Sydney Harbour delivered 'classic conditions' in an electrifying opening day of the 2016 Extreme sailing Series™ finale today that saw two teams capsize. Clear blue skies were met with a blustery north-easterly breeze of around 22 knots as the eight international crews hit the iconic waters of Australia's largest city, for the eighth and final Act of this season.
With the fleet of foiling GC32 catamarans rocketing round Sydney's Stadium racecourse the action was nothing short of spectacular for the sailors, spectators and dozens of media that turned out to watch. With the cutting-edge boats hitting speeds up to 36 knots the crews were also pushed to the limit and beyond.
Buoyed by a runners-up spot in the second race of the day, the young guns of Land Rover BAR Academy were pushing hard in race three when both bows of their boat dug in at the windward mark. As the boat powered up it performed a slow-motion cartwheel before ending up completely inverted. Minutes later Visit Madeira suffered a similar fate in an almost identical position as their boat became overpowered attempting to turn downwind and tipped over to one side.
In both instances the Extreme sailing Series' on-the-water safety team was instantly on hand to provide assistance, alongside the crews' support boats. Due to the conditions the sailors were wearing helmets and buoyancy aids, and none were injured in the capsizes. There were no guest sailors onboard.
Racing was suspended while both boats were quickly righted without sustaining any major damage. It is the first time any team has capsized since the Extreme sailing Series moved from Extreme 40 catamarans to foiling GC32s at the beginning of 2016. With the wind continuing to build and gusting up to 29 knots, Race Director Phil Lawrence took the decision to abandon racing for the day.
"It was a lot of fun out there," a beaming Visit Madeira skipper Diogo Cayolla said. "We were on the bear-away in the last downwind leg of race three and there was another team below us. There was a big gust and to avoid them we capsized. It wasn't that bad, we didn't break anything. We're not happy that we didn't finish the race, but everyone is fine and there is no damage, and we're already looking forward to tomorrow."
Land Rover BAR Academy skipper Neil Hunter added: "This is our eighth event competing in the Extreme sailing Series and our first capsize. What is important is that all safety and operational procedures were followed correctly, all the crew were accounted for and the boat safely righted. We are now back on the dock to de-brief and check over the boat to get her ready to race tomorrow."
Wild card crew Team Australia also got an eye-opening induction to the event when skipper Sean Langman and mainsail trimmer Seve Jarvin were washed off the back of their boat during race two, only to be scooped up by their support team soon after. Langman said he was thrilled with his team's Extreme sailing Series debut.
"It was everything we'd hoped for really," he said. "Seve and I fell off the boat at one stage at the same time so that was a new experience for both of us. The goal was to keep the mast pointing at the sky and we did that but the other goal was to stay on the boat and we didn't achieve that. Still, we're happy that we're reasonably competitive."
Swiss crew Alinghi returned to the dock with the advantage after notching up one race win and two seconds from the three races. Arch rivals Oman Air, the overall Series leaders, lie second thanks to a third-place finish in the opening race and a win in race three, with Red Bull sailing Team finishing the day in third. Despite the challenging conditions the sailors returned to the dock with huge grins after a wet and wild start to Act 8.
"The conditions were really testing but great fun," said Oman Air skipper Morgan Larson. "Hopefully we'll get another day like that."
Lawrence, who will hand over the reins of the Extreme sailing Series to new race director John Craig at the end of Act 8, said the weather was typical of Sydney.
"It was classic Sydney Harbour conditions out there – a fantastic sea breeze blowing from the north east creating beautiful racing conditions," Lawrence said. "When the two boats capsized our safety protocol was immediately put into force, and there were no injuries sustained. Both boats were righted quickly with very little damage."