Some said it couldn't be done on more than one hull, but the six Extreme 40s here at The Wave, Muscat for the Extreme Sailing Series Asia demonstrated that match racing in multihulls is not only viable, but spectacular. The crowded VIP viewing platform was given a thrilling demonstration of close quarter combat as the teams took it in turns to race head-to-head, just metres off the harbour wall.
The promised 12-15 knot wind came through at midday and the Race Committee set up a tight, 500metre course. Seven flights, two matches a flight, and the teams were preparing for a long day.
Red Bull Extreme Sailing took on China Team in the first match and the America’s Cup experienced duo of Thierry Barot and Tan Wearn Haw was evident as they dominated the pre-start manoeuvres, often slowing the racing down as they prepared to round the marks. But on the last beat, Red Bull overturned the match, taking the lead and the first point. The games had begun …..
The third match of the day was an Omani head-to-head with The Wave, Muscat hoping to capitalise on skipper Paul Campbell-James’ student Match Racing experience, up against their stablemate Masirah. The boats were aggressive in the pre-start, with both sides calling for penalties, but green flagged by the Umpires and a fantastic start for Masirah, hitting the line at full pace. But disaster struck for The Wave, Muscat. As they flew a hull, almost over the mark, their clew failed, leaving their mainsail flapping in the wind. It was all over for Campbell-James and his team limped back to dock to repair the damage before tomorrow’s penultimate day.
And so it continued. The action behind the start line was tight as the teams used their match racing experience to block each other out at the committee boat end, the action unfurling almost at the feet of the spectators. This simplified form of match racing was easy to understand for the non-sailors in the crowd and the more knowledgeable sailors were all commenting on how fast the teams were putting the Extreme 40s through their manoeuvres. Mistakes were punished hard by the opposing team as they all chased the win and the point for first over the line.
Masirah’s strong boat handling skills were evident in the stronger winds as they barely put a foot wrong around the courses finishing top boat after the first round robin:
Rumbo Almería 4/1
Red Bull Extreme Sailing 3/2
China Team 1/4
The Wave, Muscat 0/5
This left The Wave, Muscat on the dock and China Team in fifth place with Red Bull and BT to battle it out for third place and Masirah and Rumbo Almería for the overall top spot.
China Team skipper Thierry Barot commented, "Hard day, but good learning day. It is the first time we have done match racing together, Wearn Haw and I have before for the America's Cup, but not with Hugh [Styles] and Adam [Piggott]. Most of the starts we had were quite good, only lost one against Rumbo Almeria, but they had a great day.
"It's been very interesting to do match racing in these boats. It was a very tough day for me, but great fun. I hope we do it more. I was a little bit worried about our experience but you find a lot of similar situations with the monohulls and multihulls and the solution is the same. For a first experience it was great and looking forward to doing more."
And so the 'petit final' began. BT up against Red Bull Extreme Sailing. The racing was tight and Red Bull was in control from the start, but a forced error at the final top mark saw the Austrian team struggle with unfurling their gennaker with only one third of the sail out. BT saw their opening and took it. Nick Moloney said, "We saw their gennaker and we started screaming at each other, come on come on and went hard as, and really aggressively fired each other up. 'Come on boys!' we were shouting. And then everyone lifts. We are amped anyway because it is so high energy but takes you to a higher level." BT stormed down the final leg to take the win from the jaws of defeat and finished in third overall.
And so to the final. Oman Sail Masirah against double Olympic Gold Medallist Shirley Robertson's Rumbo Almeria. Shirley, an experienced match racer, dominated from the start, at one point sailing backwards to get out of the Omani team's clutches. She led over the line and kept in front all the way round, giving no room for overtaking and comfortably winning the match, and the day.
"We had a bit of a think about it before we went out. How were we going to gain an advantage and gain the opportunities and the pitfalls. The breeze was up, the boats are pretty difficult in that amount of wind, we were a bit nervous, but we approached the day fresh and approached each match fresh and as the tournament went on we got better and better.
"I'm the only girl out there but I have done quite a lot of match racing before and as have some of the other guys on the other teams. You need a fair amount of aggression but also you have to be able to manoeuvre your boat into position and that takes a bit of team work It was great coming into the final, we felt pretty confident and we came out on top - it was a great moment."
And so the Extreme 40s proved it could be done, in spectacular style and easily understood by the spectators. Nick Moloney summed up the day for everyone, "It was really good. Beautiful wind obviously made for awesome sailing. Muscat turned it on for the weather, what more would you want? Perfect hull flying conditions, flat water and beautiful blue skies. Everyone is really tired, but stoked. It's good to come off the water tired, you know you have done something worthwhile."
Results after day 3 of racing:
Red Bull Extreme Sailing - 50
The Wave, Muscat - 42
BT - 38
China Team - 38
Masirah - 36
Rumbo Almeria – 27
Double Olympic Gold Medallist Roman Hagara, Red Bull Extreme Sailing: It was good to do this with the Extreme 40s and we had some tight races which was nice. I think it is a good format. It was thrilling onboard. The boats are so quick and you have to be careful not hit the other boat or the rocks. We were so close to shore at time and the spectators.
"We had another good furl at the gate and then it came undone on the downwind leg and that's it. Not a big problem we will learn. Tomorrow we feel comfortable crew work is perfect now, not always, but getting better and better so we feel good."
Ian Walker, double Olympic silver medallist, Rumbo Almeria: "It was very interesting today. Having skippered and been a tactician in the America's Cup, I was interested to see how it would work in catamarans, particularly with the America's Cup being in multihulls this time. I actually think it can work. We don't get that many passing manoeuvres anyway in the slower, heavier boats and what we saw today was a real premium boat handling. But the most important thing is setting the course so the boats can split at the leeward mark. If it was a one way track, it wouldn't work. But today it was an excellent course and there was a lot of over taking, from what we saw today in these conditions and these boats, I think thumbs up.
Leigh McMillan, helm on Oman Sail Masirah: "It was obviously going to be full on with a bit of wind so got to actually get the boats moving a bit which was a lot of fun and quite a tight racecourse. The short racing area meant that the manoeuvres were full on, you never had a moment in the race to settle down. But it was good fun to engage with the other boats. It wasn't like two boat fleet racing we were expecting, the pre-start dial ups in these boats were a lot of fun and a lot of pin outs at the Committee boat and that is what is exciting about match racing and we did it in the Extreme 40. We enjoyed it and had a good day. We won all of the round robin races and then we only had one final, so obviously lost that, unfortunately, but again, we had a great day and it was a lot of fun."