Dazzling sunshine, a generous breeze and eleven crews anxious to get going… All the ingredients were there today to set Act 3 of the Extreme Sailing Series in motion in Istanbul. The seven races contested this Wednesday gave rise to a lively introduction for the teams out on the water. Indeed, although the wind rarely exceeded 14 knots, it proved to be particularly demanding due to its frequent oscillations. At the end of this first day, Edmond de Rothschild Group is lying in 6th place in the provisional ranking in which the men on Artemis are currently leading. However, this evening, what is unquestionably more intriguing than the positions, is the fact that there are so few points separating the top seven one-designs.
Sailing at the very heart of Istanbul is a chance few sailors get to boast about. However, this privilege isn’t without difficulty, as Pierre Pennec explains: “The race zone is unique with the hills around it and it is relatively complicated to fathom. We’re racing on the Golden Horn, which nestles between two hills, that of the modern city and that of the more historic, ancient city of Istanbul. The winds here are very fickle, both in terms of strength and direction, so naturally the tactics are not my idea of fun. Despite that though, it’s a very interesting playing field.”
A great deal of contact, one-designs powered up flying a hull and a few great stylish moves: witnessed from the shore, the seven races contested this Wednesday provided more than their fair share of emotions. However, aboard the catamaran fitted out by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild, Thierry Fouchier described a physical day raced in some optimum conditions: “I think that for the spectators, today’s races were spectacular. We found ourselves on a reach (wind on the beam) under gennaker, due to the fact that the gusts were hitting us from every which way, and that gives you the impression that there is a lot of wind. However, when you look at it closer, the conditions we had today weren’t extreme. However, they are demanding for the men”, admitted Thierry Fouchier. This view is widely shared by Hervé Cunningham, bowman onboard: “we’re racing on some really narrow courses and that adds to the instability of the wind. There are a lot of gusts, which are vastly different in terms of intensity, which forces us to constantly focus on controlling the boat. There wasn’t a single moment of respite today. This is proven by the fact that usually two of us hoist the gennaker, but today I did it on my own as both Christophe and Thierry were totally dedicated to regulating the sails. It’s been a long time since I experienced such a physical and exhausting day in Extreme 40 racing."
This evening, the men of Gitana Team are lying in sixth position, though in reality they are just three points from a podium place. Of note is the great performance by Terry Hutchinson, who was back at the helm of Artemis after missing a Grand Prix, and enjoyed the best day of the fleet. He and his men are leading the provisional ranking. However, behind him things are positively buzzing and Luna Rossa, the winner in Qingdao, is just one point shy. “The two leading boats were very well sailed and they had a great day. However, we are all so close in terms of points that this could all change very quickly. This is particularly true tomorrow, as the day promises to be a little windier”, indicated the skipper of Edmond de Rothschild Group.
As is reflected in the ranking for this first day of competition, the game is extremely wide open in Istanbul and each crew will be keen to defend their chances. Pierre Pennec and his men, leading the 2011 championship after the first two events, certainly won’t be saying the contrary. The next four days promise to have the emotions jangling and the suspense may well be even more intense than usual.
The crew speaks out
Hervé Cunningham, bowman
“It’s really hard to gauge the race zone and play your game well. The waters we’re sailing on are hemmed in by two hills, which give us two winds from very different directions to deal with. Hence the difficulty of understanding any kind of pattern, which is likely to form over the next few boat lengths. The race zone doesn’t really give much of an indication of where the wind is and the gusts are really hard to anticipate. Everything I’ve just described requires you to be an opportunist and unfortunately there’s a bit of luck involved. I don’t feel that luck was on our side today. However, the results of the day’s sailing remain positive. The points are widely distributed here: we saw boats winning one race and then finishing last in the next… The top boats, of which we are one this evening, are extremely close in terms of points. We’re going to battle all the way to the finish and let nothing slip past us. As we’re often repeating in Extreme racing, a single point can make all the difference.”
Thierry Fouchier, headsail trimmer
“Prior to the 7th and final race of the day, the crew found the key to operating the boat correctly. Pierre was at ease at the start and had really got his bearings. We decided to set off at the end of the line fully powered up, with a rather favourable race zone to our left. We were extremely well placed but one small blip caused everything to get snared up. It was our friends on Alinghi. They tried to start up on port tack, whilst we were on starboard (with right of way). They had plenty of room to pass in front but as we timed the mark to perfection, things got caught up! All of sudden, to avoid colliding with them, and given that we are gentlemen, we had to luff up, which caused us to go over the line two seconds too early. It was an error that the on-the-water judges penalised us for. Ultimately, it was a two-pronged punishment for us and above all a heavier one than for those who finished the race ahead of us. It’s frustrating as we had no other choice than to avoid collision, but without this OCS this race was lining up favourably for Edmond de Rothschild Group.”
Provisional ranking in the Istanbul Grand Prix on 25 May (after 7 races)
Artemis Racing – 52 points
Luna Rossa – 51 points
Alinghi – 47 points
Oman Air – 46 points
Emirates Team New Zealand – 45 points
Edmond de Rothschild Group – 44 points
The Wave, Muscat – 44 points
Team Extreme – 41 points
Red Bull Extreme Sailing – 34 points
Team GAC Pindar – 29 points
Niceforyou – 29 points