There’s a certain amount of trepidation with which one sets foot aboard an Extreme 40 catamaran. And for good reason. These are the Formula One boats of global yachting. Quick, sleek and highly responsive, they’re the kind of boat that only a highly skilled crew can handle. And even then things can go wrong.
When the boat, ‘The Wave, Muscat’ ploughed its nose into the water in Qingdao, China, in April 2011, it capsized in spectacular fashion, effortlessly tossing its professional crew into the water and demonstrating what happens when adverse conditions transpire against a twitchy and powerful vessel.
This weekend just gone, the Extreme Sailing Series was back in Oman for another session of potentially sail-ripping, hull-gouging yacht racing. It was only the second such ‘act’ of the 2014 season, in which the home team, The Wave, Muscat, was seeking to defend it’s 2013 title, along with its current place at the top of this year’s scoreboard.
But there was stiff competition. The ten boats competing in the series are crewed by a host of world class sailors who’ve already proved their seafaring mettle in this and other sailing disciplines; Red Bull Sailing team includes two double Olympic gold medallists, Roman Hagara and Hans Peter-Steinacher from Austria, while J.P. Morgan BAR is skippered by four times Olympic champion Sir Ben Ainslie and Olympic gold medallist Pippa Watson, to name but a few.
And when you look at the boats they’re crewing, it’s no wonder that such experience and expertise is required. Designed by Yves Loday, the Extreme 40 is a larger version of the catamaran on which he himself won at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona.
“Basically, the Extreme 40 is a scaled-up version of the Tornado” says Herbert Dercksen, CEO of TornadoSport, which developed the boats. “All of the dimensions are relative to the Tornado, it is just twice as big and incredibly fast.”
And fast is exactly what it feels like. Present for one all-too-short race on the Extreme Red Bull Sailing Team boat, the acceleration of the craft was immediately apparent when the horn sounded for the start of the race and the sails were trimmed to get us underway.
And this was just in a slight breeze of five knots. On a gustier day, I could only assume that the acceleration and top speeds would be nothing short of hair-raising.
Capable of reaching 30 knots (56 km/h), the Extreme 40 is a boat built with speed in mind and to create the most thrilling sailing spectacle possible. Each of the catamaran’s two hulls houses a honeycomb core covered by a carbon fibre ‘skin’ which creates an exceptionaly light and strong boat capable of achieving the wave piecing speeds.
But the clever bit? At forty foot long, the boats can be dismantled in hours and be shipped inside standard shipping containers to the other racing destinations worldwide.
It’s this design feature that gives the tour its globetrotting nature. Sydney, Singapore, St Petersburg and Istanbul are just a few of the far-flung locations where the eight Acts are held, the next being in Qingdao, China, from 1st to 4th May.
Here in Muscat, the speedy multihulls zipped past the shoreline of Almouj Golf course, allowing Muscat’s inhabitants to get a ringside seat of the spectacle. Relying on their width to provide stability rather than a deep keel, the catamarans were able to sail in shallow waters close to the shore to give spectators the best possible view of the action.
On board the Red Bull Extreme Sailing Boat, the crew were moving around with meticulous efficiency, adjusting the sails to rinse every last breath of wind from the light breeze plaguing the day’s racing.
But even with an absence of substantial gusts, the boat still felt as though it was speeding along, the water whizzing past under the trampoline on which I sat. The skipper, Roman Hagara, deftly steered the boat through the fleet while crew members winched furiously at each turn. Once back on course, two of the crew members would leap forward onto the two bows, resting there in order to try and keep the boat as level as possible.
But ultimately the efforts over that and the other days would leave Red Bull Sailing Team in 6th place after the second act. Perhaps with the home advantage and predominant support, it was the home team that sailed to victory. They clinched the win on the final, gustier day, taking the act and cementing their position as the overall series leader.
If you start to head to the galley when somewhat yells ‘port’ on a yacht, let Y introduce you to some basic yacht-speak.
Port – The left side of the vessel
Starboard – The right
Bow – The front of the boat
Stern – The rear
Catamaran – A vessel with two hulls of equal size. Draws its stability from a wide beam (width), rather than having a deep keel.
Trampoline – For catamarans only, this is the nylon mesh that is strung between the two hulls allowing the crew to move around the boat and between the hulls.
Mainsail – The large sail, which provides the vessel with forward motion. The sail uses the same principle as an aircraft wing, relying on differences in pressure on either side of the sail.
Boom – The horizontal pole that runs along the bottom of the mainsail allowing the sail to be controlled and angled by the crew.
Rudder – The fins extending down into the water at the back of the boat which allow the boat’s direction to be controlled.