At the first round in Sète in France the pre-season favourites, Groupe Edmond de Rothschild skippered by Yann Guichard, displayed their winning form. However, in the challenging tidal and windier conditions at Cowes, UK it was the 'young guns' on The Wave, Muscat who secured victory.
After five races on the first day of racing in Kiel it is Mike Golding's all-British team who have flourished, finishing the opening day at the top of the leaderboard: "It was a gentle lead into the series, nothing like last year! We started a bit shaky but got better and better as the day went on. At each event we have progressed and got better so it is a great confidence boost. There are a lot of races still to come but we have our eyes set on the top spot if we can," said Golding. The team's results to date back-up the words - a fourth place at Sète and a second place in Cowes - now the team clearly have their at the very top of the podium. A year ago things could not have been more different for the team that wallowed in the bottom half of the leaderboard and a dramatic capsize at the 2009 Kiel event dented their confidence even further. A new team with Olympian Tornado duo of Leigh Mcmillan on the helm and Will Howden trimming, Jonathan Taylor on bow and Golding as skipper is paying huge dividends. The question is whether they can keep it together to keep their rivals at bay with three days of racing remaining.
The day started off in a light 5-6 knots of breeze from the north-east that increased by a couple of knots mid-afternoon, which demanded slick crew work and good boat speed. The start line was a crowded affair with the nine boats, including two German 'wild card' teams, and everyone looking for a clean start to gain the all-important advantage.
Paul Campbell-James and his team on The Wave, Muscat scored the first bullet of the day ahead of Red Bull Extreme Sailing and Wirsol Team Germany, who were clearly delighted with a third place in the first race. Then it was Yann Guichard's turn on Groupe Edmond de Rothschild as the winds increased to eight knots and a few hulls started to fly. The racing was close, seconds rather than minutes separating the boats at the finish line. Guichard's team were in the overall lead going into the final race of the day but a disastrous seventh place relegated them to third place behind Oman Sail Masirah. Loick Peyron's Oman Sail Masirah scored a 4-2-6-1-3: "A great first day for us," said Peyron. "Really happy to have Freddy Carr back in the team. The wind was light as expected and that makes the start really important, especially in these really short and sharp races. We are second after day one, only 3 points behind Ecover and we are ready to pounce!"
And there was plenty of close-quarter combat… Wirsol Team Germany bumped into Groupama 40 in the second race and again in the last race, relegating them from fifth to last. They have been craned out tonight for a bit of TLC. In the penultimate race, The Wave, Muscat and Red Bull Extreme Sailing had a 'set to' at the final windward mark with Roman Hagara's team coming off worse - a penalty dropping them from fifth to last.
To enjoy all the action, an impressive number of spectators lined the dockside ahead of the weekend. As the Extreme 40s raced within touching distance of the concrete dockside the shouts of joy (or frustration!) from the crew could be clearly heard by the spectators who responded in kind, cheering them all the way. "My crew enjoyed it so much to match the competitors so close and had great fun with these fast boats," said Johannes Polgar, skipper, Audi Sailing Team Germany. "We never thought we might be able to finish somewhere in the middle of the ranking. The crowds were cheering which was an additional adrenalin push for us." President of the City, Cathy Kietze, called the Extreme Sailing Series event the 'highlight of their sailing calendar'.
The Audi Sailing Team Germany, formed to specifically train for the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics, clearly relished their first Extreme Sailing Series experience: "This is simply incredible!" said Oliver Schwall, Team Leader. "We filed our entry into this event on such a short call last week. And now we are here racing and seem to be quite competitive. The team worked all night the last days to make this happen and the boys onboard did a nice job today. The light wind for the first day played into our hands because we still need to learn a lot how to handle these 'firing' machines. The Extreme Sailing Series is a great platform for our sport and we thank the organizers and the host city for their support. The next racing days with the wind forecasted to increase again promised to be super!"