Muscat: In its sixth year, Oman Sail’s signature event, EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour (SATT), to be held from February 15-29, has a brand new route designed not only to showcase the natural beauty of the Arabian Gulf but to level the playing field among the nine teams from across the GCC and Europe making a bid for this year’s crown.
The only multi-stage long-distance offshore endurance race in the Middle East now has a demanding 280 nautical mile leg from Doha in Qatar to Khasab on the Musandam Peninsular in Oman. It was introduced after consultation between sailors and organisers last year to reward patience and stamina, qualities shared as much by unflappable amateurs as dogged professionals.
This makes it more interesting, said Sidney Gavignet, French skipper of EFG Bank Monaco, winners of the past two editions with sights set on a third consecutive title in 2016.
“That leg will be long and pretty tough. It will take more than two days which is the longest leg we have done in EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour and that makes it interesting,” he said.
“This race keeps on getting better and continues to grow in reputation year on year. Last year, there was a real step up in performance across the fleet and it was followed up with discussions to see how the route could be improved.
“The organisers Oman Sail listened to the sailors and came up with this new route which we think will be very different and therefore more interesting.”
The event kicks off in Dubai on February 15 with an inshore race where the fleet of identical Farr 30s race around a series of marks on a short course at Palm Jumeirah’s artificial archipelago before heading off on the first upwind leg to Abu Dhabi.
A second in-port race in Abu Dhabi will give teams the chance for more early points before their second of five offshore legs, a 160 nautical mile passage to Doha.
The final in port race is staged in Doha before the fleet heads back into the Straits for the epic third leg to Khasab, which is likely to take almost two days or longer if the breeze dies. The final two legs skirting the coast of Oman will see the pressure mount on crews as fatigue kicks in and point scoring opportunities evaporate.
Loss of focus and tactical errors can prove costly at this late stage though Marcel Herrera, the German skipper of Team Averda has selected a highly competitive and talented young amateur crew, who are keen to avoid mistakes and prove themselves on this high profile international stage.
“I think it is too early to say where we will finish, however we are hoping to do our sponsors Averda proud and put in a top five performance,” said Hererra.
“We are looking forward to the start of the race in Dubai, seeing the culture and heritage that the Middle East has to offer and being given the opportunity to race in such prestigious sailing conditions.”
Team Averda and EFG Bank Monaco start the 2016 race as favourites but Swiss team Bienne Voile, Team Mangold representing Austria and Germany, Team Delft Challenge from the Netherlands and Kuwait’s Team Zain all have podium places in sight, as do the Omani teams – to be announced in the coming days that will include an all-women’s team and an all-Omani male crew with Oman Sail offshore and Extreme Sailing regulars Fahad Al Hasni and Nasser Al Mashari on board.
British skipper Dee Caffari who will be leading the all-women’s team says that for the ladies, EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour is more than just a yacht race.
“The women’s team is all about changing perceptions of women in the Middle East,” she said.
“These girls are out there doing the same thing as the guys, sailing the same boats on the same water in the same conditions. They are competitive and developing their skills. Their story is about so much more than just a yacht race and sometimes we forget that but these girls are literally moving barriers and changing people’s perception of Arab women.”
The new route, a keen international contingent and the opportunities offered for local GCC sailors to progress their careers makes EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour a rising star in the international yacht racing calendar, said Salma Al Hashmi, Oman Sail Events and Marketing Director.
“This is the 6th edition of EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour and already it has developed a passionate following so we are excited about the changes we have made for 2016 and the extra interest it is bound to generate around the world,” she said.
“We especially hope our followers, old and new, enjoy the pictures from this race because the new route shows off the Arabian Gulf at its most beautiful. We think this race has all the hallmarks of a true racing classic so we look forward to fair winds for our competitors and sponsors and a close contest.”