Muscat: Oman Sail’s new Class 40 team has produced a defiant performance on their ocean racing debut, gaining valuable experience in a challenging race.
On the first leg of the 2,500-mile Les Sables-Horta-Les Sables race to the Azores, the Oman Sail duo of Fahad Al Hasni and Sidney Gavignet were as high as second place and always in the leading group of the race which started last Sunday.
However, on Wednesday Gavignet reported that their bowsprit had failed. The bowsprit is used with the specialist Code Zero sail, an essential part of the wardrobe when sailing downwind or off the wind.
Despite the failure, they were able to maintain a solid position in the leading group while in upwind conditions for much of the second half of the race, but slipped down the order on the final run into Horta with the wind behind them, to finish in sixth place out of 18 teams.
Al Hasni, now a veteran of the pioneering Oman Sail national project, said: “It has been a long race in sometimes difficult conditions and breaking our bowsprit cost us some places.
“But I have learned a great deal. Ocean racing is not easy all the time, and it has been good to benefit from Sidney’s experience. We have the second leg back to Les Sables to show again what we can do. We will be ready.”
The fleet experienced varied conditions on the 1,250-mile leg to Horta in the Azores, with light wind conditions in the Bay of Biscay, and then 30-plus knots and a confused sea state as they passed Cape Finisterre on the north-western tip of Spain last Tuesday, followed by further light conditions.
And Sidney is pleased with their learning curve despite the handicap: “We have learned so much about this boat which we had never sailed in more than 15 knots of wind before. She is a powerful machine, as expected, and is the perfect tool to get proper offshore experience. The boat has fantastic potential.
“Fahad has shown he is a very strong sailor. It is not easy being alone on deck at night when you are pushing hard with the spinnaker up, but he enjoys the adventure.
“We had some great, chilled sailing and some really wet and furious sailing as well. It reminds me of my Volvo Ocean Race experience - Fahad will make a great crew for that one day,” added Gavignet, a veteran of four Volvo races.
Now the focus switches to the Oman Sail support team who play a vital but often unseen role. Technical manager Loik Gallon is part of a team building a new bowsprit in Lorient, and will fly with the replacement part to fit it to the Class 40 yacht in Horta.
Meanwhile, the leg was won by one of the pre-race favourites. Tales II raced by Gonzalo Botin and Pablo Santurde completed the race in five days, 23 hours 5 minutes and 42 seconds. The second place Imerys, co-skippered by Phil Sharp and CorentinDouguet, was just 43 minutes and 40 seconds behind, followed a few hours later by Stella Nova (Alexander Krause and Antoine Carpentier). Colombre XL (Massimo Juris and Pietro Luciani) finished fourth. Oman Sail was overhauled in the final miles by Serenis Consulting (Jean Galfione and Jean-Christophe Caso).
The final results are based on the combined times from both legs, so Gavignet says the goal of a top-three podium finish remains a realistic target for Oman Sail. The return leg of the race starts on 14 July.
Following the Azores race the Oman Sail pair will take part in the legendary Rolex Fastnet Race in August, when they will be joined by Omani sailor Sami Al Shukaili and veteran Spanish yachtsman Alex Pella. The Oman Sail Class 40 campaign will culminate in November with the two-handed Transat Jacques Vabre, a 3,000-mile race from Le Havre to Salvador in Brazil.