Terror on The Seas

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Cate Gillon / Getty Images

Ben Ainslie with the JP Morgan Extreme 40 sailing team sail the Extreme 40 catamaran on the River Thames to celebrate Ben Ainslie's triple Olympic gold medal success on September 5, 2008 in London

The organizers of the extreme 40 sailing series look chipper as they solicit your signature on forms absolving them of responsibility in the event of your death. And waive you must if you intend to ride shotgun on what are known, with justice, as the baddest boats in yachting. Behold the disquieting outlines of these huge catamarans, straining malevolently at their moorings, and the brain immediately apprehends the many ways in which they might contribute to your demise. But why think about that too deeply when roaring across the waves at 40 knots, on a 45-degree tilt, is such great fun?

Amping up the sport of sailing is the point of Extreme 40 racing — and fortunately nobody has died yet. Collisions and capsizes come with the territory (when a sail the size of a tennis court fills with wind, a 1,300-kg carbon-fiber boat feels like it could flip over in a trice). What are described as "close-combat races" are concluded in minutes instead of days, and take place not on empty ocean stretches but on courses close to shore, where thousands of spectators can crowd onto grandstands. Top sailors have joined the circuit, including British double world champion Paul Campbell-James and Austrian double Olympic gold medalists Roman Hagara and Hans Peter Steinacher. Hefty corporates are among the backers, lured, perhaps, by the fact that there's room onboard for one guest as well as four crew. Look carefully at each catamaran in competition and you're sure to find, spread-eagled on the nylon mesh, a grinning sponsor (or interloping journalist).

The Extreme 40 series Asian leg concludes in Muscat, Oman, Feb. 1-5. If you're in the vicinity, stop by. Sailing has never been a spectator sport, but Extreme 40 will change all that. For details, go to extremesailingseriesasia.com.