The Neva River provided the playground for the first day of Stadium Racing at Act 4 of the Extreme Sailing Series? in Saint Petersburg, presented by Land Rover, where some teams thrived and others suffered within the confines of the tight stadium racecourse.
Testing conditions saw the crews battle massive wind shifts and a four-knot current across the racecourse, but Morgan Larson and the team on Alinghi were impressive as ever - the picture of consistency as the average fastest boat downwind and the quickest off the startline according to the SAP Sailing Analytics - that saw them stake an early nine point lead. "We were pretty terrible yesterday in the practice, so today we came out with a little different attitude. We had decent starts, we tried to stay on the opposite side of the racetrack to the rest of the boats so that every time we split from the group we had cleaner air and finally, a little bit of luck went our way and things worked out for us. It's a challenging venue and it's going to keep being challenging throughout the week."
Four races were sailed before an increasing current and decreasing breeze shut proceedings down, forcing Race Management to abandon the racing. Race Director Phil Lawrence explained, "Today was incredibly challenging for the sailors and they did a great job. We managed to get four reasonable races in, but I was forced to abandon the fifth race when the wind stopped, which was a shame but it was the right thing to do. We attempted to start a sixth race but by then the wind was just too light."
Three race winners emerged from the four races, with Alinghi taking two and the Swiss Realteam and Gazprom Team Russia one-a-piece. Realteam's skipper Jérôme Clerc - who won the penultimate race of the day and is gunning for the team's third podium finish of the season in Russia this week - spoke about the key to winning on this brand new racecourse. "I think good starts are essential, and we did some good starts to be ahead of the game. You then have to be on the right shift at the right moment - if you take the shift at the right time, you can really jump ahead to the front. If you're in the front at the first mark, it's pretty easy afterwards. I wouldn't say this racecourse is any more difficult to anywhere else we've been, but the current made the racing really different. We just have to stay consistent, sail well as a team and then the points will follow."
Saint Petersburg marks the halfway stage of the 2014 global tour, and the teams are really starting to feel the pressure as the Series moves into the 'business end'. At the opening morning's press conference, which officially opened Act 4, defending champion Leigh McMillan described the level of competition in the Series as "getting tougher and tougher each year,"
but the Omani team, who is currently second on the overall Series leaderboard, were cool as ice, keeping it consistent with three third places to finish the day in second place - two points ahead of Realteam.
Another point back in fourth place is Emirates Team New Zealand, and the new combination of Ray Davies calling tactics and Peter Burling on the helm, were unphased by both the fickle breeze and strong current, steadily improving their results throughout the day to finish in fourth. Olympic silver medallist Burling commented, "It's been a pretty good battle out here, we're happy with our starts and we've got off the line pretty clean. The crew is doing a great job trimming the sails, and getting us around the course into some good lines."
Igor Lisovenko and Paul Campbell-James have both set their sights on Team Russia's first podium result on their home waters, and everything seemed on track with a win in the second race of the day, before a disappointing 11th and 12th in the day's final races left the team frustrated after racing, having to settle for eighth place, a point behind Groupama sailing team. "It was very tricky. We started the day with a little bit of breeze, and by the end we were barely making it up the tide," explained Campbell-James. "We got good starts on all bar one race, but we still didn't manage to convert them into good results, which was extremely frustrating. We did win a race today, so we know we can do it. We just need to have more good races and perform better - avoid the big snakes and try and get a few more ladders."
Olympic champion Nathan Wilmot made his debut on the stadium racecourse after only stepping onboard the GAC Pindar Extreme 40 for the first time yesterday, and impressed with two fifth places, at times getting the better of the more experienced crews. Reflecting on his first day in charge, Wilmot commented, "It was interesting out there today, really shifty and hard conditions, but it was good fun. This is only my ninth day of steering a catamaran ever, so we're just trying to build our experience, get a good team together, create a platform and try and build on from it from there."
The Australian-outfit finish the day in ninth place, a point behind Gazprom Team Russia, in what is shaping up to be an extremely close, and hard fought week of Stadium Racing.
Despite the difficult sailing conditions that saw the positions changing with every race, all the crews were in agreement that this is a spectacular racecourse, and before racing, the Land Rover Extreme Sailing Team and SAP Extreme Sailing Team took advantage of the 'White Nights' in the heart of Saint Petersburg, sailing in the early hours of the morning, against a spectacular cityscape.
On Friday the racing will be streamed live on the official event website from 16:00 local time/12:00 GMT / 14:00 CET, with expert commentary and analytics by Technical Partner and Saint Petersburg Host Venue Partner, SAP. Follow at www.extremesailingseries.com
Extreme Sailing Series™ Act 4, Saint Petersburg presented by Land Rover standings after Day 1, 4 races (26.06.14)
Position / Team / Points
1. Alinghi (SUI) Morgan Larson, Stuart Pollard, Pierre-Yves Jorand, Nils Frei, Yves Detrey 37 points.
2. The Wave, Muscat (OMA) Leigh McMillan, Sarah Ayton, Pete Greenhalgh, Kinley Fowler, Nasser Al Mashari 28 points.
3. Realteam by Realstone (SUI) Jérôme Clerc, Arnaud Psarofaghis, Denis Girardet, Bryan Mettraux, Thierry Wassem 26 points.
4. Emirates Team New Zealand (NZL) Peter Burling, Ray Davies, Blair Tuke, Jeremy Lomas, Edwin Delaat 25 points.
5. SAP Extreme Sailing Team (DEN) Jes Gram-Hansen, Rasmus Køstner, Thierry Douillard, Peter Wibroe, Nicolai Sehested 22 points.
6. J.P. Morgan BAR (GBR) Ben Ainslie, Nick Hutton, Paul Goodison, Phil Sparks, Matt Cornwell 20 points.
7. Groupama sailing team (FRA) Franck Cammas, Romain Motteau, Tanguy Cariou, Thierry Fouchier, Devan Le Bihan 17 points.
8. Gazprom Team Russia (RUS) Igor Lisovenko, Paul Campbell-James, Matt Adams, Pete Cumming, Aleksey Kulakov 16 points.
9. GAC Pindar (AUS) Nathan Wilmot, Troy Tindill, Ed Smyth, Sam Newton, James Wierzbowski 15 points.
10. Oman Air (OMA) Rob Greenhalgh, Tom Johnson, Kyle Langford, Hashim Al Rashdi, Musab Al Hadi 11 points.
11. Red Bull Sailing Team (AUT) Roman Hagara, Hans-Peter Steinacher, Mark Bulkeley, Nick Blackman, Stewart Dodson 7 points.
12. RussianFirst (RUS) Georgy Shayduko, Sergey Dzhienbaev, Pavel Kalinchev, Leonid Kazinets, Pavel Karachov 4 points.