team Extreme – 16 points
11. Team GAC Pindar – 12 points

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