Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Sailing Report: Behind the Scenes at Extreme Sailing Series Boston

Guest author Sean McQuilken gives us a look behind the scenes at Extreme Sailing Series Boston which he participated in this past weekend...

Act 4 winners Emirates Team New Zealand getting ready
to hoist and launch the gennaker (downwind headsail)
during day 2 of the series.  Photo © Sean McQuilken.
By Sean McQuilken
Special to the Daily Boater

It all started with a Facebook post from Evan Saunders (volunteer coordinator at Extreme Sailing Series Boston) that they were looking for volunteers to assist with running the event over the Fourth of July weekend. For those who are not familiar with, it the Extreme Sailing Series came from a demonstration series that Volvo put together in conjunction with the 2005-2006 Volvo Ocean Race. That race featured custom-designed one-design 40 foot long carbon fiber catamarans that were made to be easily transportable worldwide, yet fast and maneuverable enough to be sailed with a small crew (4 sailors plus a 5th man) on tight, near shore race courses. In 2007 OC Events acquired the rights to the series and began to expand it. In 2011 the series will consist of nine 5-day events taking place mainly in the following cities- Muscat Oman, Qingdao China, Istanbul Turkey, Boston USA, Trapani Italy, Nice France, Almeria Spain, and finally Singapore. This series is unique in that is currently the only worldwide professional inshore racing series where the teams bring their own boats and support staff to all events. This is all facilitated by the fact that the boats come apart and fit into 40 foot inter-modal containers and that organizers have partnered with a shipping company to handle all logistics. The host venue typically handles the entertainment and hospitality side of the event and supplies a marina, race committee boat and area where the boats can be rigged.

I figured as a relatively local sailor I should offer to help out as it was a chance to assist with what will hopefully become an annual event. It would also be a good chance to get a semi behind the scenes look at the event, I could have attended as a member of the media but figured volunteering would give me better unfiltered access. I exchanged a few e-mails with Evan about my skill set and availability; then I was all set to volunteer. I didn't know my assignment or the role of volunteers in the event. Leading up to the event, Evan did a good job of keeping us all in the loop about the site plan and daily schedule. He also posted some photos of the preparation for the event on its Facebook page. On a side note, it's amazing how quick the event site was setup, the teams only had about 48- 72 hours to rig and launch their boats before the first race. Race rules prohibit teams from sailing on days not designated as race days; they are allowed to sail before and after the races, which many teams did - either to entertain cooperate sponsors or to do some testing.

I arrived on site for my volunteer shift an hour early as directed and found the event signage was excellent - it was very easy to find the volunteer tent where Evan gave me a t-shirt and hat to identify me as event staff and explained that my assignment would be guarding the shore end of the dock to ensure only sailors, support crews and officials were allowed to get on the dock. I met the other volunteers (Doug and Conrad) whom I'd be working with; the volunteers spanned a wide range of ages and backgrounds. One of the volunteers I worked with was well established in the industry, the other was a recent alumnus of a local high school and sails for his local yacht club. We had a good view of the pre-race festivities which consisted of a local learn-to-sail program having a Laser race and the Red Bull Airforce who did a skydive landing on the docks right in front of the Extreme 40's sailing.

While on station where I was volunteering I didn’t have a great view of the racing as I was at the inner end of the marina and the racing was taking place 1.5 miles away at most and within .25 miles of where I was. Since there were three of us we rotated going out to the end of the dock to watch parts of individual races and all I can say is “wow!”. During the races the boats were often coming within 100 feet of the dock and sometimes a lot closer, and believe me, seeing a 40 foot catamaran moving at 20 knots that close to you is like nothing else in sports. There was running commentary during all races which did a great job of explaining the racing to non-sailors, there were special guests including but not limited to Cam Lewis and Brad Van Liew. The organizers did an excellent job of setting up grandstands for the spectators and a race village, over the course of the event 55,000 spectators came to visit. That is the equivalent of filling Fenway about 1.5 times. This would rank the Extreme Sailing Series among the top five sailing events in the United States ever in terms of spectator attendance.

After my shift was over I had the opportunity to walk the docks and speak with a few other volunteers and some media personnel; all were very impressed with the event. I also had a chance to stop by and say hi to Alan Block and his team from Sailing Anarchy who were broadcasting the races live online worldwide, they had nearly 1 million people watch their coverage. I didn’t stay for the nightly entertainment as I had a long drive home but heard it was well received.

Overall I really enjoyed my experience volunteering at the event. I definitely feel helping out gave me a different perspective on the event than just attending as a spectator or member of the media would have. It is amazing what it takes to put an event of this magnitude on. I only wish I could have watched more racing but I was able to catch a couple other days racing online. The organizers worked very hard to make it happen and hopefully Boston will become an annual stop on the Extreme Sailing Series circuit.

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