Wild swings between first and last are not the norm in Sir Ben Ainslie’s career but in the opening bouts of the 2014 Extreme Sailing Series in Singapore, his brand new JP Morgan BAR Extreme 40 campaign is striving to match the consistency shown by more experienced Extreme 40 campaigners.
After two days of racing, the world’s most celebrated sailor is running up more wooden spoons than victory garlands as the fleet of 12 Extreme 40 catamarans tries to get to grips with a tiny stadium course in Singapore’s city centre Marina Bay where some highly unpredictable wind patterns have prevailed.
A fluky 12 knot breeze with patches of no wind at all were mixed up with massive 28 knot gusts which caught many by surprise including the Swiss team Alinghi who were almost upended and Oman Air who careered straight into Realstone.
“I think all the teams are finding it testing but that is part of the challenge racing on such a confined course. You just have to take it on and deal with it,” he told Telegraph Sport.
“If you compare this race track with the F1 race tracks, then Singapore would be one of the most difficult venue. One minute we had 20 knots of wind and the next we had nothing and on these short courses it’s really hard but it’s the same for all the teams.
“It’s not the easiest venue to bring a brand new team to and start working things out and we have been put under a lot of pressure early on to deal with such extreme conditions but in a way that is a good thing because you have to quickly work out who is doing what and how to make decisions.”
One of Ainslie’s unique talents is seeing wind where others don’t but it was much as he and his Olympic medallist crew Pippa Wilson and Paul Goodison could do to stay on top of the conditions and in the top half of the fleet, notching up just one podium place in six races and sitting in fifth place overall.
There will be around 250 races over the course of the next ten months as the Extreme Sailing Series moves around the world from Oman to China, Russia and the UK, Rio, Turkey and Australia.
By the end JP Morgan BAR is likely to be among the title contenders but for the moment Ainslie is biding his time, happy to make incremental gains on a steep learning curve while long in the tooth Extreme 40 skippers such as Morgan Larsen of Alinghi and Leigh McMillan of The Wave Muscat hog the rostrum.
America’s Cup winners from 2007 Alinghi were lying at the top of the leaderboard today with Dean Barker’s Emirates Team New Zealand in second place.
“Alinghi sailed really well today but we are not doing too badly,” said Ainslie.
“We are right up there and we have a huge amount we can improve on so feel we have a lot of potential. It would be fantastic if we could finish on the podium in our first event and we think we have a good shot at it.”