|'Extreme Sailing Series 2014' Mark Lloyd ©|
Sarah Ayton - Extreme Sailing Series 2014 - Bob McCaffrey
2014 Extreme Sailing Series - British Olympic gold medallist Sarah Ayton will make her debut in the Extreme Sailing Series in Singapore next month after she joined The Wave, Muscat team for the 2014 season, marking a welcome return to top level competitive sailing after a three year break.
The 33 year-old sailing professional who won her first gold medal in the Yngling class at Athens in 2004 and a second at Beijing four years later, is currently in training in Singapore with Leigh McMillan’s new look crew in preparation for the 2014 curtain raiser which starts on February 20.
Her last competitive outing was in 2010 as a member of the British Olympic squad for London 2012 but joining The Wave, Muscat’s championship winning crew after a break and with little experience of Extreme 40 racing represents an extreme and exciting challenge for Ayton.
'It has been a while since I last raced competitively and my only experience of Extreme 40 sailing was when we did a fly by for Princess Anne in Basilica in Weymouth so it’s all new,' she said. 'It will be the most high-performing sailing I have ever done. Olympic sailing is one thing but racing alongside and against America’s Cup teams with a crew who are going all out to defend their title is a really big deal.
'But I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. I’ve been waiting for the right opportunity to come along and sailing on The Wave, Muscat is that opportunity. It’s really exciting. I’m looking forward to racing a fast boat and really looking forward to getting back on the racetrack.'
Extreme Sailing Series 2014 - Bob McCaffrey Click Here to view large photo
McMillan’s fresh 2014 crew also features Kinley Fowler, the New Zealand match racer who was a member of Oracle’s winning crew in the last America’s Cup and Omani bowman Nasser Al Mashari, who made his debut in Extreme 40s when he raced with Ben Ainslie (and Fowler) on Oman Air in 2011.
Extreme Sailing Series 2014 - Bob McCaffrey
Ayton, Fowler and Al Mashari replace Ed Smyth from New Zealand who has joined GAC Pindar and its Australian America’s Cup crew, Hashim Al Rashdi and Musab Al Hadi. McMillan’s right hand man Pete Greenhalgh will be back in action in the afterguard.
'From last year we had to change the team because Musab exceeds the age limit to meet the rule which meant we had to look at a new line up,' McMillan explained.
'We wanted to keep Musab and Hashim together because they are doing an Olympic 49er campaign and we were very happy to have Nasser because he is so experienced and powerful.
'Sarah was our first choice to join us and she was really keen. She will be involved in the boat handling and will have input into the communication and tactics – she has a really good tactical brain. We have also been very fortunate to get Kinley and he is a good fit for the team so I’m confident this new team is one that is capable of winning.
'We sail together for the first time on Wednesday and will train together for seven days so should be in really good shape after that.'
McMillan and Ayton flew into Singapore directly from Muscat where they attended the signing of the new three-year sponsorship agreement with The Wave, Muscat building on what has been a highly successful venture between the property developers and Oman Sail.
The new deal will lay the foundations for continued success in the Extreme Sailing Series though with a line-up of celebrity skippers in 2014, the crew on The Wave, Muscat is anticipating a sterner challenge in their bid to make it three titles in a row.
'There are 11 teams in there and they are all capable of winning,' said McMillan. 'It will be tough so we will not be going in and expecting to win five of the eight events this year but we will be pushing hard to get onto the podium and in doing so we will have a pretty good shot at winning the title.'
Extreme Sailing Series 2014 - Bob McCaffrey
2014 The Wave, Muscat crew
• Leigh McMillan, skipper (GBR)
• Pete Greenhalgh (GBR)
• Nasser Al Mashari (OMA)
• Sarah Ayton (GBR)
• Kinley Fowler (AUS-NZL-IRL)
Extreme Sailing Series 2014
• 20-23 February: Act 1 Singapore
• 19-22 March: Act two Muscat, Oman
• 1-4 May: Act three Qingdao, China
• 26-29 June: Act four Saint Petersburg, Russia
• 22-25 August: Act five Cardiff, UK
• 11-14 September: Act six Istanbul, Turkey
• 2-5 October: Act seven Mediterranean venue TBC
• 11-14 December: Act eight Sydney, Australia