Extreme Sailing: Who said sailing isn’t a spectator sport?

Jessica Watson
Posted December 15 2015

I’ve often been told that sailing isn’t a great spectator sport. Apparently the rules can be too complex (and AFL rules are a piece of cake?), the action happens too far away and adverse weather can disrupt racing. Then there are those who think that it’s all just a bit too slow (in comparison to golf?!).

Well, I have the answer to all of these gripes. Last weekend, Sydney hosted the final event of the Extreme Sailing Series (EXSS), an action-packed series that sees powerful 40-foot catamarans – known as Extreme 40s – race in eight cities around the world, from Oman to Hamburg and Singapore.

You don’t need to worry about the rules being too complex in this competition: the courses are short and simple, and spectators are provided with fantastic commentaries by the likes of renowned Australian sailor Nick Moloney.

If you’ve previously passed up the opportunity to see live sailing because you’re worried about the yachts being too far away, EXSS is a sight to behold – if the action got any closer to shore, the spectators may well be scared! The venue, Farm Cove, is a great stadium too: boat owners can watch from the exclusion zone around the course, and VIPs are treated to views from an elevated platform on Mrs Macquaries Point. What’s more, SAP – one of the series sponsors – provide very schmick live leaderboards and 3D visualisations, which can be easily accessed via the free Wi-Fi. Worried about light winds – or no wind – disrupting the racing? Well, take a quick reality check and enjoy the sunshine and the view. After all, tourists fly from around the world to see the spectacular Sydney Harbour.

And as for those who think the racing is just all too slow, I’m not going to spend too much time addressing that. These boats are not slow, and there’s often no shortage of action – and even carnage! Collisions and capsizes are not uncommon throughout the series, and Sydney was no exception this year with Lino Sonego Team Italia capsizing when a bullet of wind gusted off the Sydney Opera House. Another highlight of the EXSS are the wildcard entries that are invited along to each event. For the Sydney leg this year, the wildcard was given to 33 South Racing, the only boat fully crewed by Australians and boasting two girls on board – skipper, match racing champion Katie Spithill, and Volvo Ocean Race legend Stacey Jackson.

The only other female sailor deserves a mention as well: this year’s ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the year, Sarah Ayton, was trimmer for The Wave, the boat that took out the overall series win.

Although I’m also a big fan of more relaxed varieties of sailing, events like this are so important to our sport. They expose and introduce sailing to a wider audience and help inspire a new generation of sailors. So next time you hear someone suggest that sailing isn’t a spectator sport tell them about the EXSS or better still bring them along to an event next year. The Extreme Sailing Series is guaranteed to get anyone enthusiastic about sailing!

(All photos credited to Lloyd Images)

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