International teams assemble with a week to start of EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour regatta
Crews are assembling in Muscat, Oman, and boats are being prepped as the countdown to the start of the 2017 edition of EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour, the only annual event in the world that offers a mix of inshore and offshore competition, sets nautical nerves jangling with one week to go.
On 14 February, eight teams from around the world will line up against one another in their identical Farr 30s with two weeks of offshore and in-port racing action across a 763nm course poised to produce a new EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour champion.
Launched by Oman Sail in 2011, EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour was designed to reignite the Gulf region’s maritime heritage by celebrating the fast-growing sport of sailing and the opportunities that it represents. The regatta is an opportunity to showcase the region as an ideal winter sailing destination and international stage for high-calibre sailing events. EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour is contested in a fleet of identical Farr 30 yachts on a course that stretches each crew to the full, testing their skill, teamwork and versatility. In its short history, EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour has gained global recognition, attracting top amateur and world-class professional sailors from four continents.
Now in its seventh year, as the only annual event that offers a mix of inshore and offshore competition, The Tour has become one of the most respected and dynamic sailing regattas on the international circuit.
First points are up for grabs in the in-port curtain raiser in Muscat next Tuesday, with all teams determined to make an early impression before heading north on the opening stage to Sohar up the Omani coast before rounding the picturesque but tricky Musandam Peninsula to Khasab on the second leg.
Stamina and endurance will be the name of the game as the fleet clocks up the miles weaving between ships, oil platforms and fishing nets in the Straits of Hormuz on the way to stopover 4 in Abu Dhabi.
Points will have soared in value by the time the second in-port race in Doha takes place on the 25 February and will be ruthlessly protected during the final leg to Dubai though the closing in-port races in the Emirati city have the potential to make or break a campaign.
Skippers were eyeing up a more level playing field this year after hearing that experienced French campaigner Sidney Gavignet, three times EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour champion, had been forced to sit out the race with a knee injury.
His place has been taken by French duo Thierry Douillard and Mathieu Richard so EFG Bank Monaco (MON) starts out as favourite once again since the crew, Gavignet apart, is unchanged and more determined than ever to defend the 2016 title.
It will be close, says Libby Greenhalgh, the world-renowned British meteorologist racing on all-female boat DB Schenker (GER) with Dutch Olympic sailor Annemieke Bes, who is standing in as skipper for Dee Caffari. The crew is half Omani and half European and aside from the all-important hunt for points, DB Schenker has a mission to raise awareness of women’s sailing in the Middle East.
“Each leg will have a different tempo and the challenge will be to pace yourselves so that you are still strong on the final approaches and able to pick up the all-important wind shifts,” said Greenhalgh, who was meteorologist on Volvo Ocean Race contender Team SCA.
“The start of the race could be interesting because having had a year of dry weather, Oman is experiencing some big storms with heavy rain and from what I see, the start day will either be a very light breeze or some pretty stormy conditions which will make things interesting.
“This will be my first EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour but we have all trained together on DB Schenker and will have five days of intensive training this week so I think we have a pretty good chance of finishing well.”
New to the fleet in 2017 is Adelasia di Torres, a brand-new team from Italy, put together by Costa Esmeralda based Renato Azara.
For Averda (GBR), Bienne Voile (SUI), Team Al Mouj Muscat (OMA), Team Zain (KUW) and Team Renaissance (OMA), the challenge will be to improve on previous rankings and as podium finishers in 2016, Averda skippered by British sailor Andrew ‘Hammy’ Baker and Team Al Mouj Muscat, skippered by France’s Christian Ponthieu will be especially dogged in their chase for the ultimate prize.
“This could be the closest EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour yet,” said Fahad Al Hasni, Omani skipper of Team Renaissance who is setting out on his 7th edition of the event.
“We were one point off the podium last year and have been training very hard so hopefully we can go one better in 2017!”
[Main Image: Mark Lloyd]
For more information on the event, please go to www.sailingarabiathetour.com.