Muscat: A new-look Oman Air will aim to kick start their 2017 season in style as top-class sailing teams from across the globe converge on Muscat for the first ever GC32 Championship this week.
The crew, led by $1 million World Match Racing Tour winner Phil Robertson, will go into battle against rivals from the Extreme Sailing Series and GC32 Racing Tour as the two events come together for the first time.
Although new to the team, Robertson is no stranger to super-fast foiling catamarans having skippered wildcard crew Gazprom Team Russia in Act 5 of the Extreme Sailing Series last year in St Petersburg.
Backing him will be long-serving crewmembers Pete Greenhalgh, Nasser Al Mashari, Ed Smyth and James Wierzbowski, as Oman Air attempt to get their season off to a flying start on home waters.
The Championship, which kicks off on Tuesday, will provide a perfect opportunity to test their skills ahead of the opening Act of the Extreme Sailing Series starting in Muscat directly afterwards on March 8.
“I’m the newbie on board and I’ve got a bit of catching up to do, so the GC32 Championship will be the perfect way to do that,” Robertson said. “We will try to take as much from it as we can before the start of the Extreme Sailing Series. I have always looked up to teams like Oman Air so to have the opportunity to sail with them now is pretty special. It’s early days but so far everything has been going brilliantly.”
Among the teams Oman Air will have to watch out for are Swiss outfit Alinghi, who pipped them to the 2016 Extreme Sailing Series title at the season finale in Sydney.
Red Bull Sailing Team, led by double Olympic gold medallists Roman Hagara and Hans-Peter Steinacher, also feature in the star-studded line-up alongside SAP Extreme Sailing Team with America’s Cup sailor Adam Minoprio at the helm.
For Greenhalgh, Oman Air’s tactician and trimmer, the six-day GC32 Championship is the perfect opportunity to establish themselves as a team.
“We’re a new-look team and we’ve still got to learn about one another but we’ve had a few days training together now and we’re sailing really well, really quickly,” he said. “I’m excited about what’s to come. If everything goes well I think we can be in the hunt for a podium spot and that’s certainly what we’ll be fighting for. It will be very close and very interesting to see how each of the teams perform.”
Despite the high level of competition Al Mashari, Oman Air’s Omani bowman, is hopeful that the team’s home advantage might give them the edge in their quest for a podium finish.
“As a team, we have sailed these waters a lot in the past, but then again so have the other Extreme Sailing Series crews! Racing at home is always special and a cause for pride for me, hopefully we will do well and do Oman Air and my country proud,” he said.
“The GC32 Championship is the perfect way to start the 2017 season and we can’t wait to get going.”
The GC32 Championship runs till March 5. It is the latest high-profile event to be hosted by Oman Sail, the national initiative to reignite the maritime heritage of Oman. Muscat has featured on the Extreme Sailing Series calendar for seven years and in 2016 was a venue for the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series.