The Extreme Sailing Series, one of professional sailing’s most well-established grandstand racing circuits, is facing an uncertain future after the reported closure of the UK office of OC Sport – the organiser of the global regatta series.
The Extreme Sailing Series began in 2007 as the iShares Cup and utilised the Yves Loday-designed Extreme 40 catamarans which had entertained the crowds around the world during several stopovers of the Volvo Ocean Race.
The ESS was the first circuit to properly introduce the concept of “grandstand sailing” with the courses uncompromisingly set close to the shore within clear view of the spectators who were guided through the races by expert commentators.
Over the years the series attracted some of the biggest names and teams in professional sailing, including Franck Cammas, Dean Barker, Loick Peyron, Yann Guichard, Sydney Gavignet, Ian Williams, Rob Greenhalgh, Ben Ainslie, Shirley Robertson, and Leigh McMillan, to name just a few.
The series also drew in plenty of big-name teams and sponsors, like America’s Cup campaigners Emirates Team New Zealand, Luna Rossa, and Alinghi, plus Red Bull, Land Rover, SAP, and others.
At the end of the 2015 season, in order to keep in tune with the sailing world’s move to foiling boats, the Extreme 40s were retired to make way for the foiling GC32 catamaran from 2016 onwards.
The 10-month 2018 Extreme Sailing Series season saw a fleet of six teams visit seven countries on three continents – Oman, Italy, Spain, Portugal, United Kingdom, United States, Mexico – with past-America’s Cup winners Alinghi from Switzerland emerging as season champions.
Major French media, sports and entertainment conglomerate, Télégramme Group acquired a major shareholding in OC Group in the summer of 2014.
As well as the Cowes UK OC Group office responsible for running the Extreme Sailing Series, OC Group also has offices in London (responsible for running the Haute Route cycling events and housing the Extreme Sailing Series commercial team), Paris – from where OC Sport Pen Duick staff run the Route du Rhum Destination Guadeloupe, The Transat, The Solitaire Urgo Le Figaro and The Transat AG2R La Mondiale sailing events, Geneva – responsible for cycling and running events, and Colorado – responsible for the Haute Route US operations.
A note sent late in December to competing teams and other interested parties from the GC32 Class read:
“We have been informed that the Groupe Télégramme and OC Sport have decided to close the Extreme Sailing Series and the OC Sport UK Ltd. Cowes office.
“In the first instance, the plan from the board is to give time for the OC Sport UK team (responsible for the ESS) to explore the option of a management buy-out. This would result in current management taking control of the existing contracts with sponsor, venues and stakeholders allowing the staff to continue the proposal as planned.”
The memo goes on to suggest that technology partner SAP and the organisers of scheduled events for 2019 in San Diego, California and Los Cabos, Mexico during November and December respectively were keen to go ahead as planned.
It is worth noting that – parallel to the Extreme Sailing Series – the GC32 Class runs its own five event Europe-based circuit, the GC32 Racing Tour.
Typically teams competing on this circuit tend to be a combination of private owner campaigns – like American businessman Jason Carroll’s Argo Racing, Australian internet domain name entrepreneur Simon Delzoppo’s .film Racing, and Simon Hull’s Frank Racing from New Zealand – along with professional teams like the INEOS Rebels, the youth team of British America’s Cup team INEOS Team UK, Alinghi, and Franck Cammas’ French America’s Cup squad on NORAUTO.
In the final season results Cammas pipped Sir Ben Ainslie’s INEOS Team UK to the overall title, with French owner-driver Erik Maris’s largely professional crew aboard Zoulou taking third.
The 2018 Tour included the inaugural GC32 World Championship on Italy’s Lake Garda at which teams from both circuits joined together to make up a 13-boat fleet.
The 15-race series saw Swiss crew Team Tilt from the GC32 Racing Tour emerge as winners with ESS campaigners SAP Extreme Sailing Team and Oman Air filling the other podium places.
Last season rumours abounded among the competing teams on both circuits over the possibility of a merger of the two GC32-based circuits. It was a move which would appear to have much merit, particularly in light of the announcement late last year of the well-funded, and highly publicised SailGP international circuit which kicks off in February down in Sydney, Australia.