Despite Act 2 not opening officially to the public until tomorrow, thousands thronged to the breakwater to see the Extreme 40s in action on the first day of racing. The biggest support went out to China Team in their Extreme 40 debut and with two men-overboard incidents, the action was full-on. But it was the Austrian Red Bull Sailing Team skippered by Roman Hagara with his Olympic partner, Hans Peter Steinacher as tactician, who used their knowledge of the Olympic waters to edge ahead and top the leaderboard by the end of play on day 1.
Six open-water races were staged today, which saw four different race winners. Racing took place just outside of the breakwater, close enough for the public to follow the action, during a light breeze day, which required shrewd tactics from the sailors, as Roman Hagara explained: “It was difficult because of the light winds and their was a lot of tide so it was fairly unpredictable out there. If you were in a good position on the start line then you would do well. By the end of the day the wind had picked up and we could get the hull out of the water.”
The battle at the top of the leaderboard was supremely close between Red Bull Sailing Team, The Wave, Muscat and GAC Pindar. The British crew led by match-racing supremo Ian Williams on GAC Pindar made an early bid for the leaderboard, claiming the first race win of the Act, but Leigh McMillan’s The Wave, Muscat were waiting to pounce, claiming victory in the following two races. McMillan went on to win an impressive third race in race five of the day, but it wasn’t enough to hold off Hagara’s men: “It was a really good day for us – we are happy with the result,” said McMillan. “Red Bull had an outstanding day and even when we were winning races they were right behind us so it was very difficult for us to get away from them.”
China Team displayed moments of real potential, including a fourth place in the second race of the day, which considering the crew only stepped on to race for the first time today shows the calibre of these professionals. However, two separate incidents show how quickly even the pros can get caught out as skipper Phil Robertson explained, “We loved it! There are a lot of positives we can take out of today and we are very happy with how we ended up – although a couple of us went swimming which wasn’t ideal. We were having our best race and were coming into the last mark when we lost Nick (Catley) our bowman over board. That was a shocker! Second time round…it was me and that was before the race even started,” admitted a rather sheepish Robertson. “I was trying to fix some rudder issues and I fell off the back with a minute to go. So it was a disappointing end but we are happy.”
Oman Air struggled to find their impressive form from Act 1 in Muscat, which saw them claim victory on their home turf just six weeks ago: “We were under no illusion that Qingdao would be easy just because we won the first event,” stated a philosophical Morgan Larson. A late comeback in the final race and a race win leaves the team in fifth place, four points shy of the French team Groupe Edmond de Rothschild, who also had a mixed day on the water. With plenty of races still to come, the teams will be assessing their performance on the water today and planning how to attack or defend as Act 2 goes into stadium race mode from tomorrow. In a similar scenario to Act 1, Muscat, both Hagara and Williams excelled in the early phase only to fade away to the dominance of Larson’s Oman Air team and the Series favourites on Groupe Edmond de Rothschild.
The event was officially inaugurated tonight at the grand opening ceremony, hosted by the Qingdao Yachting Association (QDYA). The show began with a stunning light show and music, with local performers enacting traditional Chinese dances. Each crew member bearing their national flag was presented to the crowds, as they presented a gift to their hosts. The ceremony took place at Octagonal Square within the Olympic village, with over 2,000 local guests gathering to witness the spectacle. The show culminated with a spectacular fireworks show.
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