Muscat: Oman Sail Class 40 co-skippers Fahad Al Hasni and Sidney Gavignet are among the crews now gathered in Le Havre as the clock ticks down to the November 5 start of the classic Transat Jacques Vabre race.
For all of the 78 sailors taking part, the two-handed 4,335-mile race from the northern French channel port to Salvador in Brazil is a defining challenge even for the veteran racers amongst them.
While no yacht racing novice Al Hasni will be passing new milestones almost every day, both personal and as a representative of Oman’s long maritime heritage.
The 34 year-old has already made maritime history this year. He became the first Omani sailor to take part in a two-handed offshore event when he and Gavignet competed in the Les Sables-Horta-Les Sables race in July.
Now, finishing the Transat Jacques Vabre will make him the first Omani to cross the Atlantic as part of a two-handed crew. On a personal note, after four previous transatlantic crossings – all on the fully-crewed MOD 70 Musandam-Oman Sail trimaran – he will finally cross the equator.
“This has been our first season with the Class 40 and I have been learning a lot sailing alongside Sidney,” said Al Hasni. “I have done all kinds of sailing now, but two-handed offshore you have to be able to do it all to have success in the race.”
Coming from a Muscat family with a fishing background, Al Hasni made a living taking tourists out to sea to fish or watch dolphins before seeing a magazine article on the Oman Sail project in 2008.
“I wanted an adventure,” he recalls. “I registered on the website and they called me back for a series of tests. At first you had to run, do some push-ups, lots of physical tests, all before you went near a boat. Initially there were 1,000 candidates, then 400, and finally they kept 12.”
Progressing through the Oman Sail programme, and following stints with the Extreme Sailing Series and then the Tour de France a La Voile, Al Hasni can now mark five years sailing alongside Gavignet.
The French veteran is full of praise for his co-skipper: “Seven years ago he didn’t know which way round to put a line on a winch, now he is the best offshore sailor that Oman has.
“At sea he is a warrior, a tough sailor. He is not afraid and is gaining the experience to go with that – he is cut out for an adventure like the Transat Jacques Vabre.”
Al Hasni is focused on the task in hand, but has ambitions for the future: “My ultimate goal is to do a Volvo Ocean Race, and like all sailors I dream of doing solo races like the Route du Rhum or the Vendee Globe.
“For now though it is the Transat Jacques Vabre, which is a great opportunity to learn more.”