The Extreme Sailing Series at the foot of the Blue Mosque
For the second year running, the Extreme Sailing Series fleet has come together in Istanbul to compete in the third Grand Prix of the season. The first day of competition in the Marmara Sea, was marked by a capricious breeze, which was shifty both in terms of strength and direction. The eight competing crews had to contend with its variations throughout the six races contested this Thursday. At the end of the day, Red Bull Sailing Team had gained the upper hand thanks to a regular and consistent performance and is heading tonight’s leaderboard. Pierre Pennec and his men secured third place in the provisional standing, with a whole host of pretenders to victory immediately astern of them.

Today was a time to link back up with their fellow racers in the Extreme Sailing Series, as well as the peoples of Istanbul. However, there was just one little difference this year, as the race zone wasn’t quite the same. Indeed, back in 2011, Edmond de Rothschild Group and its rivals were racing at the Golden Horn, one of the estuaries of the Bosphorus. This year, the one-design catamarans are competing in the Marmara Sea, just inside the entrance to the Bosphorus River. Indeed one race is even scheduled to take place on the shores of the famous strait on Saturday morning. The new playing field remains just as demanding as its predecessor however, as Tanguy Leglatin, sports coach to the crew in Istanbul, explains: “The race zone is described as open but it is surrounded by land. The boats are racing in the Marmara Sea with the Bosphorus Strait to the North. The latter is relatively narrow and steep-sided, which causes the wind to channel through this passage. On the race zone, the wind from the strait encounters that of the Marmara Sea and results in a zone of conflict between these two air flows. Added to this is the current from the Bosphorus and hence a pretty shifty playing field, which it isn’t always easy to read.”

Whilst breeze appeared to be forecast for this opening day of racing, the wind eased from the second race of the day, forcing the race committee to hold the competitors off the racecourse midway through the afternoon. At around 1600 hours though, the wind filled in again and the crews were able to fly a hull on their catamarans as they ticked off another three races. These contrasting conditions were in line with the forecasts made before today’s racing by the crew of Edmond de Rothschild Group: “After 48 hours, where the stormy lows were rolling across the race zone, today marks the return of the high pressure. During today’s first race, we were able to benefit from a light thermal breeze, but as forecast on the grib files, it died away as another new air flow (synoptic) was establishing itself. This transition situation punctuated the day and provided the competitors with a fairly wide range of conditions: between 4 and 13 knots of breeze with a big rotation midway through the afternoon”, noted Tanguy Leglatin.

As regards performance, Pierre Pennec and his crew had a confident start to the competition: some positive elements and some points to improve on was the message at this evening’s debriefing: “The positive point about today’s performance was clearly our speed. We’ve modified our trimming in a few areas and that’s borne fruit. However, we still have a few teething issues in all the posts, two or three drops of oil is all it’ll take, but that’ll come with practice”, said an assured Hervé Cunningham, headsail trimmer aboard the boat. The same observation was made with the skipper of Edmond de Rothschild Group: “We’re quick and it’s very satisfying to see that the work we started back in Muscat in February is paying off. In terms of the starts, where we observed some gaps in our performance during previous Grands Prix, we’re doing better in that area too and we were more pertinent in these important phases. We just have to iron out a few issues with our positioning in relation to our rivals, as we ended up in some tricky positions at certain mark roundings todays. I’m going to have to accept that we’re going to lose a little ground on one tack so as I can better position the boat for the ensuing crossover”, concluded Pierre Pennec.

Christophe Espagnon is back

The navigator from La Rochelle, who took up the post of mainsail trimmer on Edmond de Rothschild Group throughout 2011, is back aboard the French catamaran. Now crewing for Sébastien Josse aboard the stable’s 70-feet trimaran, Christophe has made the most of a break in the busy MOD 70 schedule to take up his old post in Istanbul temporarily: “It’s a real pleasure to return to the circuit with this crew and on this craft. The Extreme 40 format complements the MOD circuit pretty well, particularly as regards the Europa Tour, which we’ll be taking part in during September and will include some round-the-cans races in each stopover venue. I’m returning to the same post, which makes it quite an easy switch. However, the organisation aboard the boat has changed slightly this year, with the arrival of a fifth crew member. That means you have to have time to find your bearings again and adapt to this new feature, which alters the way we manoeuvre. Indeed we saw today that we need to work on the choreography!” admits Christophe with a smile after today’s first spell of racing.

Of note is the fact that a new crew member will be sailing alongside Pierre Pennec in the next Grand Prix, which will take place in Porto in early July.

A very tight provisional standing

Although the order wasn’t totally respected, since The Wave Muscat won Act 2, the provisional standing for the Istanbul Grand Prix after the first day of racing, was reminiscent of the podium places in China. After six races, Roman Hagara’s crew has reaped the benefits of its very good day on the water and has logically secured the top spot on the leaderboard. They are tailed by Leigh McMillan’s men, whilst the catamaran fitted out by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild has bagged the third step of the podium tonight. The current standing is certainly worth noting, but it’s clearly too early to draw any real conclusions from it. The fleet demonstrated today how uniform the level is and this is mirrored by the separation there is between the boats in second and seventh place, namely twelve lowly points.

Tomorrow, the eight competing crews will take to the race zone again from 1100 hours UTC for the first of a series of stadium races, which translates as shorter courses and contact guaranteed.

Standing for the Istanbul Grand Prix after the first day (six races run)
  1. Red Bull Sailing Team - 40 points
  2. The Wave Muscat – 35 points
  3. Edmond de Rothschild Group- 28 points
  4. GAC Pindar - 26 points
  5. Oman Air - 25 points
  6. SAP Extreme Sailing Team - 24 points
  7. Alinghi - 23 points
  8. Zoulou - 15 points

The crew of Edmond de Rothschild Group

Pierre Pennec (Skipper / helmsman),

Christophe Espagnon (trimmer and mainsail traveller),

Hervé Cunningham (headsail trimmer),

Bernard Labro (Bowman)

Romain Petit (trimmer)

Tanguy Leglatin (Sports coach)

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