Hannah White makes her predictions for the Extreme Sailing Series™ Act 3, Qingdao
Of all the Extreme Sailing Series™ venues, Qingdao is likely to roll out the most diverse and unpredictable sailing conditions of all. In 2014, light winds and strong tides, developed into 25-knot gusts blasting across the racecourse, resulting in Race Director Phil Lawrence deciding to split the fleet for safety reasons. While the course isn’t the tightest on the circuit, the combination of towering skyscrapers, surrounding landscape and fickle winds, make for an extremely unpredictable and challenging racecourse.
During the 2011 Series, there were dramatic scenes on Fushan Bay, with four capsizes, a broken mast and a huge collision – all in just one day! Last year was no different in terms of commotion. A massive misjudgment on the final day by Red Bull Sailing Team saw the Austrians plough into the side of 2014 Series’ winners, Alinghi in one of the biggest T-bone incidents we’ve ever seen, taking the Swiss team out of the race.
As the sailing venue for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, some sailors will know Qingdao far better than others. For example, Sarah Ayton’s knowledge of the conditions, the course and the bay will stand The Wave, Muscat in exceptional stead for this Act.
Fresh from winning their home event in Oman, The Wave Muscat might be considered as pre-event favourites for Qingdao. However, in previous years the team has had mixed results in China, with two Act wins (2012 & 2013) a seventh position in 2011 (led by Torvar Mirsky) and fourth position in 2014. After a disappointing start to the season in Singapore, the team just secured the Act win in Muscat in a down-to-the-wire final race. It’ll definitely be interesting to see the team’s mentality in Qingdao. With the top three tied on points, it could be a critical turning point in the season if they let anyone else get the top spot.
After securing a strong second position in Muscat, I expect SAP Extreme Sailing Team to do well in Act 3. The team appears to have found their groove, are clicking really well as a team and have a new coaching set up – they’re firing on all cylinders. I know they’re training hard this week in Denmark ahead of Qingdao and really mean business. Red Bull Sailing Team has some enthusiastic young blood onboard who are passionate about doing well - they have nothing to lose. So, we’re looking at three very different teams vying for the top of the leaderboard.
The teams who may struggle are those who have never sailed on this water before. Team Turx powered by Kaya Ropes (winners of the Land Rover Above and Beyond Award in Act 2, Muscat) and Lino Sonego Team Italia are new to the fray this season, but continue to improve with each Act. I expect to see Oman Air in the top half of the fleet if not in Qingdao, then definitely over the next couple of Acts. Stevie Morrison absolutely loves the Extreme Sailing Series. As a skipper he’s taken a completely different approach to his team selection, surrounding himself with a group of sailors that he knows, he likes and he trusts. I don’t think they’ve underestimated what a big learning curve it is coming into this class, and they’re absorbing every little bit of information they can. If they make a mistake, they learn from it, move on and look forward, and now I think they’re really enjoying being competitive and actually racing as opposed to just sailing the boat around the course.
There’s growing enthusiasm for sailing in China right now, and it’s fantastic to see a local Chinese team with three Chinese sailors onboard competing in the Act. The home representatives, Team Extreme Qingdao, will be lead by Jonas Warrer (DEN), a hugely experienced skipper on this racecourse having won a gold medal here in 2008. And while it’s very difficult for an invitational team to come into this high-level fleet for only one Act, their presence will undoubtedly increase the buzz and excitement around this fantastic spectacle.
So, my predictions are that SAP Extreme Sailing Team will win their first ever event in the Extreme Sailing Series in Qingdao. They’re strong and have the right mentality and experience on this racetrack to do well. They’ll also be riding off the back of a great performance in Muscat, which has given them a valuable boost of confidence. I expect The Wave, Muscat and Red Bull Sailing Team to take up the remaining podium positions. But whichever team does rise to the top, the conditions and rivalry are certain to make for a close, nail-biting and completely captivating Act.
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