Muscat: The 2016 edition of EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour (SATT) was given an illustrious opening on Monday, kick starting two weeks of world class racing around the stunning Gulf region. Mirza Hussain Al Sayegh, Director of the office of His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, was the guest of honour at a special ceremony at Dubai Marina marking the beginning of the race. He was treated to a tour of the 30ft Farr 30 yachts that the nine international crews will race more than 700 miles around the testing Arabian course. He then presented the teams - representing Oman, Kuwait, Germany, Great Britain, Monaco, the Netherlands and Switzerland - with flags for them to fly from their boats as racing commences.
The Dubai in-port race series is the first of three that will take place during this year's sixth edition -- allowing teams to prove their skill against their rivals around a short course. As well as in Dubai, in-port races will be held in Abu Dhabi and Doha.
Five offshore legs will then test their mettle on longer stages, some of which could take more than 48 hours. All eyes will be on reigning champion Sidney Gavignet and his EFG Bank Monaco team as the crews do battle today for the first time. The three-time winners took the top spot in the official practice race yesterday but today is when the results count as the teams go head to head in the waters off Dubai's Palm Jumeirah.
Omani skipper Fahad Al Hasni and his Renaissance Services crew trained under the mentorship of Gavignet before forming their own team for this year's race.
Al Hasni, who with Gavignet set a world record for the quickest lap of Ireland by boat on last year, said his new team were focused on performing to their best. He has bolstered his all-Omani crew with a host of talented sailors including fellow Round Ireland record holder Sami Al Shukaily and Extreme Sailing Series stalwart Nasser Al Mashari.
Al Hasni said: “Today we have the first in-port race and my team can't wait to get out there onto the racecourse. The winds are forecast to be light and we are expecting conditions to be very tricky. We will have to work on sailing the best race that we can. Whatever happens today we will still have a long way to go to the finish of EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour but we are going out there today to do our absolute best.”
This year also sees the return of Dee Caffari after a three-year absence to lead the all-woman Oman Airports-Al Thuraya Women's Team. Caffari, the first woman to sail round the world solo both with and against prevailing winds, and most recently a member of Team SCA in the Volvo Ocean Race, said prior to leaving for the racecourse: “There is definitely adrenalin flowing as you walk down the dock – from here on in everything counts towards the final result. “It was great to have the practice race yesterday and get a few nerves out of our systems, but the tension is still there today.
“The winds are going to be light so tactics will be the key to success. All the teams want to do their best and it's going to be extremely competitive out there. We were happy with our boat speed and boat handling yesterday and the girls are building in confidence every day so hopefully we will be a team that continues to improve. It is fantastic to finally get EFG Sailing Arabia - The Tour started but now the pressure is on.”
The nine crews will not only compete for the crown but also a new specially commissioned trophy made by British Royal Warrant holder and goldsmiths Thomas Fattorini Ltd.
David Graham, CEO of the race orgainser, Oman Sail, said this year's event is shaping up to be the best yet.
He said: “We changed the course slightly for this year's tour so there will be a real mix of conditions. There will now be a mix of upwind and downwind sailing in all wind ranges. This year we have nine boats competing, all commercially sponsored by companies from all around the world”.
“Many of the teams have Arab crew members which is part of the objective of the event – to get local sailors involved and to join these countries which have such a rich maritime heritage together in one race.”
The teams: 1. EFG Bank (Monaco) skippered by Sidney Gavignet; 2. Bienne Voile skippered by Lorenz Muller; 3. Zain Sailing Team skippered by Cedric Pouligny; 4. Oman Airports-Al Thuraya Team, skippered by Dee Caffari; 5. Team Delft Challenge skippered by Wouter Sonnema; 6. Renaissance Services skippered by Fahad Al Hasni; 7. Team Al Mouj Muscat skippered by Nicolas; 8. Mangold skippered by Martin Felgenhauer; 9. Team Averda skippered Marcel Herrera.