Oman Sail Masirah could not have produced a more nail-biting finish to round four of the iShares Cup at Kiel, Germany.
Last off the start line, their Oman Sail stablemate Renaissance, the only ones who could snatch victory, got a strong start to be third at the first race mark with Masirah ninth. At the finish line Renaissance clinched first place, whilst Masirah came in eighth putting them on an equal 149 points!
"It was way closer than we would have liked and we went across the line thinking we had blown it," said Pete Cumming. But on count back Cumming's team on Masirah came out on top, scoring six wins here in Kiel compared to Loick Peyron's five first places. Completing the overall podium at the iShares Cup Kiel was Franck Cammas' Groupama whilst Yann Guichard's crew on Gitana Extreme, although finishing second in the final race, are fourth overall. The racing was highly aggressive and, at times, completely nerve-racking. 50,000 spectators fully appreciating the intense racing over the three-day event - even in the pouring rain! Oman Sail Masirah also retain their top spot on the overall series leaderboard going into the penultimate round in Amsterdam…
Going into the final day of the iShares Cup Kiel event, the podium was wide open - Oman Sail Masirah, Oman Sail Renaissance, Groupama and Gitana Extreme - Groupe LCF Rothschild all had a shot at the podium. In the tricky conditions that dominated the first two days of racing, nothing was certain, and the 10-boat fleet were set more challenging downwind start races. Mike Golding's Ecover got back in the water in time to compete, recruiting Nick Houchin in place of the injured Bruno Dubois.
In a building breeze, 10-12 knots, the racing soon became fast and furious - the boats accelerating quickly as the big gennakers were hoisted. The first race was full of action - Yann Guichard's crew on Gitana Extreme were over the line at the start and forced to restart, Oman Sail Masirah incurred a penalty that relegated them from first to seventh. Groupama and Oman Sail Renaissance went on to share the spoils in first and second. The racing was intense, every team pushing to the maximum - ten Extreme 40s piling into the windward mark just seconds apart, hoisting their massive gennakers, on the edge of their limits… The crowd could hardly bear to watch, surely there would be a collision...it was nerve-racking racing.
By the penultimate race Oman Sail Masirah's lead had been reduced to 14 points with 20 points up for grabs in the double-points final race. Gitana Extreme were back in the podium fray only seven points behind Groupama. And Team iShares, BT and Holmatro had their own battle going on mid-leaderboard.
Cumming takes up the story: "In the final race we treated it as any other race regardless of who was attacking us in second… We knew we wanted to be on the right at the start so we set up near the committee boat and we had worked a nice gap to leeward that we were just going to accelerate through when the German team squeezed into the gap and we were luffed up really hard. We lost all momentum on the start, the fleet accelerated and we had almost engaged reverse gear at that point! But the message back to the team was just stay confident, do your job and don't get flustered. It was way closer than we would have liked obviously and we went across the line thinking we had blown it. We were getting different messages coming from different RIBS and didn't know what to do until we had it confirmed by the race officer. Before the season started, it was all about going up against the French multihull stars but, in my mind now, I've got the multihull experts on our boat. I can't speak highly enough of the guys and we are as strong as anyone on the race course. We're over the moon!"
Oman Sail Renaissance skipper, Peyron, said after racing: "For the last race we were near the leaders and it was interesting to count all the boats behind us… We had a lot of problems with mathematics in our heads! In fact, everybody had a problem, even the committee who took a while to confirm who were the winners. We saw the 'red boys' had some troubles but not enough so we are really happy to have these sort of moments within our team."
Groupama skipper, Cammas: "We were really on it today but, unfortunately, we had a penalty which I thought unfair. The direct consequence was a 9th place in the third race today. We began to realise that second place overall that we wanted to reach was flying away. We had to concentrate and be careful because Gitana Extreme was becoming a real threat. Finally, we did it and we are on the podium this evening."
Round five of the iShares Cup in Amsterdam over the 25-27 September. With their third event win in a row, Oman Sail Masirah can go into the penultimate event of the 2009 iShares Cup with confidence: "We know Amsterdam is a bit of a lottery so we knew we had to push hard at this regatta to put that buffer in place. But you never know - everyone thought we had it in the bag here but your lead can shrink to zero in a moment but that is the great thing about this series."
The 2009 iShares Cup will visit:
Event 1 - Venice, Italy, 15-17 May
Event 2 - Hyères-TPM, France, 3-5 July
Event 3 - Cowes, United Kingdom, 1-3 August
Event 4 - Kiel, Germany, 28-30 August
Event 5 - Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 25-27 September
Event 6 - Almería, Andalucía, 10-12 October
The iShares Cup is an ISAF Special Event. Find out more at www.isharescup.com.