An incredible 50,000 spectators turned out in Kiel this weekend – to watch: Sailing. The 2008 Ishares Extreme 40 season’s formula of top sailors, short races, and accessible shore-side venues combined with hull-flying action has truly proved the skeptics wrong: Sailing can be a spectator sport, and a popular one at that.
Day one’s racing was just exactly the kind of close competition the organizers hope for. Six races, five winners, and at the end of the day, ties in both second and third places. One unique and sponsorship-friendly aspect of this race is the facility to allow for a “fifth man” on each boat, so that journalists and VIP’s can experience the speed and maneuverability of these craft in real races. It turned out to be a little too much speed and maneuverability for one “fifth man” though, as BT took a quick gybe in race six, and guest Kai Lorenz didn’t. “I just lost my balance and fell into the water! The only thing that went through my mind was ‘But we’re in first place!'”
On day two, there were again five winners for the six races. Alinghi, Team Aqua, Oman Sail, and Team Origin each took a bullet, and BT took two. As the spectators began to grow to the tens of thousands, and boats began to crowd the river venue, the course was changed to a triangle format with a reaching start to further liven things up. This change upset the leaderboard for the next two races, and proved to be a nice way to make the racing even more competitive among the ten boat fleet.
Said Ed Baird of Alinghi after the second day’s racing: “We started out really nicely with a couple of nice strong races and then we got tangled up in a few. Especially these last two, with the reaching starts, I did a really poor job of getting the boat off the line and we had to catch up! But fortunately the guys did a great job and there were a couple of opportunities for us to gain a little bit at the end and we did, but I don’t like putting us in that position.”
Today, the crowds showed up in full, and some 50,000 spectators stood ten deep while the boats flew by only a few meters away. The racers reported that they could smell the food and hear the swell of cheers every time they got near shore, and the conditions were the perfect balance of hull-flying breezes and warm sunshine. The record crowd got to see quite a show indeed, with not one but two collisions involving Holmatro.
The first crash was in the first race at the first mark, where an umpire boat put itself directly between Holmatro, and where Holmatro wanted to be. While there were no injuries to either crew or major damage to the race boat, that wasn’t the case in the second race. At the leeward mark, Holmatro collided with Team Origin, damaging the latter to the point where it was retired from the racing.
“We were leading the race coming into the first leeward mark and we got hit from behind by another boat, which put a big hole in our Extreme 40,” said Team Origin skipper Rob Greenhalgh. “Obviously we nearly sunk so we couldn’t finish the rest of the day’s racing. We were going really well and were on the up, we were probably looking to win the event.”
At the end of the day, it Was Alinghi overall in the Kiel – their third win in four venues – tied with Team Origin for the series, and with only one more venue to go. In just under three weeks, the final challenge of the iShares Cup series will be held in the Netherlands, and with the reputation these Extreme 40’s and their crews have earned in this 2008 race tour, large crowds are again expected