Now in its fourth consecutive year, the Extreme Sailing Series remains a huge attraction for visitors of Cowes Week - YW hopped onboard
Saturday morning wasn’t the best start for Cowes Week. Competitors and visitors woke to a grey, drizzly day. Whilst attending the Extreme 40 Skipper’s Briefing that morning, I overheard one of the French organisers call it “a very British day.”
But this did little to dampen the spirits of the nine professional crews, who were clearly – after a practice, non-point scoring day on Friday – ready to race.
I was lucky enough to join the Oman Sail Team this weekend – The Wave and Masirah – as the ‘fifth man’, strictly NOT a member of the crew (a team of four), but a spectator. My only role onboard was to shift weight from one side to the other.
I have never sailed with a ‘proper’ professional crew before, and I was immediately struck by the calmness on board. The crew of The Wave were young (Skipper CJ, or Paul Campbell-James, is the youngest ever skipper of the Series at 27) but so impressive. All the time they were cleaning rudders, dagger boards, tweaking the rigging, raising/lowering the traveller, tightening halyards – and this was a relatively quiet race!
The offshore morning race from the Royal Yacht Squadron to the mainland at Calshot, got off to a shaky start. The pack clung to the shore for the first beat, my crew keeping a constant eye on the depth guage as they tried to grab every inch of water on each tack.
We did end up hitting a rock – hard – but once the dagger board was lifted, we started slowly off again, and the speed kept rising.
The race was eventually won by Mike Golding’s Ecover Sailing Team. Oman Sail’s The Wave finished seventh. You could see that the boys were NOT happy. Despite the huge amity and camaraderie among crews, this is a very competitive series.
The afternoon inshore racing started in earnest. After a gloomy start, the sun kicked in and lit up the race course as a solid 12-18 knots of wind built.
For the spectators who had gathered and sat out all afternoon, they were rewarded for their dedication as the nine boats scorched around the very short racecourses, often with their bows down and rudders out. Just listening to the crowds – who drew gasps and gave constant cheers – it was clear to see that this series has become a huge success.
The short races and their proximity to the shore combined with the wind ensure a fast pace. The atmosphere becomes frenetic, forcing plenty of mistakes, raised flags keeping umpires on their toes and the Extreme crews having to think fast on their feet.
It was the great Frenchman Loick Peyron that put in the most consistent performance of the afternoon, starting with a fifth, then three second places and a bullet in the last race to put Masirah at the top of the leaderboard at the end of day one with 46 points: “We work together to keep consistent because that’s what count here. Our objective is to make the top 4 in each race.”
Spectators can see the short afternoon racing best from Egypt Point, and enjoy some really excellent commentary there. Believe me, they put on quite a show.