From humble beginnings as a team of six working out of his apartment in the sleepy seaside town of Cowes, Mark Turner, Executive Chairman of OC Sport, has created an empire. Turner’s clear vision to innovate, to push the boundaries and to never rest on his laurels has changed the face of sailing, he talks us through the nine exceptional years of the Extreme Sailing Series™.
I am very proud that we are now going into our 10th season. Looking back, we started in 2007 with four boats and four venues, just in Europe, and we have continued to break ground and innovate. The Extreme Sailing Series™ has certainly been a catalyst for a lot of change in the sport. Even ultimately to the point where foiling, that we are now embracing in 2016 with the GC32s, probably wouldn’t have seen the light of day if the Series hadn’t kicked it off by making multihull racing credible and accessible outside France where it has been accepted for decades.
We have made the sport more accessible and engaging bringing sailing closer to audiences and making guest sailing, from a sponsorship perspective, a core part of any professional sailing event. We used colourful boats – as opposed to lots of white sails – we race on a platform that accelerates and does things that non-sailors can relate to and will prompt them to pull their camera or phone up and take a picture.
Over the years I’ve seen lots of fads and design ideas come and go. But foiling is the only thing that I’ve seen happen that has gripped an entire sport, from someone trying to make a Laser go foiling to kiteboarders, surfboarders and even people trying to paddle a pedalo with foils. It’s been a revolution. It’s a new set of speed dynamics and I think we needed to move to that. We are not leading in that aspect but we are able to bring that into what is a leading global professional circuit. I think it gives us a re-fresh and a new chapter in the event.
It also gives the sailors and race management a new challenge without compromising our core values – we’ve got to learn to manage the line between what’s spectacular and what’s safe. There is a delicate balance between all these elements that we’ve managed very well for the last 10 years and, in Phil Lawrence, we’ve got the best possible Race Director.
It will be challenging and the foiling adds something in one particular aspect. A small difference in windspeed or direction can generate a very large difference in boatspeed – 10 knots almost instantaneously up and down again. That will be one of the most demanding elements to manage but it will also be one of the most spectacular features of the racing for audiences to enjoy.
The proximity of the boats to the shore has always been a key ingredient and will continue to be so. A boat sailing 800 metres away is not really that impressive to anyone, regardless of what kind of boat it is. The speed is not really felt. But when a boat is 10 metres away, that’s when it’s very impressive. That’s why proximity is so important and it’s something that other events have perhaps not understood. I am big fan of the visual aspect we may lose a little of the boats lifting a hull up to 30 degrees above the water and the guys hanging on as it sails past but it will be easily made up for by the acceleration that foiling will bring and the fact that it will be happening so close to spectators.