The best three races in the Extreme Sailing Series™ history

So what are the ingredients that make the Extreme Sailing Series™ so special and what have been some of the best races ever staged in the Series since its inception nine years ago?

Ed Gorman, former sailing and Formula One correspondent of The Times, asked Extreme 40 bowman, former Series champion and latterly the Series online commentator, David “Freddie” Carr, to make his personal choice of the best three races ever sailed in the world’s only annual stadium sailing grand prix.

My top-three Extreme Sailing Series™ Races of all time

Third place – the final heat at last year’s (2014) Act in Istanbul

“This was the Act-deciding race at the end of the weekend in Turkey when Morgan Larson and his crew on Alinghi did a brilliant job of sailing their rivals for overall honours, Leigh McMillan and his team on The Wave Muscat, down the fleet. This allowed Dean Barker at the helm of Emirates Team New Zealand to win the final race and take the honours for the weekend in Turkey.

“When Alinghi and The Wave, Muscat went toe-to-toe, there wasn’t a single boat-handling error on either cat. The Wave, Muscat were down the pan at times but just kept coming back at Emirates Team New Zealand and Alinghi. And for Morgan Larson to have the presence of mind not only to be sailing and helming his boat very well, and very well tactically, but also to go and engage Leigh MacMillan on The Wave, Muscat was awesome to watch.

“Historically, the Extreme 40 circuit has been a very friendly place to work and race so it was great to see the gloves come off that day in Istanbul. We have seen that attitude in Olympic sailing – you think of Ben Ainslie sailing Robert Scheidt out of the last race in Lasers at the Sydney Games – and this year it really filtered into the Extreme Sailing Series. The standard was exceptional that day and the added layer of competitiveness just made it that bit more special.

Second place – the championship-deciding race in Spain in 2009

“I was involved that day on board Oman Sail Masirah skippered by Chris Draper. We were racing Gitana helmed by Pierre Pennec and we knew that if they managed to put two boats between us and them, they would win the Act and leapfrog us to win the Series. So there was huge pressure.

“It was a really tricky day, very light winds – real snurgly, sniggly sailing I call it, in the harbour in Andalucia. We had an absolutely terrible start – we were so deep in the fleet off the line and the emotions we went through, being on this big, powerful cat and doing just six knots on the most important race of the Series. It was more than stressful. We had to eke every tiny bit of power out of the boat and make every tactical call perfectly. At one point we were four places behind them and then, come the finishing line, we crossed it right on their tail. Job done.

“I think that race was a very good example of how in the Extreme 40 class, things are never done and dusted until the very end of every race. Every season so far has come down to the final Act and more often than not to the final race in the final Act. Gitana had finished second for three years in a row – they were always the bridesmaids - and I think they thought that was the year they were finally going to win it, but we managed to clinch it.

First place – race two on day two at Cowes Week in 2008

“It was a windy day, one of those ones where, as you walk along the dock, you hear the halyards slapping the rigs. It was halfway through the second season for the Extreme 40s and by that stage we had not yet had to deal with any really monstrous conditions in these boats. But this was also the first time that world class sailors had got hold of the 40s and we had all got pretty good at it and no one was going to back down.

“It was a proper chest-out day; there were a lot of big egos on the water that day with a skipper rota including the likes of Ed Baird, Rob Greenhalgh and Darren Bundock. To add a little extra spice, in those days the race officer did not tell the crew whether to put a reef in the mainsail or not – it was up to each skipper – and on that day it was a real macho test: did you reef or not? The fleet was half and half on that score.

“The first race was windy and everyone just about got round the course – it was fun sailing not survival stuff. But between the first and second races the breeze built from 18 knots gusting 22, to 20 knots gusting 25. It was a classic southwesterly Cowes Week breeze on our course that was set that day on the mainland shore at Calshot.

“Race two started with half the fleet on starboard tack and everyone did a simultaneous tack in the corner of the course with the result that the whole fleet – all eight boats – got to the windward mark at exactly the same time and it was chaos. You had eight super-fast catamarans, half of them over-canvassed, trying to bear away in 25 knots of breeze. On Oman Sail we got round in about sixth place and we were watching the boats in front of us. Three of them bore away and capsized straight away and then three more did the same.

“It was one of those races that we all still talk about now – that windward mark, all the shouting and the machismo and then the boats had their say. “No, no, no, no, you boys are not in control of us,” it was as if they were saying. The boats bit back hard in that race. If you had got to the mark and managed to get it pointing downwind without turning the thing over you were in bloody good nick for the rest of the race.

“I think we all started that race thinking we are pretty good sailors and we are getting paid to do it and nothing could touch us and we finished it thinking ‘Oh my God, this cat game is like nothing we have ever done before.’ Ed Baird at the helm of Alinghi eventually won it.“

Check out the official YouTube channel to watch the races, www.youtube.com/extremesailingseries.

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