Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Extreme Sailing Series' Smiling Assassins: Franck Cammas and Ben Ainslie

Over the years, I have partaken happily of a few Singapore Slings yet the one the organisers laid on as a prologue to 2014 Extreme Sailing Series was deeply intoxicating, blowing us away then dragging us back craving more.

What a brilliant curtain raiser to a year-long sporting event. Big names, close action and some cracking (literally) drama all combined to create a bit of a blockbuster.... and all without any casualties. Hoorah.

But is this as good as it's going to get? Will the rest of the year be a let-down or could the beaming smiles on show at the skippers press conference turn sour over the course of the next few months to keep interest levels in Extreme sailing high. Let’s hope so!

Steely eyes...winsome smile

It was a stroke of genius to put Singapore in as an opener. A bunch of rusty crews, some of whom had never set foot in an Extreme 40 before, going out on a tiny urban course better suited to row boats with a weird wind and gusts violent enough to blow dogs off chains. 

It had all the makings of a demolition derby…..and boy, did it deliver! One near capsize, two itsy-bitsy crashes then finally, the mother of all pile ups, where Aberdeen Singapore was slung by a violent gust across the deck of Groupama. Never before had we seen a catastrophic hoist like it on a race track. Spectacular.

Being rammed up the backside was Franck Cammas who was making a comeback in the Extremes after coming fourth in 2009 and fifth in 2010 which by his standards is rubbish.

He emerged from the rubble with a big smile but then Cammas is a master of the dazzling smile. During the Volvo Ocean Race, the one he won in 2012 to add to his burgeoning pile of top notch booty, we saw that broad French grin a lot in the latter stages and learned quite a bit about what lies behind it. 

Iron mostly, with a bit of steel and grit. Oh and a good set of knuckles and some big balls though he is famously prone to a bit of deafness. His way is the best way and god help anyone who stands in his way.

He reminds me a bit of……..Sir Ben Ainslie (JP Morgan BAR). In fact he reminds me a lot of Sir Ben Ainslie. 

Winsome smile...steely eyes
The two have been  formed from the same high quality ectoplasm. Both of them are genuine legends who have dedicated their lives to winning…..and both have a pathological hatred of losing so go to some lengths to find ways of winning.

Both appear to be given to ready smiles when the cameras are rolling yet the sunny muscles only flex around the mouth and rarely reach the eyes, which are apertures to their extraordinary obsessions.

Neither appear on too many Christmas card lists among fellow sailors or race officials. Ainslie for sure has a good grasp of venting his frustrations using 'Expletives' therapy. Cammas is a trained concert pianist and possibly when there is an instrument to hand, runs through all the Chopin Etudes to ease his pain.

Ainslie: bone-crushing eye-popping blood pumping need to win

All the Extreme skippers are competitive yet Cammas and Ainslie take it to a different level, sharing a bone-crushing eye-popping blood pumping need to win. This, I feel sure, will keep us more and more entertained as the competition unravels.

Cammas: bone-crushing eye-popping blood pumping need to win

Morgan Larson (Alinghi) and Leigh McMillan (The Wave Muscat), both great Extreme 40 sailors and both known quantities will continue their simmering feud from 2013 sticking rigidly to a tried and tested formula of no risk sailing. That too should prove absorbing especially if McMillan sniffs a chance of winning his third consecutive championship title.

Paul Campbell-James (Gazprom Team Russia) and Rob Greenhalgh (Oman Air) are breathtakingly talented and both know how to win having been crowned champions in previous series.
Yet things have moved on beyond recognition since they last competed so only time will tell whether they can once again find a winning groove. First signs weren’t great but first signs mean diddly-squat in this long drawn out multi layered roller coaster contest.

And of course there is Dean Barker (Emirates Team New Zealand) who is under enormous pressure to prove he is no choker and can lead the Kiwis to glorious victory. Some believe his position as helm of Team Emirates New Zealand is at risk so he will need to pull out all the stops to silence his critics. If he is unable, you might not have to wait long before they make some epoch-making changes.

We’ll come onto the others in another blog but that’s quite enough for now. There is some massive talent on show in 2014….just touching on some of the tantalising rivalries has left me craving more………thank god we only have three weeks to wait before the mayhem and madness in Muscat kicks off.

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