What a difference a couple of races can make in the Extreme Sailing Series. After three opening results without a podium finish the crew of Oman Air might have been forgiven for thinking the Madeira venue was not going to prove a friendly place.
Add in some light wind conditions that dropped Oman Air from a commanding lead in one race to the back of the pack, and the pressure was mounting on skipper Phil Robertson and his experienced crew.
Then two back-to-back victories put them right back in the game at the end of the first of four days of high-intensity racing off the Atlantic island group.
After six races – with four different winners – Oman Air was in third place, with arch-rivals the Danish SAP Extreme Sailing Team leading the way followed by the young guns on NZ Extreme Sailing Team. Alinghi, the Swiss reigning Extreme champions, are in fourth.
“With the two wins we got cleanly off the start line and just sailed sensibly – it’s a shame the first race didn’t unfold the same way,” said Oman Air’s veteran tactician and mainsail trimmer Pete Greenhalgh.
“We were leading the first race quite happily then coming in to one of the windward marks there was a bit of a wind change and I didn’t have my head out of the boat enough.
“We ended up going around the left-hand mark and parking in a wind hole, and the fleet sailed around us – which was pretty upsetting,” he added with typical understatement.
Greenhalgh and Robertson are again teamed up with experienced Omani bowman Nasser Al Mashari and Oman Air regulars James Wierzbowski and Ed Smyth, a continuity the team know will stand them in good stead for the long haul in any Extreme Act.
Al Mashari said: “We didn’t get the results we wanted from the outset despite leading one of the first races – it can be the challenge when you are at the front of the fleet that those behind can see a problem with wind on the course and take an alternative route.
“But two wins show that we can still compete with the very best here, and there is a lot more racing to be done before this Act is finished.”
Despite hopes of more wind at the Madeira venue, the first day of racing was held in less than nine knots, with one side of the course “tactically terrible” for a third of the day according to Greenhalgh.
“It is what it is,” said the ever-practical tactician. “It is more about adjusting to the venue, how tight the course is and what works. But the team are on great form and sailing the boat really nicely, and we are getting our heads around how we want to sail the boat.”
In Madeira the regular Extreme Sailing Series fleet has been joined by the Flying Phantom Series, with a 12-strong international fleet of the two-handed foiling catamarans delighting spectators. The new Oman Sail entry to the circuit, skippered by Thomas Normand with a rotating crew, was lying in seventh place overall after three races.