The Wave, Muscat’s long tenure of the Extreme Sailing Series crown came to an end in Sydney today when Swiss team Alinghi won the eighth and final Act of the year to take an overall victory in the 2014 series despite a superb late challenge from Tom Slingsby on Oman Air. After a epic year-long battle between Leigh McMillan and Morgan Larson and their crews, spanning 12 months, 8 countries and 223 races, the Swiss team were crowned new champions when they crossed the finish line of the final double points race in second place to earn a 12 point advantage over The Wave, Muscat for the Sydney Act and a 10 point lead on the overall leaderboard.
For McMillan, it brought to an end an Extreme Sailing Series championship tenure that started in 2012 and continued through 2013 with an historic second win. His hopes of retaining it for the third consecutive year were still very much alive until this final event in Sydney. He was the first to congratulate Alinghi: “It is frustrating not to win the last event but it was a battle like it has been all year and Alinghi have been sailing really well and they got the better of us so many congratulations to them!” said McMillan.
“To finish second in this event and overall is still a good result and it was a fantastic team effort from our guys but there are areas where we could have been better so we have some work to do. Sydney has been a fantastic location but the two home wins in Cardiff and Muscat were definitely the highlight of the year for us,” McMillan added paying tribute to his crew of Sarah Ayton, Pete Greenhalgh, Nasser Al Mashari, Kinley Fowler and Ed Smyth. “The team really gelled well together and did a great job.”
Slingsby, who started the event with a stellar reputation but no experience in Extreme 40 sailing, had a spectacular day to lift Oman Air to fourth place, posting a stream of podium places including a win in the penultimate race. He was awarded the Land Rover ‘Above and Beyond’ award for his contribution as the most outstanding debutant skipper of the series.
The happy Australian Olympic gold medal and America’s Cup winner, standing in for regular Oman Air skipper Rob Greenhalgh for the last event of the year, was thrilled to have taken Oman Air to fourth place in Sydney, matching their best performance of the year back in Istanbul in September.
“We are all really happy,” he said. “It was really tough racing and we had a bit of good luck out there at times and a bit of bad luck at others but that is the way it goes – there are a lot of good sailors on this circuit. This is a great series because they really involve the spectators in the sport. Ali [Al Balushi], Joey [Newton] and I were all new to the boat and to the crew for the final Act. We all really improved as a team so we got a nice result in the end.”
It has been a challenging and rewarding year for both Oman Sail teams from the moment the flag went up on the 2014 series in Singapore last February. The new line up of skippers read like a hall of fame of the best sailors of the current generation, all using the circuit to stay fresh for the next America’s Cup. They included Dean Barker, Sir Ben Ainslie and Franck Cammas so on top of the ever present threat from Alinghi, Leigh McMillan knew from the outset The Wave, Muscat had a mountain to climb to keep hold of the crown which he won first in 2012 and again the following year.
The opening Act in Singapore was a major test for McMillan and his new look crew who spent the first few days gelling as a team and on the final day clawed back points to finish second though it was Alinghi, with Morgan Larson back on the helm who snatched victory with one race remaining, while Greenhalgh’s new crew on Oman Air had a tough initiation to finish in 9th place. Act 2 in Muscat and The Wave returned to form to take their first win of the series in front of a jubilant home crowd while Oman Air’s steep learning curve continued and they finished 10th. The Qingdao event was just 30 seconds old when Oman Air were T-boned and forced off the race track, leaving their shore crew – Jo Lees, Suleiman Al Manji and Hilal Al Zadjali – with a massive overnight repair job. They came back strong and finished in 6th place while The Wave, Muscat finished just off the podium in 4th and Alinghi notched up their second event win. The shore team became the first recipients of the Land Rover “Above and Beyond” Award for their dedication and hard work. Oman Sail team members – including Suleiman again when he stepped in for a Team New Zealand sailor in Nice – went on to win the award a further four times during the season – the most wins of any team!
The old battle with Alinghi continued into the new venue of St Petersburg and in light airs and a strong current, the Swiss boat edged to victory though on the overall leaderboard were just three points ahead of The Wave, Muscat. That was reduced to two in Cardiff following a thrilling and highly tactical final day won by McMillan. Oman Air finished 6th making incremental gains every time they crossed the line.
Pressure built in Istanbul and although The Wave, Muscat were in pole position going into the final race, Alinghi had one eye on the overall title when they sailed a tactical race to make sure Emirates Team New Zealand topped the leaderboard keeping McMillan at bay though the gap between the two teams narrowed to a single point. The frustration spilled over to Nice and points were hard to come by in the light airs for The Wave, Muscat who slipped to 8th place. This widened the gap between them and Alinghi to 8 points on the overall leaderboard going into the decider in Sydney that proved to be an excellent venue and a most welcome addition to the circuit.
Oman Sail will be back in 2015 gunning to bring the Extreme Sailing Series Championship title back to Oman starting with Act 1 in Singapore in February. The crew will be announced in the New Year.
Extreme Sailing Series™ 2014 overall standings
Position / Team / Points
1st Alinghi (SUI) 85 points.
2nd The Wave, Muscat (OMA) 75 points.
3rd Realteam by Realstone (SUI) 61 points.
4th Emirates Team New Zealand (NZL) 49 points.
5th J.P. Morgan BAR (GBR) 49 points.
6th Red Bull Sailing Team (AUT) 40 points.
7th Oman Air (OMA) 38 points.
8th SAP Extreme Sailing Team (DEN) 36 points.
9th Gazprom Team Russia (RUS) 30 points.
10th Groupama sailing team (FRA) 26 points.
11th GAC Pindar (AUS) 13 points.