An exhilarating weekend of racing as the 40ft cats put on a great show in Baltimore 2/5/06

The Volvo Extreme 40 Grand Prix took Baltimore by storm over the weekend with some fantastic racing in the harbour. The all-British Team Basilica started out slow, but fired up by Monday. But it’s Holmatro that currently holds the lead.

Day one, Friday 28 Aprilsaw team Tommy Hilfiger take the honours with Randy Smythe and his all American team score straight wins in the four races underneath the towering office blocks that line the waterfront.

Smythe and his team did a good job of reading the tricky wind conditions, which saw the breeze go from dead wind to 15 knots within minutes.

Team Basilica struggled in the difficult conditions. The all-British owned, sponsored and crewed entry came fourth in the opening two races as the conditions across the course. Led by skipper James Grant, the team recovered to take second place in the third race before a dramatic encounter with a harbour boat led the team to finish fifth in race four. After day one Team Basilica were in fourth place, and had a lot of work to do to uphold their standing of second overall in the VX40 series.

The built-up nature of Baltimore harbour meant that wind holes were as common as strong gusts, and all five boats took time to adjust to the conditions.

Basilica skipper James Grant reflected on the day’s racing: “Conditions today were extremely difficult as we expected. Racing in such a built up area is new to us and takes a while to get used to because the wind can be very deceptive.”

Having finished the third race in second place following a dramatic sprint to the line with Hilfiger and Holmatro, Basilica was also looking strong in the final race. The team was leading until half way through when a boat in the harbour came in between it and Motorola chasing in second, causing the British boat to lose ground.

Day two, Sunday 30 Aprilsaw Basilica get back into the swing of it in the with two second places and a first. The Hayling Island based team had a disappointing start in the first race coming through in fifth position, but came back strongly in the next three with a 2-2-1 finish.

All four of the day’s races were extremely close with Dutch entry Holmatro having the best of it with three firsts and a second place. Tommy Hilfiger, had a less successful day’s sailing with 2-4-5-3 results. A frantic end to race three saw Hilfiger surrender its early lead by taking the wrong line to the finish, eventually coming in fifth place. The final race saw Basilica take an early lead, which it confidently held right to the end winning by a long margin.

Basilica skipper James Grant was delighted with his crew’s improved performance: “We were very disappointed with the results on Friday but we knew that there are plenty more races to catch the leaders.”

Day three, Monday 1 May

Yesterday’s racing provided an exciting display for the thousands of spectators who lined the docksid. The five Volvo Extreme 40’s zipped around Baltimore’s Inner Harbour in ten knots of wind and under bright sunshine.

Pirates of the Caribbean team member Anthony Merrington (AUS) from the Volvo Open 70 joined Team Holmatro, which resulted in a successful day for the team.

After a disappointing performance in the previous grand prix event in Rio de Janeiro, Merrington brought Team Holmatro some luck and additional skills as they went on to win three races and finish runners up in the final race of the day. This result was good enough to push them to the top of the leader board, three points in front of second placed Tommy Hilfiger helmed by Randy Smyth (USA).

Merrington commented: “We certainly need more of these boats – as soon as the breeze kicked in it was great! There was lots of position changing and the shifty winds gave everyone a chance, as well as providing some excitement for those watching from onshore.”

The luck of a new member may have contributed to Team Basilica’s success as well as they finished with two second places, one third and a first.

The team welcomed Robert Greenhalgh, of VOR ABN Amro One, as fifth man on board the Basilica for the third and fourth races of the day. And the team stormed home in the final race to give the Hayling Island catamaran the lion’s share of the day’s points.

Robert Greenhalgh joined up with his brother Peter, on mainsheet for Basilica, and had a great day: “The VX40 boats produce some of the most exhilarating in-shore racing I have ever experienced. It was fantastic to be a part of this great crew and particularly to enjoy such a resounding win in the final race of the day”.

After yesterday’s racing, Basilica gained a further two points on the leaders Holmatro and Tommy Hilfiger. Sail-to-sail racing saw the British entry record two close seconds behind Hilfiger in races one and two, before a disastrous start in race three was well recovered with a third place finish. In the final race of the day Basilica helmsman Alister Richardson guided his boat over the start line in first place and maintained the lead until the very end.

There are three protests for Monday’s racing involving Team Basilica so final results of the day are pending the outcome of Tuesday’s hearings.

The Baltimore VX40 Grand Prix continues with the final two days of racing 2 and 3 May. At least three races will take place on each day.

Points Standings after day two:

1. Holmatro – 96 points
2. Tommy Hilfiger – 93 points
3. Basilica – 84 points
4. Motorola – 65 points
5. Volvo Ocean Race – 58 points

Series Overall Points Standings:

1. Tommy Hilfiger – 16 points
2. Basilica – 15 points
3. Motorola-CHR – 12 points
4. Volvo Ocean Race – 12 points
5. Holmatro – 11 points