RACE NEWS - EFG Bank Sailing Arabia – The Tour, the region’s only long distance offshore sailing race started today with nine world-class crews including a host of elite sailors from the Middle East taking on the unique sailing challenge and endurance race between Bahrain and Muscat.
Inspired by organisers Oman Sail to encourage one of the region’s fastest growing sports and reignite the rich maritime heritage of the Gulf, the third edition of the showcase sailing event was officially launched at Amwaj Marina ahead of 15 days fierce competition around the coastline of four different countries covering 760 nautical miles.
The opening ceremony, held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Nasser Bin Hamad Al Khalifa, Supreme Council for Youth and Sports and the President of Bahrain Olympic Committee, was attended by Sailing Federation dignitaries from GCC nations, race officials, sponsors, skippers and crew of the boats competing for the EFG Bank Sailing Arabia – The Tour 2013 trophy.
Khalifa Abdulla Al Khalifa, Chairman of Bahrain Maritime Sports Association said: “Bahrain is extremely proud to host the opening ceremony and first leg of the EFG Bank Sailing Arabia – The Tour. Thanks to the inspiring vision of Oman Sail a world-class event has been established that unites the region through sailing while also promoting the sport to a new generation. As the crews set sail for Qatar on the first leg we wish all involved a thrilling race from start to finish.”
This season promises to be the best yet, with some of the world’s best sailors competing in the ideal sailing conditions of the Gulf. EFG Bank Sailing Arabia – The Tour 2013 represents the culmination of three years’ development in offshore racing in the region, and the roster of competitors reflects the adoption and recognition of this unique event by the international sailing community.
Competing aboard identical Farr 30 yachts, the EFG Bank Sailing Arabia – The Tour has attracted nine crews representing five different nations, led locally by Oman’s Team Renaissance, Royal Navy of Oman, Team BAE Systems and the all – female Team Al-Thuraya Bank Muscat. Two teams will compete on behalf of the UAE, Team Abu Dhabi and Team AISM representing the neighbouring Emirate of Dubai.
The growing stature of the event and its adoption by the international sailing community is reflected in the diverse range of teams entered from around the world this year with crews hailing from Monaco, Holland and the EU.
Speaking ahead of the first leg Issa Al Ismaili, Director of Events at the race’s organiser Oman Sail said; “The vision of Oman Sail is to develop the region sailing talent and reignite the rich maritime heritage. Through EFG Bank Sailing Arabia The Tour, Oman Sail is also providing and exciting platform to develop people and leave a lasting legacy.”
“The tour is bringing together the best sailing talent in the GCC and from elite sailors around the world and we believe that every leg of the race will encourage sailing across the GCC by showcasing local role models and motivating youngsters to try something new,” added Ismaili.
The 100 mile leg to Qatar is the first of seven that will see the fleet visit stopover ports first in Qatar, then along the UAE coastline to Abu Dhabi, Dubai (new to the course this year) and Ras Al Khaimah before passing through the Strait of Hormuz and on to Oman, visiting Dibba, Mussanah and the finish in Muscat.
Amongst the favourites is Dubai-based Team AISM, skippered by Bertrand Pacé. Aside from winning the 2011 event, Pacé is a former America’s Cup helmsman and, relevant to this event, has won the Tour de France a la Voile eight times in its 35 year history. However with a similar pedigree is Cedric Pouligny, skipper of Team BAE Systems, which has finished third in the past two races.
New to EFG Bank Sailing Arabia – The Tour is Oman Sail’s MOD70 skipper Sidney Gavignet, on this occasion helming EFG Bank (Monaco). Gavignet’s crew includes British round the world veteran Neal McDonald and Oman’s Fahad Al Hasni.
British yachtswoman Dee Caffari, the only woman to have sailed non-stop around the world singlehanded both eastabout and westabout, is returning as skipper of Al-Thuraya Bank Muscat, once again sailed exclusively by women. Caffari is joined by American round the world sailor Katie Pettibone, but also a squad of six up and coming Omani female sailors, four of whom will be on board at any one time. Because the girls are smaller, they will race with eight, while the boys teams will be sailed by six or seven crew.
This year Caffari says they have had more training time. “We did the Muscat Regatta and the Muscat–Kashab offshore race in November. We won the inshore regatta and came second in the offshore regatta. Caffari sailed two more weeks with the team in January but stresses that as they are part of Oman Sail’s keelboat training program and they sail regularly even when she isn’t there.
Racing in EFG Bank Sailing Arabia – The Tour is a unique experience, with the desert rolling into the sea for much of the course, punctuated by the metropolises the event visits en route, before the boats pass the rocky mountainous Omani coast around the Strait of Hormuz, exiting the Gulf in the Gulf of Oman. On the first leg the depth is rarely more than 4m, weather forecasts are typically unreliable and off Qatar and the UAE there are numerous oil fields to negotiate. “There’s never a dull moment,” says Caffari.
In addition to Bertrand Pacé’s team, UAE hopes are being placed on the Emirates most famous sailor Adil Khaled, who competed in the last Volvo Ocean Race aboard the Ian Walker-skippered Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing.
Khaled’s crew is a mix of sailors from Abu Dhabi and Dubai. “It is my first time with a fully Emirati crew. It is a great thing for my country and I am so proud, because it was my dream to have a full Emirati crew after the Volvo Ocean Race. We will try our best. I don’t know what will happen – we’ll see.”
Team Renaissance’s Omani skipper Mohsin Al Busaidi, was the first Arab to sail non-stop around the world and is competing in this event for a third time, the second time as skipper. His crew is mainly Omani new recruits alongside two French-speaking heavyweights sailmaker Bruno Dubois and navigator Thierry Douillard.
“Last year I finished seventh overall – not too bad for a new team,” says Al Busaidi. “We were on the podium three times and we finished the last leg second.” Typically Al Busaidi says the racing gets more competitive as the event progresses and hopefully they will be able to use their home waters advantage on the concluding two legs – however possibly not to the same degree as the Royal Navy of Oman team led by Qais Al Mamari.
International youth competition also comes to the race in the form of Team Messe Frankfurt, mainly British crew from the University of Plymouth, but with a German skipper in Marcel Herrera. They are joined by the Dutch team of Kay Heemskerk aboard Team Delft Challenge, previous competitors on the Tour de France a’ la Voice but making their competitive debut in the Middle East.
Taking in four countries and eight ports of call, EFG Bank Sailing Arabia – The Tour is a showcase of everything that the Gulf has to offer in terms of state-of-the-art facilities and idyllic sailing conditions
Leaving Manama on February 10th, EFG Bank Sailing Arabia – The Tour calls at Doha, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ras Al Khaimah, Dibba and Mussanah and ends February 25th in Muscat. The racing will include in-port racing at selected locations.