2015 Form Guide

For 2015, the Extreme Sailing Series™ has some refreshing changes in its line-up with new teams bristling with talent joining the fray and bringing an even more international complexion to the competition. But the big question James Boyd, Editor of thedailysail.com is asking: Can The Wave, Muscat make it a hat trick of Series wins?

Looking at the results from the last eight seasons, there is a strong argument that experience pays in the Extreme Sailing Series. The Series’ ultra-short stadium sailing format, which brings the racing close to shore, has tested – and got the better of – some of the world’s best sailors since the circuit’s inception in 2007. But simply put, the best team wins, and often it is incredibly close – no more so than in 2013 when The Wave, Muscat and Alinghi ended the year tied on points, with the championship only going to Leigh McMillan’s team on countback. And this was after a giant season of eight Acts and 190 races!

On that occasion McMillan’s team became the first to claim back-to-back wins in Extreme Sailing Series history and with her skipper’s background on the circuit dating back to 2010 aided by a crew that has changed little since last year, The Wave, Muscat is on paper clear favourite this season.

Once again McMillan has on board his trusty right hand in Peter Greenhalgh, who’s raced on the circuit since 2007. Greenhalgh has in fact won the Extreme Sailing Series once more than his skipper – in addition to victories on The Wave, Muscat in 2012 and 2013, he also won in 2007 with his brother Rob on Basilica. Last season they managed to coax double Olympic Yngling gold medallist Sarah Ayton away from her maternal duties to be tactician on board. Ayton returns and it’s great to see one of the three ‘Blondes on a Boat’ back out on the water again.

As ever The Wave, Muscat and Oman Air, are both part of the Oman Sail stable tasked with getting more of the Sultanate’s population out on the water. Their Omani bowman, Nasser Al Mashari, is into his fifth season on the circuit and now is very much an ‘old hand’ on the high-speed Extreme 40. Finally, back after a season sailing on GAC Pindar is Kiwi Ed Smyth, who was with the team previously in 2012-3.

However…

When it comes to experience, there are now several other teams who have earned their stripes and will elevate themselves from their mid-fleet results of the past. Two in particular should be watched closely this season.

Red Bull Sailing Team, led by Austrian two time Olympic Tornado catamaran gold medallists Roman Hagara and Hans Peter Steinacher, has been on the circuit since 2009. Following Red Bull’s association with the successful Youth America’s Cup in San Francisco, their three other crew have been recruited from that event, and are all in their early 20s including Kiwi main trimmer Stuart Dodson and the UK’s Shaun Mason, both of whom finished second at the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup in 2013.

At the opening Act of the 2015 Extreme Sailing Series in Singapore, Hagara relinquished the helm to 24-year-old Australian new recruit Jason Waterhouse. Waterhouse is one of the leading multihull sailors of his generation, currently campaigning a Nacra 17 catamaran for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

Introducing this new dynamic on board seems to have paid off: Red Bull Sailing Team won the Act in Singapore – the team’s first ever event victory after more than five years on the circuit.

Similarly SAP Extreme Sailing Team, led by Danish former match racers and America’s Cup crew Jes Gram-Hansen and Rasmus Køstner, is on a roll, going into their fourth year. Back on board for a second season are experienced French multihull sailor and match racer Thierry Douillard and their young Kiwi match racer bowman Brad Farrand. Newbie on board is young Dane Mads Emil Stephensen, who was runner-up at the youth 49er World Championship last year.

A significant new addition to the SAP team this year is Michael Hestbaek, their new Sports Performance Director. One of Denmark’s leading Olympic sailors, with a career spanning more than two decades, Hestbaek has represented Denmark at the Olympic Games four times – twice in the Star keelboat and twice in the 49er skiff. He will be using his rigorous discipline honed in elite-level Olympic sailing to help the SAP crew raise their game this season.

As if to demonstrate the point – both Red Bull and SAP finished ahead of The Wave, Muscat in Singapore, something of a slap in the face for The Wave, Muscat skipper, Leigh McMillan. “I think we will be able to turn it around and still be a strong contender,” said McMillan afterwards. “Hopefully our experience will prevail as the season progresses, but Red Bull sailed very well and I think with Jason [Waterhouse] is quite a talent and will definitely put in good performances.”

With such a high number of races at every Act, key to doing well is consistency and McMillan was particularly impressed with how Red Bull was “rock solid” in Singapore. “This season is going to be tough to win, but I still have every confidence in our team, that we have got more to give and can certainly race better than we did in Singapore. Given some slightly different conditions we’ll be a lot stronger as well.”

Also expected to be snapping at the podium this year will be Gazprom Team Russia, Oman Air and GAC Pindar.

For the Gazprom team’s second season, the crew is now Russian-Kiwi with experienced match racer and increasingly experienced cat sailor Phil Robertson on the helm with his match racing no2 Garth Ellingham as main trimmer. They are joined by three Russians: Skipper Igor Lisovenko, who has twice represented his country in the Olympic Games in the Laser and headsail trimmer Alexander Bozhko and bowman Aleksey Kulakov, also Olympic sailors. Finishing fourth in Singapore, they have already improved their best 2014 result.

Over past seasons Oman Air has featured a whole roster of celebrity skippers from Loïck Peyron to Sidney Gavignet, Ben Ainslie, Chris Draper, Morgan Larson and last year Rob Greenhalgh. This year it is the turn of two time British 49er Olympian Stevie Morrison.

Historically Olympic skiff sailors have proved most adept at making the transfer to catamarans – in the America’s Cup they include Artemis Racing skipper Nathan Outteridge and Luna Rossa helmsmen Chris Draper (Extreme Sailing Series winner in 2009) and Paul Campbell-James (Extreme Sailing Series winner in 2010 and 2011, now with Ben Ainslie Racing) plus London 2012 silver medallist Peter Burling, who shared the helm of the Emirates Team New Zealand Extreme 40 with Dean Barker last season. So Morrison’s 13 years in the 49er should bode well for his getting up to speed quickly.

Morrison is joined on board by another prominent British Olympic sailing squad sailor: Tactician Nic Asher has spent as much time in the 470 as Morrison has in the 49er, during which time he has notched up two World Championship wins in the Olympic doublehander. Also on board is British 49er sailor/match racer Ed Powys, Omani rookie Ali Al Bashar, who made his Extreme 40 debut with Oracle Team USA’s Tom Slingsby at the final Act of the 2014 season in Sydney last year. In fact the only returnee from last year’s Oman Air crew is Aussie headsail trimmer Ted Hackney.

Expect this crew to start posting some top results as the season progresses.

Rather like Oman Air, GAC Pindar as a team has been on the circuit for some time – starting out in 2010 – but has regularly changed its helmsman and crew. Last season the team’s catamaran lacked a consistent helmsman - the role shared by the capable Australian 470 Olympic Gold medallist Nathan Wilmot, 18ft skiff guru Seve Jarvin (winner of a record eight JJ Giltinan Championships - the class’ effective world championship) and young match racer David Gilmour (son of America’s Cup legend Peter). This, plus other factors such a lack of familiarity with the Extreme 40 catamaran, resulted in the team ending up on the bottom rung of the leaderboard ladder in 2014.

This year, the team should be able to show more consistency with Jarvin back for his second stint on the helm. The 18ft skiff is effectively a big 49er so what we said about to 49er sailors making successful transitions to two hulls should apply even more to Jarvin, who is now technically the most successful 18ft skiff sailor of all time in this 120+ year old class.

This year Jarvin is sharing duty on the helm with GAC Pindar’s British match racing ace, Ian Williams. Williams earlier this year entered the record books becoming the only man to have ever won the World Match Racing Tour five times. He returns to GAC Pindar’s cat campaign having helmed the boat to fifth place in 2012.

Aside from Williams, this year the team is once again all-Australian with Jarvin’s 18ft skiff sailing buddy Jack Macartney calling tactics, Tyson Lamond back on the bow and James Wierzbowski on main trim. Wierzbowski previously was been part of the Australian Red Bull Youth America’s Cup team, Object Australia in 2013 and is currently campaigning a 49er for Rio. New on board is Marcus Ashley-Jones – bringing the number of 18ft skiff skippers on board up to three! No arguments there then…

Again this team has the potential to go far provided they can gel as a crew and get used to the Extreme Sailing Series’ ultra-short stadium sailing courses.

Beyond this there are the new teams and while they may be rookies on the circuit, both showed strong potential straight out of the blocks each notching up individual race wins in Singapore. Italy returns to the Extreme Sailing Series with Lino Sonego Team Italia. This is led by one of Italy’s most successful helmsmen. A former 470 sailor, Lorenzo Bressani is a past J/24 World Champion, a three time Melges 24 World Champion and also a Melges 32 World Champion. Recently Bressani has graduated on to catamarans, returning to the Olympic arena in the Nacra 17. Among the Italian crew are Gabriele Olivo, best known as Media Crewman on board Telefonica Blue in the 2011/12 Volvo Ocean Race, Enrico Zennaro, another keelboat sailor who has most recently won back to back World Championships in the Gazprom Swan 60 class, and Stefano Ciampalini as the teams amateur fifth crew member. The UK’s Tom Buggy brings important class experience to the team, having competed with numerous invitational teams in previous years, this is his first full season campaign.

Likely to be on a steeper learning curve is Team Turx. Again, it is fantastic that another nationality joins the Extreme Sailing Series. The Turkish team is co-skippered by Edhem Dirvana, with none other than the eminent Mitch Booth – two time Tornado catamaran Olympic medallist and founder of the Extreme 40 on the helm. Dirvana and Mitch are joined by one of Turkeys top national dinghy sailors Selim Kakis who, as well as having 16 National Championship titles to his name, represented his country at the Athens Olympics in the 470 class. The headsail trim is in the capable hands of Portugals Diogo Cayolla, an experienced Olympian who has represented his country in three different Fames in three different classes - the Star, 49er and Tornado, with the bowman position being rotated throughout the year.

This year the venues on the circuit remain similar to 2014, but with the addition of a new Act in Hamburg, to be held on the River Elbe. This is likely to be another ‘tricky’ venue, meaning that more than ever the circuit is likely to favour the experienced crews, the ones who know their Extreme 40 so well they can keep their ‘heads out of the boat’. If betting weren’t immoral, I would placing my chips squarely on The Wave, Muscat.

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