Couched in our very own Marina Bay circuit, the Extreme Sailing Series regatta is undoubtedly one of sailing’s most difficult races. Boats have to navigate extremely tight spaces while being subject to the elements of winds that reach 10 knots, with tricky 90-degree shifts around the surrounding buildings.
Skipper Nick Moloney of local Team Aberdeen Singapore describes it best: “This venue is the encompassment of the stadium format: Wind, bumps and scrapes. It’s amazing for spectators and really difficult to sail with all the wind shifts around the buildings. No spot in the world lets us sail like this.”
But bursting through the challenge of the 12-fleet race was Team Alinghi to clinch first place. With an estimated 30,000 spectators watching over four days, the Swiss team presented an almost-perfect regatta with Morgan Larson, Stuart Pollard, Pierre Yves Jorand, Nils Frei and Yves Detry, completing more than 50 percent of the 29 races in the top three positions.
“We couldn’t have dreamed for a better start,” remarks a euphoric Larson, tactician of the team. “It was challenging here with the level of competition a couple of notches higher this season.”
Indeed, with top sailors the likes of Olympian and last year’s America’s Cup champion, Sir Ben Ainslie, and two-time Extreme Sailing Series winner, Leigh McMillan, it was a tough act to beat. Eventually, McMillan’s team The Wave, Muscat came in second place and Realstone achieved third. Ainslie’s team, JP Morgan BAR, won the final double-pointer to bring the act home in seventh place.
Says Ainslie: “[In] this tight venue — even for the experienced guys — it’s pretty tough.” True enough, the close-quartered circuit resulted in many start-line errors, near-collisions and actual collisions, proving an entertaining but costly competition for some.
Probably one of the most dramatic moments in the eight-year history of the regatta was when Team Aberdeen Singapore collided with France’s Groupama team on day three of the race. Winds were between five to 23 knots across the racecourse when the Singapore team caught one of the largest gusts as they struggled to hold off the pace while coming into the finish line. In doing so, they ploughed into the back of Groupama and broke the French boat’s mast, causing it to overturn. Fortunately, only Tanguy Cariou from the capsized boat suffered superficial injuries.
Yet our local pride managed to make an extraordinary comeback after that massive smash, performing beyond expectations in the final race to elevate their position on the overall standings to eleventh place ahead of GAC Pindar. And before they could emerge a cool second in the overall race, The Wave, Muscat crashed into GAC Pindar, which earned the Omani boat a 45-second penalty and dispatched them to a night in the boat shed to repair their damaged bow.
Emirates Team New Zealand, led by former America’s Cup winner Dean Barker (see sidebar for the interview), started off well but suffered a penalty in the first beat for a port-starboard incident against The Wave, Muscat, displacing them beyond the top three positions.
“It’s the first time we have raced together in five months and our first time back on the circuit since 2011. For sure we wanted to get a podium here, but couldn’t get away with it. We’re still rusty and have to focus our thoughts, but we’ll get there,” commented Barker post-race.
The Singapore act will definitely be remembered as one of the most intense and action-packed ones of the elite stadium racing circuit. Having moved on to Muscat, Oman, the teams will be in Qingdao, China next to complete Act Three of the race before moving on to Russia, the UK, Turkey and the Mediterranean before embarking on its last battle in the waters of Sydney, Australia.
Dean of Sailing
An America’s Cup racing legend, Kiwi sailor Dean Barker is also a seasoned industry observer and businessman. Dazzlyn Koh meets the 41-year-old multi-hyphenate
My passion, job and sport all rolled into one. I love the independence out at sea.
When was your first professional race?
The 1996 Swedish Match Cup where I raced a DS-37 boat.
Your most memorable achievement to date in your career?
Winning the America’s Cup in 2000.
Your most challenging race?
Last September’s America’s Cup. Our team (Emirates Team New Zealand) was just one win away from bringing the Cup home. I was incredibly disappointed but it taught us many lessons, which we can use to our advantage for this year’s edition.
Doing enough is never enough. We have to constantly push to the limits, even until the very last minute.
What is one fun fact about sailing that most people don’t know about?
It has always been regarded as highly competitive and intense, which is true. But there is a fun side too, in terms of camaraderie. We can be trying to “kill” the other team out at sea but when the race ends, everyone celebrates together. This type of environment is great.
New Zealand, the UK, Italy and Australia have traditionally produced top sailors. Where else in the world is catching up?
There are a lot of interesting programs going on in Oman, such as the Oman Sail Academy to train budding young sailors. Russia is sending out more sailing teams as well for competitions. And China’s been huge in the way that they are so involved now in boat production and infrastructure with so many marinas being built. I went to the Shanghai Boat Show two years ago and was amazed by the level of interest, the number of boat producers and the quality of the boats there.
There are some outstanding yachtswomen today, such as Olympic gold medallists Anna Tunnicliffe and Sarah Ayton. What do you think of this increased female presence in sailing?
It is absolutely wonderful as it adds another dimension and angle to the industry. The Volvo Ocean race in the second half of 2014 will see an all-women’s team.
Tell us more about the current sailing economy in New Zealand. It’s not doing too well, is it?
You are right in saying that. The demand for top-end sailing is still there with people buying superyachts but even then, it is not the same as it was five, six years ago. Quite a couple of brokerages and shipyards have had to close or lay people off just to survive.
What caused the downturn?
At the moment, the New Zealand dollar is very strong against the US dollar and the Euro, discouraging Americans and Europeans (our biggest customers) who are looking to build boats in New Zealand. Instead, they head to China where the currency is not as strong and the cost of production is low. The financial crisis also hit the general sailing economy hard; boating is still considered a luxury item so it is the first to be dropped off when things are not going so well and the last to be picked up when they are.
What can be done to better the situation?
It is tough to make a comeback when confidence levels are not there. We will just have to wait for the market to recover. It is, albeit slowly.
How do you keep your company Kiwi Yachting Consultants afloat?
Fortunately, we are doing fine. We do import and distribution of different yacht brands and marine equipment. The bulk of the business (between Australia and New Zealand) has not been that badly affected.
Besides racing and your business, you have a family with four young children. How do you juggle between the three?
In the business, I am very much involved in the decision-making and then I let the other guys do all the work (laughs). I try to spend whatever free time I have with my family — we like exploring the beaches in New Zealand together.
What’s next for you?
Head back to New Zealand to prepare for this year’s America’s Cup, which I am excited about.
Your luxury is…
Being able to enjoy New Zealand. We are so spoilt for choice in what the country has to offer — boating in the summer to beautiful islands and beaches; skiing in winter. I consider myself very fortunate to be living there.