With one week to go until the Extreme Sailing Series Act 5 in St Petersburg, presented by SAP, 35 of the world’s best sailors are getting their heads in the game and preparing for the one of the trickiest venues of the season so far.
The Neva River will be transformed into a Stadium Racecourse from 1 – 4 September, where the fleet will race in front of the stunning backdrop of the Palace Embankment and Peter and Paul Fortress.
Joining the fleet as the season heads into its second half is home-team Gazprom Team Russia, led by 2016 World Match Racing Tour champion, Phil Robertson.
“Last year St Petersburg lived up to my expectations as one of the most difficult racecourses. There is a big effect on the wind from the surrounding buildings. Throw a few knots of current in there and it can be a nightmare,” said Robertson, who raced onboard Gazprom Team Russia in the 2015 Act.
Having just competed on Hamburg’s River Elbe in Act 4, the rest of the teams know all-too-well the difficulties of Stadium Racing on a river.
“It brings with it a whole load of different challenges,” said Land Rover BAR Academy skipper, Neil Hunter, who will sail in the Russian venue for the first time. “The reduced space means that we have to do more tacks and gybes which is very physical for the crew in these boats. It also means that we have to deal with a lot of current, so the racecourse is effectively moving the whole time.”
One outfit that returns to St Petersburg with something to prove is SAP Extreme Sailing Team, who finished in an unfamiliar last place at the 2015 Act in the city.
“We do have a bit of unfinished business in St Petersburg. Last year we were not prepared. We did too much sailing leading up to the race, had a major repair on our boat and were not settled and calm for the very difficult and unpredictable conditions. This year we have done our homework and look forward to righting the wrongs,” commented co-skipper and tactician Rasmus Køstner.
Arnaud Psarofaghis, helmsman of Alinghi, compared sailing on the narrow Neva River racecourse to racing a Formula One car around the streets of Monaco. Psarofaghis drove Lino Sonego Team Italia to second place in the 2015 St Petersburg Act.
“Last year was a very satisfying result and a good achievement. This will be the third time I’ve sailed on the Neva River, so me and all the guys are feeling good about what we can do in Russia,” commented Psarofaghis, who is doing his best to give Oman Air, skippered by Morgan Larson, a run for their money at the top of the leaderboard. “So many things can happen during the course of a race so, no matter where you are, it’s never over until it’s over.”
With only six points between frontrunners, Oman Air, second-placed Red Bull Sailing Team and third-placed Alinghi, victory is within reach for all three teams, and fans can look forward to some nail-biting action.
Meanwhile, Land Rover BAR Academy have SAP Extreme Sailing Team in their sights, as they look to close the three-point gap between them and fourth place.
Sail Portugal – Visit Madeira currently sit in seventh place overall but only four points behind the British team. The Portuguese team, who look ahead to two events on home waters in the coming months, has already shown their potential to upset the leaderboard with some strong individual results.
Extreme Sailing Series Act 5, St Petersburg, presented by SAP, will start on 1 September, with the free-to-enter public Race Village situated on Zayachii Island, in front of Peter and Paul Fortress, offering the prime viewing spot for the Stadium Racing.