Lawrence bows out after six years at Extreme Sailing Series™ helm

He's run more than 50 Extreme Sailing Series™ Acts over six years in charge of the on-the-water action, and guided the global Stadium Racing tour through its game-changing transition to foils.

Monday 12th December 2016

He’s run more than 50 Extreme Sailing Series™ Acts over six years in charge of the on-the-water action, and guided the global Stadium Racing tour through its game-changing transition to foils.

But long-term race director Phil Lawrence is now handing over the helm with a parting gift – a thrilling season finale on the waters of Sydney Harbour that saw Alinghi take the 2016 top spot after four days of sensational racing.

Lawrence’s reputation as one of the most cool, calm and collected figures in professional sailing precedes him and he is respected the world over for constantly delivering racing of the highest order.

The Brit, who has competed in some of the biggest events in sailing including the Olympics and the Admiral’s Cup, was approached by the Extreme Sailing Series in 2010 and took charge of racing the following year. The rest, as they say, is history.

Lawrence, 61, will now be succeeded by Canadian sailor John Craig, a world renowned race official, but he’s by no means slowing down – he’s off to Alicante, Spain, to start a new challenge as race director of the Volvo Ocean Race.

“The Extreme Sailing Series means a lot to me,” Lawrence said. “I’ve enjoyed it enormously. It’s been six years and 50 events so it’s been a long time with some great memories and a few scary ones too.”

Reflecting on one of his first Acts in charge, Lawrence explained: “It’s been interesting to see the development of how it’s changed over the last six years. I did my second event in Qingdao in 2011 and we had a day with four capsizes and all kinds of drama and action.

“We were where sailing was in terms of running professional sailing events, but we weren’t that prepared for it if I’m honest. In Qingdao it took us four hours to get the boats back to shore.

“Here in Sydney we had two capsizes, the sailors were all wearing protective gear, buoyancy and helmets, crews were all briefed, and both boats were back upright with no injuries in next to no time. There’s been some dramatic changes, and all for the better.”

Under Lawrence’s direction the Extreme Sailing Series has continued its global growth, bolstering its reputation as the world’s premier Stadium Racing tour.

Asked to pick his best memories from his time in charge, Lawrence ponders the question before deciding on 2012’s debut regatta in Porto, Portugal, as one of the highlights.

“Mark Turner [former CEO of Extreme Sailing Series organisers OC Sport] said to me that it was going to be challenging, which I knew really meant it was going to be next to impossible,” he recalled.

“The race area had high walls, a narrow river, shallow waters, and on the last day we had 25 knots of wind. A crowd of 35,000 people came to watch. It was like a football crowd had turned out, and the racing was amazing.

“Before the event I just didn’t know how we were going to do it, but we pulled it off and it was a huge success.”

From the 24 incredible venues the Extreme Sailing Series has visited in its 10-year history, Lawrence said his favourite is the Welsh capital of Cardiff.

“We’ve had five events in Cardiff now and we always get a fantastic reception from the city and a great turn-out,” he said.

“The harbour’s great for racing, it’s classic stadium conditions with the boats getting to within touching distance of the shore. The crowds get a great view and the regattas are fantastic.”

Despite having to juggle the needs of spectators, sponsors and the world’s media, Lawrence remains clear about the most important aspect of the Extreme Sailing Series – its world-class sailors.

“This event is all about the sailors really, and we’ve had some fantastic sailors over the years, some of the best in the world,” he said. “A lot of people have built their careers out of the Extreme Sailing Series and it’s been great to be part of that.”