The 2016 Extreme Sailing Series™: A year in highlights
2016 saw the introduction of a fleet of hydro-foiling GC32 catamarans competing at eight Acts around the world. Here's the 2016 highlights.
Tuesday 13th December 2016
Act 1 – Oman, Muscat
The 2016 curtain-raiser was a momentous occasion in the 10-year history of the Extreme Sailing Series™ with the debut of the GC32 foiling catamarans. With Muscat’s Old Town providing a stunning backdrop, the Series’ entered into a new era of ‘flying’ on the cutting-edge boats in an Act that was to set a benchmark for the season. Home team Oman Air, with Californian sailor and former Extreme Sailing Series winner Morgan Larson at the helm, quickly established themselves as the team to beat, only finishing outside the podium three times in 19 races that mixed classic Stadium Racing with longer coastal clashes. With Oman Air comfortably wrapping up victory, the remaining podium spots were fought over by Series stalwarts Red Bull Sailing Team, Alinghi and SAP Extreme Sailing Team, plus British rookie squad Land Rover BAR Academy, the youth wing of Ben Ainslie’s America’s Cup team. Red Bull Sailing Team scooped the runners-up slot and SAP Extreme Sailing Team looked set to complete the podium until they went to the wrong mark on the final race, surrendering the honour to their British rivals.
Act 2 – Qingdao, China
Notorious for its shifty conditions caused by the breeze blowing through the vast city skyline, Qingdao played up to its reputation as the Extreme Sailing Series returned for a sixth time. Land Rover BAR Academy’s young guns shot out of the blocks taking an early lead with a light airs masterclass followed closely by an in-form Visit Madeira, but soon the battle for the top spot was between Swiss crew Alinghi and the season’s early leaders Oman Air. The tense clash between the two rivals was to set the tone for the 2016 Series. Huge crowds turned out to watch the racing, not least to support home team CHINA One. After four days of nail-biting action Alinghi clinched the Act win, making it one a piece to the Omani and Swiss teams.
Act 3 – Cardiff, Wales
In the four years previously that Cardiff hosted the Extreme Sailing Series it became one of the favourite stops on the global Stadium Racing tour for its ability to deliver exhilarating racing in full view of the watching crowds surrounding Cardiff Bay. As the Extreme Sailing Series took to the water for a fifth time it did not disappoint. With the racecourse featuring short legs in between the concrete walls of the bay, the Act represented the biggest challenge so far for the fleet of foiling GC32s but also gave some of the most spectacular racing seen so far. With five previous Extreme Sailing Series seasons under their belts, Red Bull Sailing Team showed their experience in Cardiff’s typically gusty conditions and were only narrowly pipped to victory by the relentless Oman Air. Morgan Larson’s men even took the time to treat Welsh rugby star Alex Cuthbert to a joyride around the bay. Alinghi’s bid for a podium spot was dealt a blow when they lost one of their rudders on the third day. Danish team SAP Extreme Sailing Team were only too happy to capitalise on the misfortunes of their rivals, sneaking into third to score their first podium of the season.
Act 4 – Hamburg, Germany
With its high harbour walls and winds rolling in from the North Sea, Hamburg’s River Elbe has consistently delivered edge-of-the-seat racing in the past and this year was no different. Thousands lined the German port city’s riverbanks to watch the Extreme Sailing Series fleet do battle just touching distance from the shore. Neil Hunter, 21, was handed the reins of the Land Rover BAR Academy team as the crew fielded a full crew of under 23s for the first time. Alinghi won all but one race on the penultimate day to go into the fourth and final day with one hand on the Act 4 trophy but it was cruelly snatched from them by Oman Air in the closest finish of the season so far, Morgan Larson’s men besting them by just one point. Visit Madeira were also celebrating after scoring their first race win of the season in the double-points scoring final race.
Act 5 – St Petersburg, presented by SAP
Stunning architecture and a tricky River Neva racecourse characterised four days of intense action in Russia’s second largest city. Newly crowned match racing world champion Phil Robertson joined the line-up, returning as skipper of the wildcard crew Gazprom Team Russia. SAP Extreme Sailing Team enjoyed the opening day spoils, going into day two with a narrow lead over Alinghi and Oman Air. Always in the hunt, Red Bull Sailing Team’s chances of a first Act win were compromised when they were penalised for forcing Visit Madeira into a metal river marker. Both teams were soon back in action though, with Roman Hagara’s Red Bull Sailing Team still managing to finish the Act in third. Yet again the contest for the top spot came down to Alinghi and Oman Air, with the Swiss crew repaying the Omani-backed outfit for their Hamburg disappointment by snatching overall victory in the final race.
Act 6 – Madeira Islands, Portugal
The stunning Portuguese island chain of Madeira made its Extreme Sailing Series debut in September as the stage for the sixth Act of 2016. American Olympic dinghy sailor Brad Funk joined the fray with his Vega Racing wildcard crew as the action really started hotting up. Alinghi were firing on all cylinders until a start-line collision between them and Red Bull Sailing Team saw their mast dramatically come down, throwing their hopes of victory into jeopardy. But thanks to some wizardry from their shore team, who worked overnight to fix the damage, Alinghi were back in action for the final day, armed with a handful of points from the redress awarded to them by the race committee. They pipped Oman Air to victory to even the tally of Act wins heading into the penultimate Act. Home team Visit Madeira wowed crowds with three podium finishes during the Act.
Act 7 – Lisbon, Portugal
As racing headed to Lisbon’s River Tagus, the Extreme Sailing Series saw its biggest fleet of the season with French crew NORAUTO and all-girl team Thalassa Magenta Racing joining the action. Yet again Alinghi were on fire but were pushed hard by experienced crew NORAUTO, part of America’s Cup challengers Groupama Team France, and the ever-present Red Bull Sailing Team. With a howling breeze greeting the fleet, the GC32s recorded their fastest speeds of the season so far, Alinghi topping out at 35 knots. There was more drama further back in the fleet as a collision between Vega Racing and Visit Madeira left a hole in the side of the Portuguese boat. Once again the support crews jumped into action and Visit Madeira was back in action to round off the Act with a podium spot in the final race. Alinghi secured the Act victory ahead of NORAUTO and Red Bull Sailing Team, inching to within just two points of Oman Air on the overall leaderboard. After a string of uncharacteristic results Oman Air finished off the Act podium in fourth place, the first time they had slipped out of the top three all season. With the overall standings so tight it set up a winner-takes-all showdown for the final Act in Sydney.
Act 8 – Sydney, Australia
Classic Sydney Harbour conditions greeted the Extreme Sailing Series fleet as they hit the water for the grand finale of the 2016 season. With winds gusting up to 30 knots the eight-strong fleet, including wildcard entries Team Australia and RNZYS Lautrec Racing, were treated to epic racing with the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge creating a stunning backdrop. The pressure was on both overall leaders Oman Air and title challengers Alinghi as they exchanged blows but the advantage started to swing towards the Swiss team. After four days, two capsizes, one crash and numerous damage delays, the 2016 title was only secured by Alinghi in the penultimate of the Act’s 25 nail-biting races. Oman Air finished Act 8 in third place behind Danish team SAP Extreme Sailing Team, but it was enough to secure them the 2016 runners-up spot. Despite being forced off the Act 8 podium Red Bull Sailing Team took third place overall. The event rounded off a fantastic first year on foils, and the end of the first decade for the Extreme Sailing Series.