The crash between the two Extreme 40 catamarans took place towards the end of the day as a heavy gust lifted Aberdeen’s hull out of the water and brought it crashing down on the French boat Groupama, dismasting it and sending three crew overboard.
|What a mess!! Great pictures from Mark Lloyd|
Crews were wearing helmets and no one was injured while safety boats and divers, part of the organiser’s elaborate safety protocol, were quickly on the scene to cut away rigging and make the boats safe.
This accident will rank as the worst in the history of Extreme 40 racing but since it started eight years ago, the appeal of the circuit has been rooted in the thrills and spills of high performance boats racing at full pelt in small confined spaces. Capsizes and near misses are routine.
From the start of racing in Singapore on Thursday, the skippers, who include Britain’s Sir Ben Ainslie have been caught out by ‘massive’ gusts which almost upended Alinghi on the first day and caused a crash between Oman Air and Realstone the next.
“We could feel the conditions getting fruity and we were massively relieved to have got through the finish line,” said Leigh McMillan, skipper of The Wave, Muscat, the race winners.
“The wind was coming in so fast and there was this bottleneck with nowhere for the boats to go. When the gusts hit, you lose control and there is nothing you can do. We were extremely concerned and were waiting to hear that everyone was safe.
“Ideally we would be in slightly less risky conditions,” he added.
“There have been plenty of close moments when things could have gone horribly wrong and there has to be some consideration for the safety of the crews and make sure the organisers are not forcing us into dangerous situations.”
Rob Greenhalgh, skipper of Oman Air, said the conditions were on the limit but acceptable.
“If people had been hurt, they would be asking different questions but the gusts go from 5 knots to 20 knots and there are a lot of boats in confined spaces so there are always going to be accidents. Everyone knows this racing is close to the edge and no one is raising serious safety issues.”
Phil Lawrence, Extreme Sailing Series Race Director assured the 12 Extreme crews that he had no doubts over safety in the conditions and all their safety protocols had worked.
“If there had been any doubts about whether it was safe to race, we would have stopped racing,” he said.
“We have a whole safety protocol here and review it before each race. We decided not to put guest sailors on board today because of the gusts and after Race 21, our team who monitor wind strength at all times reported that the gusts had reached their pre-designated limits so we stopped racing.
“It was an unfortunate incident and we are very happy no one was hurt,” he said.
With one day of racing in Singapore remaining, Morgan Larsen and Alinghi are well placed at the top of the leaderboard with two times Extreme champion McMillan in second place on The Wave Muscat, having risen from 10th place on Thursday. Ainslie and his crew on JP Morgan BAR is in 5th place at his first Extreme event as skipper.