Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Extreme 40 : Edmond de Rothschild Group 5th in the Boston Grand Prix

Gitana. Image copyright Mark Lloyd/Lloyd Images/OC ThirdPole

by Kate Jennings

The scenario for the three previous Grands Prix was repeated in Boston with the winner of the fourth stage in the circuit only revealed once the thirty-seventh and final race was complete. In contrast to Istanbul, where Artemis Racing pipped Dean Barker’s men to the post, the Kiwis had their revenge. They took victory in the American event, thus stealing the provisional leadership in the Extreme Sailing Series 2011 from the crew of Edmond de Rothschild Group. Pierre Pennec and his three crew took fifth place in the event after five days of competition where they had mixed results. However, the men of Gitana Team, who set the season in motion with a win in the Oman Grand Prix, already have their sights on the English stopover, which will take place in early August in Cowes.

Finding it hard to get into a rhythm and assert themselves against the increased competition on the Boston race zone, the crew of Edmond de Rothschild Group experienced some highs and lows this week. Alternating between good and bad races, Pierre Pennec and his men lacked the necessary consistency to be able to compete with the leading boats. The five days of competition were mirrored by their performance on this final day of racing: despite the first two catastrophic races (10th and out of time), the four sailors refocused and linked together a series of podium places until the last race of the day, where they scored a brilliant win in front of the outright winner of the event in Boston, Emirates Team New Zealand. Prior to this final race though, Edmond de Rothschild Group could well have stayed down in 7th place given how close their pursuers were: “The race zone is so open and so capricious here that in the last race we had no intention of marking our closest rivals in terms of points. We just agreed that we would give it our all to get the best possible start, then sail cleanly as we know how. And it worked!” admitted a relieved Thierry Fouchier.

Helming an Extreme 40 is a very stressful occupation: guiding the boat, directing the crew and taking responsibility during the crosses and tack choices, all within an extremely short timeframe, such is the daily life of Pierre Pennec. At the end of racing, he gave us his uncompromising assessment of his performance in Boston: “I had some bad patches this week and in the Extreme Sailing Series, the standard is such that I just can’t allow myself to do that. I may well have put myself under too much pressure when I arrived here and I’m going to have to learn to find the right balance between the healthy pressure of the competitor and the kind of pressure that unsettles you. Aboard the boat we weren’t able to find the key to regaining our previous form, but yesterday evening, during our debriefing, we had a calm and very frank discussion and that helped me a lot on this final day. I like this candour because it enables us to move forward. My crew is very strong, they know how to do everything, and the rest comes down to mind over matter. I’m going to have to get to a level where I feel a sense of release on the water, as was the case during the last races today.”

The leader of the Extreme Sailing Series 2011 since Oman, Edmond de Rothschild Group have lost the top spot to the benefit of Emirates Team New Zealand who, with this first victory and a consistent performance, have managed to move up into the lead of the provisional ranking in the championship. Artemis Racing completes this podium, holding onto its second place.

In a month’s time, the Extreme Sailing Series fleet will be back in the Old World for the traditional Isle of Wight Grand Prix. The eleven competing crews will be racing from 6 to 12 August, right in the thick of Cowes Week... It is a meeting that bowman Hervé Cunningham is pretty keen to get his teeth into: “This Grand Prix is renowned for being windy and very physical, especially as we’ll be racing there for eight days this year rather than the usual five days in the other Grands Prix. If the weather provides us with some steady conditions, we could really show off our boat’s potential for speed. Indeed, in medium to strong, stable winds, we are the fastest of the fleet. I’m eager to get there and in the meantime I’m going to continue working up my physical preparation for this event.”

The team has its say

Thierry Fouchier, headsail trimmer
: “This Grand Prix wasn’t easy and clearly the result isn’t the one we were after. We didn’t manage to find the keys to the problem during critical situations and it’s an essential element we’ll have to work through. The format of the races and the championship itself means that we never have the time to sit back and take it all in. That’s why, during the afternoon of races, we found it difficult to analyse our mistakes between each race. That’s my personal viewpoint, but perhaps we needed someone with a trained eye outside the boat to take stock of the situation in a way we weren’t always able to. Yesterday for example, we were so into our own thing in the boat that we didn’t manage to find the solutions between ourselves. Our direct rivals work in this manner. Despite all that, we’re not going to come away from this Grand Prix feeling that there is a profound need to call ourselves into question. Instead we intend to simply make a few adjustments. Indeed we know that the basis of our game plan is sound and that Pierre knows how to lead us to victory.”

Christophe Espagnon, mainsail trimmer: “The nervous tension was very palpable in this event as the race zone in Boston involved some very shifty wind which can very often catch you out. We experienced some difficulty in reading the playing field correctly, which led to individual and collective nervousness. However, the crew was very united in these situations and I think that’s what enabled us to reverse the trend on several occasions. We are solid in our minds, as was shown in the last race of the Grand Prix which we won, and this counter performance will be quickly analysed and digested so we can move forward with as much motivation as ever for the Cowes Grand Prix.”

Ranking for the Boston Grand Prix
(after 37 races)

1. Emirates Team New Zealand (NZ) – 293 points
2. Artemis Racing (SWE) – 289 points
3. The Wave, Muscat (OMA) – 269 points
4. Luna Rossa (ITA) – 262 points
5. Edmond de Rothschild Group (FRA) – 260 points
6. Alinghi (SUI) – 251 points
7. Red Bull Extreme Sailing (AUT) – 248 points
8. Oman Air (OMA) – 198 points
9. Niceforyou (ITA) – 172 points
10. Team GAC Pindar (GBR) – 137 points
11. Team Extreme (EUR) – 126 points

Ranking in the Extreme Sailing Series 2011 after four Grands Prix

1. Emirates Team New Zealand (NZ) – 39 points
2. Artemis Racing (SWE) – 37 points
3. Edmond de Rothschild Group (FRA) – 36 points
4. Luna Rossa (ITA) – 34 points
5. Red Bull Extreme Sailing (AUT) – 28 points
6. The Wave, Muscat (OMA) – 27 points
7. Alinghi (SUI) – 24 points
8. Oman Air (OMA) – 15 points
9. Team Extreme (EUR) – 9 points
10. Niceforyou (ITA) – 9 points
11. Team GAC Pindar (GBR) – 6 points

The crew of Edmond de Rothschild Group

Pierre Pennec – Helmsman, skipper
Christophe Espagnon – Mainsail trimmer, tactics
Thierry Fouchier – Headsail trimmer
Hervé Cunningham - Bowman

Gitana Team
Extreme Sailing Series