The Oman Air team is heading to the European phase of the Extreme Sailing Series confident they can hit top form and challenge their close rivals for supremacy.
Four days of racing starts in Barcelona on Thursday, with the stages in Hamburg following on August 10 to 13, and Cardiff from August 25 to 28.
Following the first three Acts in the eight-event season, Oman Air sits in a solid third place overall and in close touch with the series leaders. However, after third place finishes at regattas in Muscat, Qingdao and Madeira, the experienced crew wants to refocus and close the narrow gap to the top of the leaderboard.
Now, and starting this week, a quick-fire succession of Acts in Barcelona, Hamburg and Cardiff offers the perfect opportunity for them to do so.
“We have been getting some good results and we won the first, pre-Extreme Sailing Series regatta earlier in the year,” said Omani bowman Nasser Al Mashari.
“We have a lot of respect for the other competitors, but we know we just need to do a little bit better and win one of the Acts to put pressure on them,” he added. “The next three Acts are close together, starting this week in Barcelona.”
Al Mashari is racing with the established Oman Air crew of tactician Pete Greenhalgh and regulars James Wierzbowski and Ed Smyth. They were joined this year by New Zealand match-racing star Phil Robertson as skipper and helmsman.
As things stand they have 30 points, close behind the Swiss leaders and reigning champions Alinghi on 34, and the Danish-flagged SAP Extreme Sailing Team on 33 points. The presence of two highly competitive opponents has also changed the game compared to last season, said Greenhalgh.
“We weren’t a million miles off in Madeira, and it all comes down to a couple of very small things and it could have been a very different event.
“We were disappointed to let Alinghi slip past us on the last day in Madeira. Having a three-way battle at the top of the leaderboard has changed our approach a little bit, so we have to sail a lot more fleet-like. If you keep your focus on one guy you can let the other one sneak away, and we have done that.”
And he added: “But we have only done a third of the series so there is a long way to go. We have got the opportunity now to push and catch them over this high intensity period, so it could really go well for us.”
The Extreme Sailing Series is making its debut at the Barcelona venue this week, and hopes are high that it may deliver strong winds, in stark contrast to the light and unpredictable breezes the fleet experienced in Qingdao and Madeira. It is also a venue Greenhalgh knows well.
“Looking at the race course it looks like it is going to have some really good conditions, and it is a slightly more open track,” he said. “We are looking forward to stretching our legs and getting the boat up to speed.”
Meanwhile, the drama and high-speed action of the Flying Phantom Series will be on display again in Barcelona, after making a big impression at the Madeira Act of the Extreme Sailing Series. Battling it out in a 12-strong fleet, the Oman Sail entry will be crewed by Thomas Normand and Ahmed Al Hasni, who will be aiming to move up the leaderboard from their mid-table sixth place.
The 5.5m long two-handed Flying Phantom foiling catamarans – capable of reaching 31 knots – are intended to help new talent break into the competitive world of top-flight sailing. They will also be in action in Hamburg and Cardiff.