The penultimate day of the Extreme Sailing Series in Porto was one of the most sensational days the Series has ever witnessed.
Two big crashes on the water forced both GAC Pindar and Oman Air to retire from racing - which unfortunately for GAC Pindar left them out for the day - and more public then the Series have ever witnessed in one day with thousand congregating on all sides of the riverbank.
The fleet completed seven races in champagne sailing conditions with 12 knots of breeze and blue skies in the magnificent stadium of the Douro river. The intensity on the water seemed to turn up a notch today, with many of the races going right to the line with the race management team even describing the second race of the day as the "closest race they have ever seen."
The thousands of public who turned out to witness the spectacle first hand did not go home disappointed tonight and it was the 'apprentices' on the circuit SAP Extreme Sailing Team who found themselves at the centre of most of the day's action - but not always for the right reason. A collision for the Danish team with the British-flagged GAC Pindar in race two in a classic port-starboard incident caused serious damage to the British team's port rudder, forcing them not only to retire from the race, but from the rest of the day, as skipper Andrew Walsh who has taken over from Ian Williams for this Act elaborated, "We were lining up to start at the starboard end and we managed get a good start. It was looking good until about five seconds after the start when SAP Extreme Sailing Team, who were looking for a port tack duck, didn't have enough room between us and the committee boat smashed into our port rudder and that was it for us. The boat will be back on the water tomorrow."
Walsh and his team were awarded average points for the six races they missed today, which see them go into the final day in sixth place.
Race five of the day and the Danish team's luck had not improved. A collision with Oman Air left Morgan Larson's Omani boat with serious damage, as Larson explained, "We were following SAP Extreme Sailing Team into the mark and as they went in behind The Wave, Muscat we got a big puff of wind and a lift of about 17-18 knots. Leigh's team was basically in front of us, so the decision at that stage was to go straight through them which would have ruined both boats, or to bear away and go into the back of SAP Extreme Sailing Team who was going about 5 knots. So that was the choice we had to make. It was our fault."
Larson's team were back for the next race - albeit with a broken bowsprit meaning the team couldn't fly their spinnaker and so struggled to keep up with the fully powered Extreme 40s in the remaining two races, and finish the day in fourth place.
In the final race of this penultimate day, fortunes improved for Gram Hansen and Rasmus, with a resounding win leaving them in high spirits going into tomorrow's final as Gram Hansen explained, "The whole team was on fire today but unfortunately we had a crash with GAC and that was my mistake and I feel sorry for putting them out the race today. We also had a big crash with Oman Air. There were too many boats in the race area but thankfully both boats survived. We have a few things to sort on the boat tonight but we will be ready for tomorrow."
Leigh McMillan stayed out of trouble today and his team The Wave, Muscat remain dominant, extending their lead to 28 points over second placed Roman Hagara and the Austrian Red Bull Sailing Team at the top of the leaderboard. Pierre Pennec and his French team Groupe Edmond de Rothschid were back on the water today with a new daggerboard after running aground yesterday and the team go into the final day in third place - just two points adrift of Red Bull Sailing Team and with it all to play for tomorrow.
The battle mid-leaderboard is just as close with the Swiss team Alinghi leading the second half of the fleet in fifth place on 98 points. GAC Pindar, who you can expect to be chomping at the bit to gain places tomorrow after their misfortunes today, are two points behind the Swiss, and with just 12 points separating them from eighth placed ZouLou it could all change tomorrow's decisive day.
To wrap up what has been an extraordinary day, and in a feat never seen before on the Douro river, a fleet of NeilPryde windsurfers, illuminated by specially rigged LED sails, paraded underneath the iconic Dom Luis I Bridge this evening. The windsurfers, who were granted special permissions by the authorities to undertake the task, will race tomorrow afternoon as the main warm-up act to the final day of Extreme 40 racing as part of the NeilPryde Racing Series.
Extreme Sailing Series 2012 Act 4 Porto, Portugal standings after Day 3 24 races (07.7.12)
Position / Team / Points
1. The Wave, Muscat (OMA) Leigh McMillan 154 points
2. Red Bull Sailing Team (AUT) Roman Hagara 126 points
3. Groupe Edmond de Rothschild (FRA) Pierre Pennec 124 points
4. Oman Air (OMA) Morgan Larson 108 points
5. Alinghi (SUI), Ernesto Bertarelli 98 points
6. GAC Pindar (GBR) Andrew Walsh 96 points
7. SAP Extreme Sailing Team (DEN) Jes Gram-Hansen 89 points
8. ZouLou (FRA) Fred Le Peutrec 84 points