Muscat: Three Oman Sail teams had their mettle tested by storm force winds at Spi Ouest in La Trinite sur Mer last weekend as they kicked off their 2016 campaigns in Europe but left France knowing they are on track for a rewarding season. Only one day’s racing was possible across all classes as Storm Katie swept in from the Atlantic to batter northern France. Two days were abandoned before the fleet even made it onto the race track - with wind speeds of 55 knots recorded - while the final day was cancelled shortly after the boats left shore.
The racing they did manage to get proved fruitful for Oman Sail’s three teams with Thierry Douillard’s crew on the new Diam 24 Oman Airports by Oman Sail opening their campaign with a top 10 result, which was welcomed since they had only stepped onto the boat a few days previously. By the end of the day they were lying in 12th place after five races with another two top 10 results from a fleet of 28 contenders.
It was an encouraging start, said Abdulrahman Al Mashari, one of two Omanis on board the 24-foot trimaran who will be campaigning the boat for the 2016 Tour de France a Voile in July.
“This was my first time ever on the boat and I really liked it. We liked it more with each race so we were frustrated that we were only able to do five races," he said.
“From those races, we are confident we are on the right track for the Tour de France a la Voile and are looking forward to the next Diam event in Pornichet next month.”
Fahad Al Hasni’s 100 percent Omani crew on the Grand Surprise were also frustrated to see the Spi Ouest programme curtailed by storms after they achieved a superb third place in the second race.
“We were very happy with our 3rd place as an all Omani crew for the first time, but would have liked to have more racing – we are looking forward to the next opportunity to better our 13th place overall,” he said.
Only three races were possible in the Grand Surprise class and Al Hasni’s Oman Sail Men’s Team, with a team of well-known Omani names including Oman Air’s star GC32 bowman Nasser Al Mashari, finished in 13th place overall from 33 starters.
For the Oman Sail Women’s Team, campaigning their J80, the Spi Ouest event was all about developing skills and the testing conditions of Quiberon Bay certainly gave Dee Caffari and her crew of Marwa Al Khaifi, Tamadher Al Balushi, Annemieke Bes and Ibtisam Al Salmi a good work out to start their season with a best placed 32nd to open their account.
According to Nico Honor, Oman Sail’s European project manager overseeing the squad in France, there were plenty of positives to draw from Spi Ouest.
“This was a difficult event since only one day of racing out of four was possible due to very strong winds so the boats had a very long day on the water on Friday,” he said.
"We are encouraged by the results – they are in line with expectations and targets. The Oman Sail Men’s Team, our 100 percent Omani crew, is the most indicative as ultimately they show where the Oman Sail programme wants to go so we are very happy with 3rd.”
Spi Ouest was not just about performances on the water, Honor continued, but about developing a bond between the Oman Sail squad, comprising 11 sailors. A programme of events has been planned for all three teams over the next four months including the Grand Prix Atlantique in Pornichet from April 8 to 10 and the Grand Prix Ecole Navale from May 4 to 8 at Crozon Peninsula in Brittany.