Muscat: Team Almouj Muscat have kept their dreams of dethroning EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour (SATT) champions EFG Bank Monaco alive by pipping them to victory in the nail-biting final offshore leg of the Arabian classic.
In one of the closest leg finishes ever seen in seven editions of EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour, Team Almouj Muscat snuck across the Leg 5 finish line in Dubai just one second ahead of EFG Bank Monaco after 34 hours of intense racing from Doha.
The two rival crews traded blows – and positions – throughout the 205-nautical mile leg, the fifth and final stage that makes up the 763nm race around the Arabian Gulf.
They came into the finish line off Dubai’s iconic Palm Jumeriah late on Monday night neck and neck but Team Almouj Muscat, under the leadership of French sailor Christian Ponthieu, just nudged ahead to pick up their first offshore win of the event.
Crucially the win moves Team Almouj Muscat to within two points of their arch-rivals ahead of Wednesday’s final showdown of EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour, a series of up to three in-port races.
EFG Bank Monaco have been crowned EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour champions the past three years but Team Almouj Muscat, runners-up in 2016, could usurp them if they can better their rivals around the short racecourse.
Team Almouj Muscat crewmember Sultan Al Balushi said: “Everyone is exhausted but we’re really happy. It was a big contest between us and EFG that lasted more than 40 hours, and finally we won. This is what we need to keep our hopes of winning overall alive, and now we’re going to continue fighting for first place.”
The result is pending a protest brought by EFG Bank Monaco against Team Almouj Muscat, who they allege sailed into a restricted zone.
“We don’t like to protest other teams but it’s part of our job, part of the game,” said Thierry Douillard, skipper of EFG Bank Monaco.
The Leg 5 podium was completed by Adelasia di Torres, EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour’s newest team from Italy.
Skipper Renato Azara said it was proof that his team could hold their own against the more seasoned crews.
“We have been growing with every leg, and this result is confirmation that we are becoming more and more confident,” he said.
“We are very happy because it was not easy, all the teams are very strong, but finishing in Dubai on the podium is the result we’ve all been looking for.”
In another close contest, Oman’s Team Renaissance finished fourth ahead of Kuwait’s Team Zain to consolidate their third place on the overall leaderboard.
“We were under a lot of pressure from Team Zain the entire leg,” Team Renaissance crewman Sami Al Shukali said.
“We had a good start but the winds were very shifty and Team Zain passed us. We caught them up in the last ten miles and thankfully led them all the way to the finish line. Our goal this year has always been to finish EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour on the podium after missing out by one point last year, and this result in Leg 5 is a huge step towards us doing that.”
DB Schenker (GER) took sixth ahead of Team Averda (GBR), while Bienne Voile (SUI) retired from Leg 5 after running aground on a small island west of Abu Dhabi. No-one was injured and their yacht sustained only minor damage before being towed to deeper water by the EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour committee boat.
Following the conclusion of the Dubai in-port race series a closing ceremony will take place at Oceana Beach Club, during which the winners of EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour 2017 will be crowned under the patronage of Sheikh Khalid bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE Sailing and Rowing Federation, and in the presence of Dr. Khalid bin Said Al Jaradi, Oman Ambassador to the UAE.
Leg 5 (Doha – Dubai) results:
1. Team Al Mouj Muscat (OMA/Christian Ponthieu) – 2 points
2. EFG Bank Monaco (MON/Thierry Douillard) – 4 points
3. Adelasia di Torres (ITA/Renato Azara) – 6 points
4. Team Renaissance (OMA/Fahad Al Hasni) – 8 points
5. Team Zain (KUW/Cedric Pouligny) – 10 points
6. DB Schenker (GER/Annemeike Bes) – 12 points
7. Team Averda (GBR/Andrew Baker) – 14 points
8. Bienne Voile (SUI/Lorenz Mueller) – 18 points
1. EFG Bank Monaco (MON/Thierry Douillard) – 12 points
2. Team Al Mouj Muscat (OMA/Christian Ponthieu) – 14 points
3. Team Renaissance (OMA/Fahad Al Hasni) – 27.75 points
4. Team Zain (KUW/Cedric Pouligny) – 34 points
5. Adelasia di Torres (ITA/Renato Azara) – 42.75 points
6. Team Averda (GBR/Andrew Baker) – 50.75 points
7. DB Schenker (GER/Annemeike Bes) – 54.25 points
8. Bienne Voile (SUI/Lorenz Mueller) – 55.50 points