Act 5 of the Extreme Sailing Series at Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week delivered some of the closest and intense 'Stadium Racing' the circuit has ever seen - in front of the biggest crowds ever recorded for the event.
The ultimate winner was The Wave, Muscat, skippered by local Isle of Wight born Leigh McMillan, Britain's Olympic Tornado representative in Beijing 2008. For last year's overall winners, this was the Omani team's first Act win this year.
A drama-filled six days of racing saw a major collision between Artemis Racing and Groupe Edmond de Rothschild on the second day, sadly ending racing in Act 5 for the Swedish team; Olympic 49er sailor John Pink's Aberdeen Asset Management cart-wheeled spectacularly on the third day in testing conditions; 49er action from 'Team EC' Benji Borg and Seb Ripard from Malta and Britain's Simon Marks and Nick Murray; plus Extreme 40 head to heads against champion windsurfer, Guy Cribb; and, for the first time in the circuit's five year history, a day of racing was cancelled entirely due to excessive wind and sea conditions on day four.
For the 48 sailors from 15 nations, Act 5 concluded today in a more manageable 10-15 knots for the 11 Extreme 40s but with a powerful three to four knot tide testing each team's tactical prowess. Incredibly, considering the giant race schedule, the outcome once again came down to the last race with The Wave, Muscat team having to finish within six places of second placed Luna Rossa if they were to hold onto the Act 5 title. While Luna Rossa soared away from the start into an unassailable lead, so it appeared that they might take the win as Leigh McMillan's The Wave, Muscat lumbered out of the blocks in eighth. High tension for the fans watching as well, but the former Tornado ace punched his way up the fleet and although Luna Rossa was a leg ahead by the time she took the gun, The Wave, Muscat's fourth place was enough to secure her victory.
Skipper Leigh McMillan was delighted, "It's our first actual victory on the world tour, so an awesome result for us. It was really tight: Luna Rossa was going at us all day and towards the end they were trying to shut us out at every start, but I didn't really want to get too involved in that kind of game because we can always come back after making a bad start.
"It's awesome to be on the top of the podium, that was our dream goal. It always comes down to the last race, it is impossible to get far enough in front to get that buffer, so that the last double points doesn't really count. That was the whole mission, but we couldn't do it here and it came down to the last race and it was nearly game over for us."
Despite a 6th in the final race, Alinghi, skippered by Tanguy Cariou and helmed by Yann Guichard, managed to take their first podium position of the 2011 series.
The flood tide getting up to 3 knots and the wind lighter than it had been for most of this regatta, proved highly challenging for the competitors as they attempted to stay out of the tide, short tacking up the shore at Egypt Point within metres of the huge mass of spectators. On one occasion Luna Rossa tacked on to starboard and in an on-the-water ballet four boats to leeward of her were forced simultaneously to do the same. Some boats rapidly ran out of water coming into the shore as they were unable to find a lane out as they attempted to tack for safety.
But the worst incident of the day occurred at the start of race five when Groupe Edmond de Rothschild managed to collide with Luna Rossa breaking the French team's bowsprit in the process. Until this moment Pierre Pennec's team had been on a charge winning today's second race. Instead they had to stand down for the final four races. As Luna Rossa helmsman Paul Campbell-James put it, "It was a great day, minus two crashes! Gitana tried to take my head off with their spinnaker pole and consequently they snapped it. We were all trying to start on port and duck the other boats and there were four people trying to fit through a gap that we couldn't fit through. And his bow sprit just missed my head and snapped round our rudder, ending their day. The big thing is the overall series but big respect to The Wave boys because they did a fantastic job at this regatta."
Next stop is Act 6 in Trapani, Sicily, public days 16-18th September, preceded by two days of 'open water' racing 14-15th.
Extreme Sailing Series Act 5 at Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week
Overall standings after 30 races (12.8.11)
Position / Team / Points
1st The Wave, Muscat (OMA) Leigh McMillan 236 points
2nd Luna Rossa (ITA) Max Sirena 228.8 points
3rd Alinghi (SUI) Tanguy Cariou 214 points
4th Red Bull Extreme Sailing (AUT) Roman Hagara 188 points
5th Oman Air (OMA) Sidney Gavignet 179 points
6th Team GAC Pindar (GBR) Ian Williams 160 points
7th Emirates Team New Zealand (NZL) Adam Beashel 139 points
8th Groupe Edmond de Rothschild (FRA) Pierre 135 points
9th Niceforyou (ITA) Alberto Barovier 132 points
10th Aberdeen Asset Management (GBR) John Pink 126 points
11th Team Extreme (EUR) Roland Gaebler 71 points
12th Artemis Racing (SWE) Santiago Lange 23 points
For further information about Act 5 in Cowes, log on to www.extremesailingseries.com