Wouter Sonnema (20) and his young student team from Delft University of Technology, sailing Delft Challenge have won Leg 2, one of the longest and most demanding legs of the EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour 2015. At 172 nautical miles, from Sohar to Ras Al Khaimah via the Musandam Peninsula, this leg is renowned for its challenges that include a night sail through often windless conditions in an area strewn with fishing nets, and anchored ships, and strong currents. This year was no exception, and as hard as they tried, the race committee had no option other than to shorten the course at Gate 1, two nautical miles before the narrow passage, into the Strait of Hormuz.
Gilles Chiorri – race director – commented: “The decision to finish the leg at Gate 1 was driven by different parameters one being safety. The boats were drifting among the rocks in 3-4kts of tide plus there was a complete lack of wind. We also had to consider the sporting dimension. If we had continued more than half the fleet would probably been out of the time limit.”
Despite the shortened course however, the leg was noted for its extremely close racing, which places change constantly in the Gulf of Oman, up the eastern side of the Peninsula. To win this demanding leg in the ultra-competitive 11-strong fleet, therefore is a huge achievement. Wouter Sonnema chatting as he and his team from the Netherlands stepped ashore at the Al Hamra Marina complex in the early hours of the morning, said: “It is great to have won in this competitive fleet. We were in the lead for a long time but we didn’t know it. Our navigation and tactics plan worked out well and we were in first place when it counted, going through the gate, so we extremely pleased with the result.”
The Oman Royal Navy, who struggled with boat speed in the opening leg, used their local knowledge and tactical skills on this tricky leg to make a star appearance at the front of the fleet and give an indication of their true potential. Their hard work and concentration on this leg paid off and they achieved a second place overall. Ali Al Rahbi – skipper – commented: “It was great and we put in a lot of effort. The decisions we made and the teamwork paid off and we are really happy and proud to get second place against the professional teams and skippers. As a local team we also had the added bonus of knowing the area.”
Lorenz Müller’s Bienne Voile team from Switzerland sailed an equally impressive race, finishing third. This team seem to be really embracing the vagaries of this event and shouldn’t be ruled out as a top overall contender. Lorenz Müller’s commented: “We were really satisfied with the speed, and the tactics we used during the night. We had a spell at leading while sailing around the rocks at the top of the Peninsula even though as it turned out, the race had finished. That was probably the race highlight.”
Sidney Gavignet and team on EFG Bank (Monaco) – reigning champions and Leg 1 winners – were always in contention at the head of the fleet but were fourth across the Gate 1 finish line. Another consistent team was Team Averda (Oman) skippered by Marcel Herrera. They were at the top of the fleet for the majority of the race but crossed the line in fifth, just ahead of Mary Rook and the all-girl team on Al Thuraya (Oman).
One of the most impressive teams on this leg was Zain Sailing Team headed by seasoned Tour competitor Cédric Pouligny with Gérald Véniard on navigation. They led for a substantial period in the early stages of the race and looked to a real challenge. This team is primarily formed from employees of Zain, one of the Middle East’s leading mobile telecoms operators, and includes as crew member Mike Miller leisure sailor and Group Executive Director.
Although Team Zain ended up seventh, they were naturally pleased with their performance. Mike Miller commented: “It a great two days and I think we surprised ourselves. It was tough although we managed to sleep. The most exciting bit was when we ran out of wind trying to go through a gap between the island and the mainland at the top of the Peninsula. We actually got swept back with the tide not once but twice.”
Nick Moloney and his mostly Chinese team on GAC powered by Dongfeng Race Team (China) finished eighth, one place ahead of Mathijs Wagemans and the predominantly Omani crew on Team IMCO, representing the International Maritime College Oman. Not such a good leg for Ahmed Al Ma’mari and Team OMIFCO who ended the leg on equal points at the rear of the fleet, with Fahad Al Hasni and Team Renaissance (Oman).
This epic six-leg, 760 nautical mile race across the Gulf, made up of team of elite regional and young sailing talent from 21 different nations, started from Muscat, Oman on 15 February and concludes in Bahrain on 28 February.
The next leg (Leg 3) which, starts tomorrow, is a relatively short hop, 53 nautical miles – from Ras Al Khaimah to Dubai. Although it is the shortest leg of the Tour, and it takes place in daylight, crews will need to be vigilant because fishing nets are often spotted along the coast. The approach to Dubai with its dramatic skyline of high rise buildings and interesting architecture will be a highlight of the leg but once in Dubai teams will be able to enjoy the relaxing surrounding at the Dubai Offshore Sailing Club adjacent to the extensive marina facility.