Never in four years of the Extreme Sailing Series has there been so much drama in one day.
In almost unprecedented conditions here in Qingdao, the public witnessed some extraordinary adrenalin fuelled 'stadium' racing, first witnessing a major collision between The Wave, Muscat and Oman Air at the first downwind mark of the first race, and four dramatic capsizes - The Wave, Muscat in Race 2 and Red Bull Extreme Sailing, Team GAC Pindar and Oman Air all in the final race of the day.
In the first two races it was the very gusty conditions that tested some of the world's best sailors to their limits, and beyond, with 3 to 23 knots, and up to 30 knots by the final race.
Will Howden on Red Bull Extreme Sailing said, "Massive day! The only way to describe it is extreme! The wind was funneling through the big buildings of the city, really puffy and shifty, it caught a lot of people out."
Skipper of The Wave, Muscat, Torvar Mirsky (AUT), in his first Extreme 40 season, was to have his toughest day yet, firstly in Race 1 accelerating in to the back of Oman Air right at the first downwind mark with the impact throwing crewman Dave "Freddie' Carr in to the shroud (a cable holding the mast up), and then soon after in Race 2 suffering a catastrophic capsize. Freddie has been given the 'ok' but will remain in hospital for observation for 48 hours.
"I can honestly say that this is the worst day of sailing I've ever had,"
commented a visibly shaken Mirsky, the youngest skipper on the circuit. "First of all taking out Freddie and then in the second race, we got hit by a gust that I couldn't handle and the boat went down and we all knew straight away that it was going to go over and to hold on.
"We were trapped and doomed for a disaster. Kyle and I got flicked off from the top and fell onto the mast and snapped it."
The Wave, Muscat were accelerating away after a 'hot' bear away and gybe at the final top mark, and lost control as a gust hit and span them in to a very fast cartwheel.
The conditions on the second day of Act 2 guaranteed that these fast and powerful Extreme 40s were going to be a handful even for these experienced professional crews. By the third race the 11-boat fleet had been told to put a reef in and keep their massive downwind gennakers furled.
A sensible measure, but not enough to stop three further capsizes in the final race when the gusts were reaching 30 knots. Roman Hagara's Red Bull Extreme Sailing was chasing for the lead in the final race and was just meters from the pedestrian breakwater when they capsized, "We saw a gust coming which we knew was really hard. The wind was 5 knots when we went into the gybe and 25 after. We dived immediately and then capsized. We went so quickly. All four of us were hanging on because we know what happens from the last time, so we were all safe and luckily we had lifejackets and helmets on and nobody got hurt."
Whilst Red Bull Extreme Sailing was being righted by their support RIB, British skipper Ian Williams, who is new to this multihull game, was the next capsize victim as he closed in on the downwind mark a little too 'hot' along with Oman Air. Oman Air's skipper Frenchman Sidney Gavignet bailed out, but when trying to bear away to come back down to the mark a second time, a powerful gust during a tight turn, sent them also hurtling in to a capsize.
Emirates Team New Zealand stayed out of trouble and retained the top position on the leaderboard ahead of Alinghi in 2nd and Red Bull Extreme Sailing finish in 3rd place today.
The pit lane is busy tonight as man and machine are put back together. Red Bull Extreme Sailing was righted with mast intact despite rubbing on the bottom of Fushan Bay, Team GAC Pindar was righted with mast intact and towed back in albeit missing one of their daggerboards. Both teams expect to be racing tomorrow. The Wave, Muscat suffered a broken mast and full inversion, with the extent of the damage still to be assessed. Oman Air spent some hours fully inverted and is now back in the harbour, with its condition yet to be established.
Extreme Sailing Series Website