TEAM OMAN – Oman Sail’s elite crew on the MOD70 Oman Air-Musandam are preparing for one of the toughest tests of the season when they set off from Valencia in Spain on Sunday to stake their claim on the first ever La Route des Princes crown.
A brand new race strictly for multihulls, La Route des Princes will take the nine-strong fleet of boats on a challenging 3,045nm course around Europe from Spain to the Bay of Morlaix in France.
They will have to deal with light fluky winds in the Mediterranean Sea, the full force of the Portuguese trade winds and Atlantic depressions as well as the dangers posed along the rocky Irish and British coasts, with a final blast along the French Finistère shoreline.
For Oman Air-Musandam skipper Sidney Gavignet, a veteran of four Volvo Ocean Races and 20 Trans-Atlantics, with thousands of offshore racing miles under his belt, the next three weeks will ask a whole new set of questions of both him and his crew as they make the switch from training to performance mode.
“We are setting out on THE important race of the year so need to change our focus to performance,” said Gavignet.
“Our 2013 training at Grand Prix Guyader Douarnenez and the ArMen Race has been very valuable and of course we will continue to learn but the emphasis now has to be on performance because this is a one design class and the other teams are very good so we will have to be at the top of our form.
“We are going clockwise around Europe from south to north and have a big chance to get into the Portuguese trade winds which will be pretty hard on everyone because these boats are very uncomfortable.”
Winning or doing well in such a difficult race will be complicated, Gavignet added.
“Our aim is to do well right from the start and try to maintain. We will be happy if at the end we have done a good job and it shows in the results.”
The Oman Air-Musandam crew features a mix of highly experienced internationals, including offshore veterans Damian Foxall from Ireland and Neal McDonald from the UK. Fahad Al Hasni from Oman is in his second season on the MOD70 and is growing in experience by the day, while Ahmed Al Hassani is new, coming from the F18. Frenchmen Thomas Le Breton and Gilles Favennec bring Olympic and America’s Cup experience to the project. And Mohsin Al Busaidi who is one of Oman’s most celebrated sailors as the first Arab to sail around the world non stop, is currently in Oman with his wife who is due to give birth, but hopes to return to the boat as soon as he is able.
“I’m really happy with things on the boat,” Gavignet added. “There is a good team spirit and everyone is working well together on the boat and on the dock. Ahmed [Al Hassani] is quite new to the project but I’m very happy with his progress – he is learning quickly and showing some good potential and coming from an F18 background he brings good solid dinghy experience.”
Before they set off on the first leg to Lisbon on Sunday, there are two days of inshore racing (on Friday and Saturday) and an opportunity exists to open their account on the points table.
According to Omani crew Fahad Al Hasni, this will not be an easy task but one they have been practising tirelessly to achieve with 10 points on offer for an inshore race win, compared to 20 for an offshore leg.
“The inshore racing will make a difference at the end if things are tight so we need to try and earn as many points as we can from the first possible opportunity,” he said.
“We have been out sailing every day, doing what we can to eliminate errors in our manoeuvres because the fewer mistakes we make in this sort of racing the better we will do.
“It has been good fun and we are looking forward to the competition though it will be one of the hardest we have done because the standard is so high.”
La Route des Princes, with its accent on regional food and culture at stopovers in Lisbon in Portugal, Dun Laoghaire in Ireland and Plymouth in England, appeals to a diverse audience with interests across top level multihull racing to maritime history in Europe and Benicarlo artichokes, olive oil from Portugal, the famous Irish Timoleague Brown Pudding and clotted cream and fudge from Devon!