Muscat: The second half of the Tour de France a la Voile kicked off in Roses, Spain, on the Mediterranean on Friday with two rounds of inshore racing before the nine-boat fleet struck out on a 60 nautical mile offshore race from Roses to Gruissan just across the Spanish French border on Saturday morning.
Sunday saw the Omani team struggle in the heavy 'Tramontane' winds across the Gruissan racecourse to finish the weekend in fourth place overall, four points off the podium.
Barely recovered from two weeks of racing in the English Channel, the Omani squad donned their caps and sun cream and got down to business in Roses, Spain, where the second half of the Tour de France a la Voile kicked off on Friday with two rounds of inshore racing.
The Mediterranean conditions were as capricious as they are renowned to be and the nine-boat fleet raced the first round in up to 30knots, a baptism of fire for Frenchman Cedric Pouligny — previous skipper on the Oman Sail M34 — who stepped in to do tactics for Sidney Gavignet on the inshore legs as part of the ongoing crew rotation. The team had a great first race, finishing in second place and a less pleasing final race of the day where they made a few errors to finish in fifth. The squad remained in third place overall going into the first offshore leg of the Mediterranean stage of the Tour on Saturday.
"It is absolutely fantastic to be back in the Mediterranean," said trimmer Nasser Al Mashari, who will be returning to the warm waters again later in the year for the Extreme Sailing Series onboard The Wave, Muscat. "The heat and warm waters remind me of Oman, it is really good for us Omani sailors, we feel stronger and much more at home in the Med. It is also a pleasure to be sailing with Cedric Pouligny again, it has been a few years, but it is very natural and the atmosphere onboard is very nice.
We had good starts for both of the races on Friday, but for the second were unable to execute our strategy which lost us a few places. It was a good day for getting back into the racing and settling in to the boat handling again."
The Omani squad had a very early start on Saturday morning with the gun going at 0630 for the offshore race from Roses to Gruissan.
Conditions on Saturday were in stark contrast to Friday's with barely a zephyr of wind on the water as the fleet started the 60 nautical mile race to Gruissan. Eight hours later after a very challenging day that saw conditions vary from 2 knots at the start to 20 at the finish, the team closed the day in fourth place, putting them just one point ahead of fourth-placed chasing boat, Bretagne – Credit Mutuel Elite, on the overall Tour ranking.
"Getting a penalty at the start made it all the more challenging," explained Mohammed Al Mujaini, pitman onboard. "We did a 360 right away to rid ourselves of the penalty but that forced us away from the strategy that we wanted and into very little wind. We worked hard to make the most of every zephyr, and slowly caught up to the leaders, but then the wind filled in as the fleet got offshore and the leaders drew away and with spinnakers up, defended their positions for the rest of the race.
"One thing that is guaranteed in the Mediterranean though is that everything can change from one day to the next, so we remain very focussed on our goal – there is a long way to go yet and we are more determined than ever to stand on the third step of the podium in Nice!"
Sunday was tougher still for the Omani team with a howling 'Tramontane' gusting 25 knots across the Gruissan racecourse. The race committee managed to get three inshore races underway despite conditions but Oman Sail had a challenging time and posted a 3rd, 5th and 8th to drop back a few points on the overall leaderboard to fourth place, four points off the podium behind Bretagne – Credit Mutuel Elite.
With conditions worsening overnight, the race committee decided to cancel the offshore leg from Gruissan to Hyeres due to start on Monday and requested the boats be safely delivered to the next destination instead. The fleet arrived late on Monday evening.
Oman Sail has everything to fight for going into the next round of inshore races in Hyeres before striking out to sea once again for the final offshore leg of the race.