Many were under the impression that as two-time Series champion, Leigh McMillan and The Wave, Muscat would be in a very strong position at this point, and I believed the team’s experience would allow them to run away with the 2015 season. But that hasn’t happened. While they are at the top of the Series leaderboard after taking the podium top spots in Muscat and Cardiff, it hasn’t come easy. Two other teams are hard on their heels: SAP Extreme Sailing Team, which has sustained the Act-winning magic we saw in Qingdao, and Red Bull Sailing Team.
Two of the longest standing competitors on the circuit, double Olympic gold medallists Roman Hagara and Hans-Peter Steinacher have brought in fresh blood, allowing them to step into a mentoring role, which has been reflected in the team’s performance. Results were apparent from the off, with the highlight being newbie Jason Waterhouse stepping up to the role of helmsman in Act 1, Singapore and secured the team’s first ever Act win, as well as clinching the Land Rover Above and Beyond Award.
Each venue is so different on this circuit. So far we’ve seen racing in Singapore, Oman, China and the UK – four venues which could not be more different in terms of weather, conditions, current and even jetlag! We saw two new teams join the fleet in 2015 and venues like Singapore and Oman, where flatter conditions dominated, really suited Lino Sonego Team Italia and Team Turx powered by Kaya Ropes. With shiftier conditions in China and Cardiff, I was hoping to see more magic from these two but it was experience that came to the fore. Both teams have still posted some fantastic results, but they will have to work on eliminating their weaker scores and gaining consistency during the challenging range of conditions. 2011 Series winner Manuel Modena will be joining the Italian team for the next Act in Hamburg, and his experience in these short, sharp races will be invaluable.
Oman Air began as the underdogs, and the ones to watch this season. Skipper and Olympic talent Stevie Morrison focused on building a new team he could trust, although they had limited experience of the Stadium Racing Series. Despite this, they posted some excellent results in the first two Acts, impressing everyone. I personally thought Oman Air would be a strong contender for the podium, but Acts 3 and 4 saw the team fall off the pace. The team will need to re-build their confidence in the second half of the Series and I would love to see them creep their way back up the rankings and mix it up with the likes of Gazprom Team Russia who have put on a cracking performance so far, including their first-ever spot on the podium in China.
GAC Pindar have performed better than ever towards the latter stages of the first half of the season, and posted a fourth position in Cardiff. Consistency in crew has proved challenging for co-skipper Seve Jarvin and in such a young team this is absolutely crucial. The addition of respected Olympic and America’s Cup sailor Chris Draper, who joined the team as co-skipper in Cardiff, worked well and I would love to see Chris racing with the team again this season. It will be interesting to see what effect Adam Minoprio has on the team dynamic in Hamburg.
I think everyone will put money on SAP Extreme Sailing Team being on the podium at the end of the year. They gained confidence by taking their first ever Act win in Qingdao, but it’s not a straightforward path to the top of the leaderboard. They have a huge amount of competition from The Wave, Muscat, not only in experience but also in the sheer determination of skipper Leigh McMillan. He will not be giving up his shot at a third Series victory so easily. Gram-Hansen and Køstner’s Danish team cannot afford to make any mistakes in this second half of the season, and must focus on putting The Wave, Muscat further down the table. Come December and the closing Act in Australia, the Danes need to be in the same position as Alinghi were in 2014 – in touching distance of the Series title before the final, double-points shoot-out.
There’s been no shortage of drama so far in the Extreme Sailing Series, but for me, Act 4 Cardiff was just superb – amazing crowds and an awesome level of sailing expertise. Looking ahead to Act 5 in Hamburg (23-26 July) and the scene is set for a great event, particularly when there’s so much enthusiasm for sailing in that part of the world. As a completely new venue for the sailors, it will be interesting to see how they perform when no-one has the upper hand.