Muscat: Oman Airports by Oman Sail were lying one point off their targeted top five place in the 2016 Tour de France a la Voile with one final opportunity in Nice this weekend to make their dream come true.
The stadium racing in Hyeres, in the South of France, where British skipper Stevie Morrison and French teammate Pierre Leboucher have competed in dozens of Olympic class events over the past decade, proved happy hunting ground for the Omani team which finished joint 6th in a field of 24 Diam crews after taking three podium places in six races.
“It is very hot but that’s normal for Ali and myself coming from Oman – we are used to these conditions back home and sail in them often!’ said Abdulrahman Al Mashari before the stadium racing in Hyeres got underway on Wednesday.
“Pierre and Stevie know this race course well as they both sailed here a few times for the Hyeres Olympic week, Pierre on the 470 and Stevie on the 49er.”
It lifted them into joint 6th place in the overall rankings, sharing the position with Team Lorina Mojito – Golfe du Morbihan, and one point behind Installux Aluminium in fifth place.
“We were racing well today and our boat speed and communications were good so we are in joint 6th place and could easily end up in the top five – that is where we want to be,” said Morrison.
With one coastal race and one final stadium series still to settle before the curtain comes down on the 2016 Tour de France a la Voile, the achievement of co-skippers Morrison and Thierry Douillard, Leboucher and the two Omani sailors Ali Al Balushi and Abdulrahman Al Mashari has already been immense in their first TDFV campaign.
When Morrison and Douillard crossed the start line of the first coastal race in Dunkirk on July 8th, they had set their sights on a top five finish, having competed with rival Diam 24 teams at a string of warm up events in the weeks preceding the Tour which earned them the billing as the most promising non-French team in the fleet by commentators.
As winner of the first Tour de France a la Voile in Diam 24s in 2016, Douillard, a match racing and offshore specialist from France was key to their development as a brand new member of the crew in the three-week epic around the coast of France, which features nine stopovers with coastal races and stadium racing at each venue.
A fourth place in the opening 39-mile coastal race was encouraging and they maintained that position over the first weekend with a series of top five results in the stadium racing, where the 24 strong fleet hurtled around the Dunkirk race course in a strong breeze with 25 knot gusts.
The chalky cliffs of Normandy provided a stunning backdrop for the second stage where 25 knots of breeze and choppy seas made life uncomfortable for the crews on the 32-mile coastal race, especially Thierry Douillard who sustained an injury to his back.
Oman Airports by Oman Sail finished 11th and a broken rudder in the final stages of stadium racing in Dieppe the following day prevented them from making any gains in the overall rankings.
After four days of racing, the stand out team was Team Lorina Limonade – Golfe du Morbihan with four wins in four Acts but Oman Airports by Oman Sail were putting them under pressure as the fleet took a day off to get the boats to next stop Roscoff for the start of the 23-mile coastal race across the Bay of Morlaix.
Despite extensive physio work on his back, Douillard was unable to resume but a 14th place in the coastal race was followed by a 10th in the series of light air stadium races in Baden, and they remained well and truly in the top 10 overall.
From the choppy west coast of France, the exhausted crews headed south towards Roses in Spain and the azure waters of the Mediterranean, where they immediately encountered a superb 20 knot breeze for the coastal race and promptly closed in on a 5th place, their best result since Dunkirk.
More success in the inshore racing the following day boosted their prospects further and they returned to their peak performance with a 4th place in the 40-mile race along the coastline of Roussillon to Gruissan.
Strong winds in Gruissan forced racing to be cancelled and then light winds – and brilliant sunshine -- in the coastal race in Marseilles brought home the contrasts and challenges that has made the Tour de France a la Voile one of the most admired events in the professional yacht racing calendar.
Going into the last but one Act 8 in Hyeres, Oman Airports by Oman Sail were in 6th place, just seven points away from the top 5, a result that was testament to a means of communication on board that superseded any French-English-Arabic language barriers.