The same old story
From Nice to Almeria, the Mediterranean doesnt seem to want to play ball. Indeed, ten days ago, we left the Extreme Sailing Series fleet in the light airs along Nices coast. This Wednesday, for the first day of the Almeria Grand Prix, the wind was still just as light as ever, barely exceeding four knots. However, these light conditions didnt stop the eleven catamarans from powering up during the four races contested in the citys port stadium in Iberia. Winning two races, Ben Ainslies crew are at the top of the leaderboard tonight, whilst Pierre Pennec and his three crew are lying in second.

A blazing sunshine and evanescent winds marked this first day of competition on Andalusian soil and so the atmosphere was strangely familiar to the Extreme Sailing Series fleet… However, rest assured, the Almeria Grand Prix isn’t likely to mirror proceedings in Nice for too long. In fact, if the weather forecasts pan out, there is likely to be a new system moving through with boisterous conditions muscling their way along the Spanish coast. “As regards the wind, it won’t be a lot different to our last races in Nice… However, the race zone in Almeria is more complicated as it’s cramped. Today though, the difficulty was less about the size of the playing field and more to do with the lightness of the breeze. We got off the start lines under gennaker with about three knots of breeze, which is never easy. In fact, either we opted for clean air in front of our rivals with the risk of overshooting the start, or we held back a bit with the risk of falling into the dirty wind from our adversaries. The trimming has to be top-quality and the timing perfect in these conditions” explained Pierre Pennec. Present in Almeria for the third year running, the skipper of Edmond de Rothschild Group admitted that he’d got his bearings there, but he’s not the only one to have this benefit: “The strength and the direction of the wind we had today wasn’t something new for us on this racecourse. After two Grands Prix here, we’ve gained some experience and that will certainly have been a benefit during today’s four races.”

For Christophe Espagnon, mainsail trimmer and tactician on the catamaran fitted out by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild, the races go by and each is different from the last. Racing alongside Sébastien Josse aboard Gitana 11 during the Krys Match* contested at the weekend in La Trinité-sur-Mer, Brittany, the sailor from La Rochelle appeared to have adapted perfectly to the change of format: “The conditions here are certainly very different to those during the Krys Match, the bulk of which was contested in the breeze (between 15 and 25 knots during the three days). The boats are very different to each other too. However, aboard Gitana 11 I was calling the tactics, which is the position I have here. They’re both multihulls and it’s often said in our sport that the best way to make progress is to go sailing, whatever the boat.”

Aboard Edmond de Rothschild Group, which is lying in second place in the provisional standing this evening, the analysis is a satisfactory one. This is particularly true given that Pierre Pennec and his men know only too well that on a day such as this, it’s a lot easier to lose points than to win them:We only competed in four races today. There were a lot of points to lose. With the exception of the second race, where we finished second to last following a poor tactical call, we managed to put up a consistent performance. The start of the Grand Prix is in line with the game plan we implemented in Nice, namely trying to be consistently at the top of the standing, without necessarily having to win the races.” Of note was the great opening gambit by the Omani boat, helmed by the English sailor Ben Ainslie, who has taken pole position in the Andalusian Grand Prix after the first day’s racing.

In order to honour the Spanish national holiday, which is celebrated this Wednesday 12 October, the organisers of the Extreme Sailing Series opted to make a slight modification to the usual race programme. In this way, Pierre Pennec’s men and their rivals began this eighth Grand Prix with a stadium day, up close and personal with the Andalusian public. Tomorrow and through until Friday, the eleven Extreme 40s will be sailing outside the port stadium in the so-called ‘Open Water’ races. However, racing will kick-off at the same time, with the first warning signal set to be fired at 1500 hours local time.

* Inaugural event for the Multi One Championship in which Gitana Team were participating.

Ranking for the Almeria Grand Prix at the end of the 1st day

  1. Oman Air (OMA) – 39 points
  2. Edmond de Rothschild Group (FRA) - 31 points
  3. Emirates Team New Zealand (NZ) – 30 points
  4. Team GAC Pindar (GBR) – 30 points
  5. Red Bull Extreme Sailing (AUT) – 28 points
  6. Luna Rossa (ITA) – 26 points
  7. Niceforyou (ITA) – 20 points
  8. The Wave, Muscat (OMA) - 18 points
  9. Alinghi (SUI) – 14 points
  10. Team Tilt (SUI) - 14 points
  11. Team Extreme (EUR) – 13 points

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