A bitter tasting Porto’
The fourth Grand Prix of the Extreme Sailing Series season concluded early yesterday evening in Porto. Battling for second place on the event podium, the catamaran Edmond de Rothschild Group experienced a rather black end to racing. Caught up in a collision during the fourth race of the day, Pierre Pennec and his crew were forced to throw in the towel after suffering damage to their bow and, most importantly, injuring one of the crew in the impact. Deprived of the last five races of the competition, the men of Gitana Team ultimately ranked fifth in this Act 4, which was won hands down by The Wave Muscat and they have thus conceded some ground in the annual standing.

Usually influenced by some boisterous thermal breezes, Porto’s race zone was forecast to be one of the windiest on the 2012 circuit. However, during the first three races of the day, even though the eight crews were able to enjoy some good conditions with which to try and outdo their opponents (between 6 and 9 knots), the reading on the anemometer didn’t exactly reflect the region’s reputation. Yesterday, Sunday, the fleet of Extreme 40s had to contend with a wind of around fifteen knots, with gusts in excess of 20 knots, guaranteeing the Portuguese spectators a unique spectacle all along the Douro River in line with the circuit’s philosophy: “15 knots on the inner race zone in Porto is like sailing on the exterior course in 25 knots. However, in this enclosed stadium we don’t suffer the effects of the sea, which is generally associated with this wind. That aside, we are surrounded by sea walls and the stress is permanent as the race zone is narrow with a fixed frame!” admits Pierre Pennec during the event. For the crews, conditions on the last day of racing were tricky and on the narrow race zone where this Grand Prix is played out, every tack crossing has to be millimetre-perfect, which isn’t that easy with the breeze. Another ingredient to further spice up what is already some full-on racing is the switch in direction of the strong tidal current over the course of the afternoon, according to the tides.

A collision and retirement for Edmond de Rothschild Group

After two fairly average races, where they ranked sixth, Pierre Pennec and his four crew found the opportunity they’d been looking for on the line and scored a bullet in the third race of the day. After this first place, they were just four points shy of Red Bull and were closing on the second step of the podium. However, during the next race, they were stopped in their tracks following a collision involving four other boats. On his return to the Douro Marina, Pierre Pennec looked back at how things unfolded that led to this situation and gave us his version of events: “We were coming up to the final course mark on race 28. We were on port tack engaged with GAC Pindar, who was to leeward of us, and they in turn were engaged with Zoulou. Oman Air was coming in on starboard but not very quickly. We bore away behind them. At that point, The Wave Muscat came in and tacked about four boat lengths behind Oman Air. When he saw us, Leigh McMillan pulled on the helm to prevent us getting past. Edmond de Rothschild Group ended up virtually parallel to The Wave Muscat. I requested clear water from GAC Pindar, who in turn asked Zoulou for clear water, but there was no response. As such, I did all I could but ultimately it was impossible to avoid colliding with The Wave Muscat. After the impact, I saw Bernard Labro laid out on the trampoline bleeding from the nose. It was clear that the race was over for us. It was only after that, that the shore team informed us that our port bow had been seriously damaged in any case.”

During the impact, the bowman on Edmond de Rothschild Group, who was in the process of hoisting the gennaker, was propelled forward onto the catamaran’s forward beam. Injured and bleeding from the nose, Bernard Labro was very quickly taken care of by the race doctors and taken off to the hospital in Porto. The sailor from La Rochelle is fine and he managed to join up with the crew again later that evening after some X-ray checks. He came off with a broken nose and some bruising to his face.

In the Extreme Sailing Series, the rules dictate that any decisions are made directly on the water. To perform this task, there are umpires on the race zone constantly, whose job involves making decisions in a very short space of time as regards whether or not to penalise a boat, which hasn’t respected the rules when under sail. These umpires decided that Pierre Pennec and his crew weren’t within their rights; a position which the skipper of Edmond de Rothschild Group doesn’t agree with: “In my view and that of our coach, Benoit Briand, who was on the water, we weren’t in the wrong and the umpires are guilty of an error of judgement! GAC should have let us have clear water and Zoulou should have let GAC have clear water. Another factor, which sheds new light on the matter, is The Wave Muscat’s change of trajectory. That’s why we requested that the jury reopen our case once we were ashore, which they finally agreed to. After the end of racing, we gave our version of events to the jury. Some representatives from GAC Pindar and Zoulou, present at this hearing, commented that we were fully engaged with them. However, Zoulou indicated that due to the proximity of the sea wall on this section of the course, they very quickly called for clear water as there was no more room to bear away. The different teams don’t seem to agree on this point, which is where the nub of the problem lies. As a result, the jury decided that we were at fault, as we didn’t do everything we could to avoid making contact.”

Filed a nonsuit by the Extreme Saling Series’ international jury, the skipper of Edmond de Rothschild Group makes no secret of his bitterness yesterday faced with this situation, which came as an unfortunate reminder of the disappointments encountered by the team last year, during the Cowes Grand Prix: “We are not happy about the decision taken by the jury and uphold our version of events. It’s hard because to our mind, that’s twice now that errors have been committed with very serious consequences for us. We have no option but to heed their decision, but we are leaving Porto with a bitter taste in our mouths. It’s extremely frustrating for everyone concerned to end an event like that. This emotion is heightened by the fact that, like The Wave Muscat, we asked the race committee to reposition the mark in question. It appeared to us to be too close to the sea wall and dangerous for any tack crossing given the wind strength,” explained Pierre Pennec.

Incapable of contesting the last five races of the Portuguese competition, Pierre Pennec and his four crew have however managed to limit the cost by ranking fifth in Porto. It’s certainly a disappointing place for the men of Gitana Team but it hasn’t completely dashed the crew’s dreams of victory in the annual standing, as the skipper of Gitana Extreme explained: “Obviously it’s disappointing as the result is certainly not representative of the quality of my crew and the superb work carried out by our shore team (Sébastien, Hubert and Cyril), who had to finish late on a number of occasions during this Grand Prix to enable us to make the start line the following day. However, we have to move on from this. There are four Grands Prix left to contest and even though The Wave are really sailing very well this year, they’re not infallible. I have every confidence that we’ll bounce back very soon.”

The next Extreme Sailing Series meeting will take place in Cardiff, Wales, from 30 August to 2 September.

* In the summertime, Porto operates on UTC +1.


Final standing in the Porto Grand Prix (32 races)

  1. The Wave Muscat – 198 points
  2. Red Bull Sailing Team – 183 points
  3. Oman Air – 156 points
  4. Alinghi – 145 points
  5. 5. Edmond de Rothschild Group - 137 points
  6. SAP Extreme Sailing Team - 129 points
  7. GAC Pindar - 126 points
  8. Zoulou - 123 points

Provisional overall standing for the Extreme Sailing Series after four Grands Prix

  1. The Wave Muscat – 39 points
  2. Red Bull Sailing Team – 33 points
  3. Oman Air – 31 points
  4. 4. Edmond de Rothschild Group - 31 points
  5. GAC Pindar - 22 points
  6. Alinghi – 18 points
  7. SAP Extreme Sailing Team - 18 points
  8. Zoulou - 16 points

The crew on Edmond de Rothschild Group

Pierre Pennec (Skipper / Helmsman),

Arnaud Psarofaghis (mainsail trimmer),

Hervé Cunningham (headsail trimmer),

Bernard Labro (bowman)

Romain Petit (trimmer)

Benoit Briand (coach)

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