Crowds gathered at The Wave, Muscat today to join Oman Sail and the 11 teams competing in this year’s edition in celebration of the launch of EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour. Now in its fifth year, this 760nm, six-leg race, which runs from 15-28 February, offers 14 days of demanding offshore sailing and exciting inport races to test the skills of some of world’s best sailors, including a mix of elite regional and international sailors alongside young sailing talent making their Tour debut.
Following an opening ceremony at Almouj Marina, at The Wave held under the patronage of His Highness Sayyid Kamil bin Fahd bin Mahmoud Al Said, Assistant Secretary-General of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister for Cabinet Affairs, and attended by H.E. Maitha Al Mahrouqi, Oman Sail chairwoman and Undersecretary of the Ministry of Tourism, H.E. Rashad Ahmed Al Hinai, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Sports Affairs, H.E. Khalfan Al Na’abi, Advisor at the Ministry of Sports Affairs, Fahad Abdullah Al Raisi, Director General of Sports Welfare and Development at the Ministry of Sports Affairs.
Other VIP guests also included Sheikh Sultan Al Saifi, Oman Sail board member, Ameed Rukn Bah Said Abdullah Al Seidi representing the Royal Navy of Oman and Ambassador to Oman from the Netherlands, Barbara Joziasse.
With 11 teams representing seven nations, this year’s Tour is the strongest and largest field ever. Participants include some of the world’s most talented sailors from 21 nations, including Sidney Gavignet (FRA) defending his title as skipper of the EFG Bank team, Nick Moloney (AUS) leading GAC Powered by Dongfeng, and Marcel Herrera (GER) on board Team Averda, it also promises to be the most competitive.
The event also provides an opportunity for the Gulf nations to showcase the fantastic sailing waters and nurture their maritime heritage.
David Graham, CEO of Oman Sail, said, “Through EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour we are writing a new chapter in the region’s history and making sailing a sport for all. The mix of teams in this year’s competition shows the wide reach of sailing, the passion for the sport around the world, and the potential for sailing to capture the imagination of people across the region.”
The next two weeks will see the 11 multinational teams race on a 760nm course over seven legs as the fleet makes its way from Muscat to Sohar in Oman, and around the Musandam Peninsula to the UAE and Qatar before finishing in Bahrain. The race will also feature inport races at the Four Seasons Marina in Doha, Dubai Offshore Sailing Club and with some of the region’s premier marinas playing host as stopover venues during the six legs of the course.
Among the favourites this year are reigning champions, EFG Bank (Monaco) skippered by Sidney Gavignet, one of the most accomplished and highly respected French offshore sailors.
Adding to an already rich mix of sailors, Gavignet is joined this year by world-class sailors Damian Foxall (IRE) Alex Pella (ESP). Commenting on his team, Gavignet said: “Last year our team comprised specialists in the Tour de France à la Voile and the Farr 30 class. This year we’ve gone for a more offshore orientated team, with a mix of experience and nationalities. Our plan is to sail fast, well and try to be clever, and see if we can be as good as last year. The key to winning is not necessarily winning every race but to have consistently good results at the top of the fleet.”
Others expecting to challenge for the top spot are the GAC boat powered by the Dongfeng race team from China, skippered by Nick Moloney, the Dutch TU Delft team skippered by Wouter Sonnema, and Team Averda skippered by Marcel Herrera.
Herrera, who sailed so impressively last year and finished second overall after a long tussle with EFG Bank (Monaco), says the competition is really tough this year. “It is always good to aim for the top of the fleet but the standard of competition makes it even more of a challenge.”
Moloney, who won the Jules Verne Trophy, sailing non-stop around the world in 2002 and competed in the Vendee Globe in 2005, is making his debut at the event sailing with a team of mainly Chinese sailors sourced from the Dongfeng Race Team, who also compete in the Volvo Ocean Race.
While there are plenty of international teams taking part in the Tour, a strong local contingent including Fahad Al Hasni and his team on board Renaissance Services, Ahmed Al Maamari and his team on OMIFCO, the all-Omani team from the Royal Navy of Oman, the student team of IMCO, representing the International Maritime College Oman with four Omanis on board, and the all-female team of Al Thuraya, skippered by British Olympian Mary Elizabeth Rook.
The impressive standard of racing in today’s opening inport race bodes for what lies ahead over the next two weeks. Although the first 105nm leg to Sohar looks fairly straightforward, the wind is expected to disappear completely overnight which will test tactics and good navigation skills to the limit.
Looking ahead, the 172nm miles Leg 2 is the longest of the event and takes the fleet around the Musandam Peninsula to Ras Al Khaimah where the prospect of stray fishing boats and nets pose a real hazard to the fleet. Two shorter legs follow, firstly to Dubai, where the first of two inshore race days will be staged, then to Abu Dhabi. From here, for Leg 5, the teams will face their biggest challenge yet as they navigate upwind through the oil fields towards Doha ahead of the final 27nm race to the finish in Bahrain.
Speaking on behalf of the Race management Team, Gilles Chiorri, EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour Race Director, believes that the reversed course this year will ensure the racing remains exciting to the finish. He said, “Because the course requires teams to sail more upwind than they did in the previous edition, the fleet will spread out which will make it much more tactical and interesting right to the end.”
- Leg 1 – 15th February, Muscat – Sohar
- Leg 2 – 17th February, Sohar – RAK
- Leg 3 – 19th February, RAK – Dubai
- Leg 4 – 23rd February, Dubai – Abu Dhabi
- Leg 5 – 24th February, Abu Dhabi – Doha
- Leg 6 – 26th February, Doha – Manama