The nine-boat Extreme 40 fleet saved the best till last at the iShares Cup Amsterdam event on Sunday to produce a thrilling three-lap finale that had the 10,000-strong crowd of spectators cheering the boats home all the way. The penultimate round of the six-stage European iShares Cup series, held on the confined IJ-Haven canal in Amsterdam, saw predominantly light airs but finally on Sunday afternoon, a good 8 knot breeze filled in to see the 40-foot catamarans lifting their hulls. It was perfect catamaran sailing - the excitement levels going into fifth gear for both sailors and spectators. As the breeze increased the size of the IJ-Haven racecourse seemed to decrease! The boats accelerating faster round the tiny racecourse and, not surprisingly, a number of collisions ensued.
For Oman Sail Masirah skipper, Pete Cumming (GBR), the team did the job they needed to do to keep the overall series lead, despite the unsettling experience of being seriously holed on the first day:
"That was a good day for us, we won the first and the fourth race and had average results in the three others. We have been up and down during the all events but I have to say that it's hard to keep positive and motivated after the big crash we had on Friday. Our shore team did an amazing job to fix the boat. Tonight we are on equal points with Gitana in the overall series which keeps the pressure on for the last event in Almeria. The conditions will be very different to here, more like Cowes or Kiel and it's what we like. It's going to be a fantastic battle for the overall iShares Cup!"
The stage was set for the showdown between Gitana Extreme skipper, Yann Guichard (FRA), and Oman Sail Renaissance supremo, Loïck Peyron (FRA), with Guichard coming out on top. "Since the first start today we were in the game and we sailed well despite the pressure of those last races. Once again, our teamwork was key to our success. That final race was under a lot of pressure, we knew that we could not let Loïck put more than two boats between us, and we finished right behind him! It was an ideal scenario, and we're really happy with that new victory. As we foresaw, everything will unfold in Almeria. We really wanted to win in Amsterdam not to regret anything, and to fight for victory, The top three boats are now one point apart, and the fight between Masirah, Renaissance and ourselves will be amazing. I also wanted to congratulate the Oman Sail Masirah team, who came back strong despite their incident."
It wasn't just a battle for the top spot, the Dutch team of Holmatro, skippered by Mitch Booth (NED), were in with a chance of the third podium place. But for the home team it was a case of a pantomime-style 'behind you' as Franck Cammas' (FRA) Groupama pulled a final win out of the bag to snatch third place from them. But Cammas' fight was not without incident and he got off lightly in a port/starboard collision with Shirley Robertson's (GBR) Team iShares in the penultimate race. Cammas immediately performed a voluntary penalty and post-race the race committee disqualified Robertson for not take evading action - that ultimately put her out of contention for fourth place and Team iShares finished sixth overall.
Erik Maris' (FRA) crew on LUNA showed flashes of brilliance during round 5 scoring a race win and a second place that left them in 7th place; whilst Nick Moloney's (AUS) BT team struggled with boat speed and had to settle for 8th. Britain's Mike Golding, who is gaining confidence in this extremely aggressive class, thrilled his supporters with a second place in the final race - Fraser Brown (NZL) leaping to his feet rousing the crowd to cheer more! It was a great finish for this team who had such a traumatic time in round 4 in Kiel suffering an aggressive capsize that left their regular crew Bruno Dubois with a serious head injury.
The final round of the 2009 iShares Cup is only two weeks away, taking place in the Andalucian city of Almeria over 10-12 October. The finale promises to be best yet with Oman Sail Masirah and Gitana Extreme - Groupe LCF Rothschild on equal points (43). Masirah are in pole position based on winning three of the rounds so far compared to Gitana Extreme's two victories, but Oman Sail Renaissance are just one point behind them and Groupama 10 points behind the leader. And there will be a big fight over the middle-ground with less than three points separating BT, Team iShares, Holmatro and LUNA. Don't miss it!
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.