Sailing isn’t meant to be a contact sport, but the bang and shudder that hit the Australian team boat, as it headed for the start line for race 3 of the Extreme Sailing Series yesterday on Sydney Harbour proved otherwise.
Business Insider was on board 33 South Racing, the Sydney-based wild card entry in the aquatic version of Formula One racing, when Italian rival Lino Sonego clipped the back of our 40-foot (12m) catamaran and it sounded like the starting cannon had been fired. 33 South had the right of way and the Italians were obliged to avoid a collision.
Skipper Katie Spithill didn’t realise it, but the Italians had punched a large hole in the back of the hull. We raced on, with the andrenalin surging as the champion sailor and younger sister of two-time America’s Cup winner James Spithill pushing her rookie entry to the front of the pack. She’s the first female skipper in a series filled with Olympic gold medal-winning sailors and showed she has what it takes.
The boat seemed a little off the pace towards the end of the 15-minute race, but still finished a credible 5th in the 9-boat race. It was only after that we realised 33 South had been taking on water and her debut in the series was over for the day.
“The Italians tried to duck us and misjudged it. We finished the race thinking we could tape up the hole but it turns out it’s a lot bigger than that,” Spithill said. “It’s really frustrating but our results so far are promising. We’re competitive.”
The 33 South team have worked through the night to get the boat back on water today for day two of the four-day series being held between the Sydney Opera House and Mrs Macquarie’s Point.
The Extreme 40s can reach speeds of up to 30 knots (56km/h) and the racing on the tight circuit at high speed is like dicing through the chicanes in F1.
And sometimes it goes horribly, horribly wrong, as this clip from last year’s series shows:
The incredible thing about the Extreme Sailing series is each boat is crewed by a team of 5 and also takes out a guest sailor. There’s not other sports experience like it in the world, putting spectators into the thick of the action during the racing.
It’s exhilarating and exhausting. Just sitting on the boat during the 15 minute race, seeing how hard everyone pushes both themselves and the boat at high speed leaves you pumped and drained as you cross the finish line
Business Insider had the chance to head out with the SAP Extreme Racing team first. The German multinational software company provides live data analysis of the racing you can follow online here, as well as sponsoring the Danish team.
After the first day of racing, SAP leads the Sydney series, the eight and final round for 2015. They’re also in the running to win the 2015 championship.
33 South is hoping to put an Australian team in the Extreme Sailing series in 2016, when it moves to even faster multihulls with foils. Team manager Joshua Chant is still hoping to land the major corporate sponsor that will allow them to compete next year. If you’re interested (and want to go out for a sail with them), the details are here.
You can head down to watch the racing this weekend from the Sydney Opera House, or Mrs Macquarie’s Point, where the competition has a base. There are about eight races every afternoon, kicking off at about 2.30pm.
Here’s the Business Insider’s eye view of what it’s like to be in the thick of the racing.
Spithill's offsider is mainsail trimmer Stacey Jackson. There's just one other woman competing on a rival boat among the 45 sailors.
Spithill nicknamed headsail trimmer Henry Kernot and bowman Luke Payne 'the twins' because they work in combination together.
You need plenty of core strength to hang over the side as ballast, holding on by just your feet under a strap.
Everyone's done with military precision. Jackson calls '1, 2, 3!' and the team sprints the 7 metres to the other side of the boat as it tacks.
The team has been training together for just six weeks, but showed it was competitive on the first day of racing. The Danish team, SAP (pictured behind), is the Sydney leader, and in line to take out the 2015 series.
The races are short - just 10-15 minutes - but there are plenty of explosive moments requiring speed and strength as sails are raised and lowered and the boats tack (change sides).
The racing is fast and close and the acceleration of the boats means positions change regularly during a race.
There are teams from the UK, Russia, Italy, Oman, Denmark, Austria and Turkey. Australians skipper the UK and Turkish boats and feature on many others. 33 South is an all-Australian crew.
Helmets and bouyancy vests are a reminder that there's danger in this high-speed sailing. The boat weights 1.4 tonnes and has a mast 18.9 metres high.
Sydney is the 8th and final leg. The series began in 2007 and other locations include Muscat, Hamburg, Saint Petersburg, Singapore and Istanbul.
This is the second year the Extreme Sailing series has been held in Sydney. Organisers had wanted to come here since it started and the tourism body Destination NSW helped make it happen.
33 South has shown it has what it takes to compete as the Australian team in the 2016 series, but needs a major sponsor to make it happen
The crew are nimble, fast and balanced and where they're placed on the boat is important to maximise speed.
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