Alinghi shows its class

But for the opening day, when The Wave, Muscat, the defending champion and winner of Act 1 in Oman, called the shots, the Swiss squad’s reign was unquestioned for the remaining three days, writes A. Joseph Antony.

Alinghi’s class left the competition in its wake in the combat of the catamarans during the second leg (Act 2) of the Extreme Sailing Series’ E40 championships held at the Marina Bay, Singapore. Red Bull finished second in this bustling south east Asian business hub but equalled Alinghi in the series standings thus far.

“We’re ecstatic! It’s just been a great week for the team. We had a great time here in Singapore which really helped us to perform. It’s a great city with tough sailing conditions, but that’s the same for everybody and we just had that little bit of luck along the way and we also did a great job,” said the triumphant team’s skipper Morgan Larson.

But for the opening day, when The Wave, Muscat, the defending champion and winner of Act 1 in Oman, called the shots, the Swiss squad’s reign was unquestioned for the remaining three days. With Larson as its calm and composed captain, coming in for Ernesto Bertarelli at the helm, the craft donning the red, black and white colours could simply do no wrong.

The event was no cakewalk though for Larson, but backed by his illustrious crew comprising Australian tactician Stuart Pollard, Swissmen Pierre-Yves Jorand as mainsail trimmer, Nils Frei as headsail trimmer and Yves Detrey as bowman, the American steered his steely set to the crown with aplomb.

The quintet between them had by far the best credentials, going simply by their accomplishments — 18 titles in the America’s Cup, nine in the World Championship, four in the European Championship and one in the Olympics. Taking them on were Red Bull, led by double Olympic gold medallist Roman Hagara, Team Korea skippered by London Olympics silver medallist Peter Burling and The Wave with British Olympian Leigh McMillan in command.

Winds low in speed and shifty in direction truly tested the assembly of able seamen, billed as the best on the planet.With as little as eight knots wind speeds needed to spur it forward, the 40-foot twin hull, triple sail craft can touch speeds of 65 kmph. The venue, surrounded by skyscrapers of Singapore’s Central Business District and other landmarks, couldn’t quite box in the brave bunch carrying out their complex manoeuvres, though.

Sailing legend and author Nick Moloney attributed Alinghi’s superiority simply to the calibre of the men on board.

“Conditions here come pretty close to those in Lake Geneva, where they train regularly,” he observed. “Besides they’ve proved themselves even in ocean sailing and in the 120-foot catamarans,” he added, referring to the big daddy of the sport’s international circuit.

The strapping Australian’s views were well borne out as the action unfolded with Alinghi separating itself from the rest of the fleet at times by a full leg. Regardless of whether the races got off to upwind or downwind starts, the fab-five forged ahead on the reservoir’s placid waters and maintained pole position on the leader board.

While claiming the largest number of first place finishes, the Swiss side never slipped below sixth position. Such consistency was crucial in a seemingly difficult format that permitted no discards of results, however abysmal they may be.

While the mast of each boat sported the name of its skipper, the sail bore the flag of the nation where the squad was based. Almost every one of the teams in the fray was a sailing powerhouse; SAP Extreme situated in Denmark, Alinghi and Realteam in Switzerland, GAC Pindar in New Zealand, Red Bull in Austria, The Wave in Oman, Team Korea and Aberdeen Singapore located in their respective countries.

The course for racing was mostly over a loop or two, with a gybe inflatable thrown in where a ‘reach’ or two could be fitted in. Little wonder then that the genacker or the foresail would be unfurled at a frenetic pace, especially when circling or turning at the colourful buoys, denoting the markers en route.

Over the weekend, the spectator attendance climbed and not surprisingly the loudest cheers were reserved for Aberdeen Singapore. Quite understandably so, since the blue-hued boat had local lad Scott Glen Sydney as skipper, an aspiring Olympian for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics in the Laser Standard class. Assisting him as headsail trimmer was compatriot Justin Wong.

The next edition of the series will be in Qingdao, China’s Olympic sailing city, from May 2 to 5. Aberdeen Asset Management, the main partner in Singapore will back the event here until 2015.

Also supporting the spectacular showpiece of a sport powered entirely by environment-friendly energy (winds and waves) were the Singapore Sports Council, Tote Board and Singapore Pools, while partnering the series were SAP, Edox Swiss watches, Marine Pool clothing and GAC Logistics.