The new-look EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour got underway today with exhilarating stadium racing in breezy conditions, showcasing the action that is in store over the next two weeks.
The regatta, now in its eighth year, has been given a refresh for 2018 to feature eight international crews blasting up the stunning coastline of Oman in super-fast Diam 24 trimaran multihulls.
The teams, boasting some of the world’s most talented sailors, will face a mixture of high-octane in-port races and longer ‘coastal raids’ of up to 40 miles as EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour visits six captivating venues.
His Excellency Abdullah bin Aqeel bin Ahmad Al Ibrahim, the Acting Deputy Governor of Dhofar, was the guest of honour at a special opening ceremony in Salalah today marking the start of Arabia’s premier regatta.
Oman Sail CEO David Graham told a packed audience gathered at the luxurious Fanar Hotel that this edition of EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour was a new beginning for the event.
“This year marks a historic moment for the EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour,” he said. “For the first time in the event’s history we have invited local and international sailors to experience the beauty of the Sultanate through an exclusively Omani event.
“Oman is blessed with fantastic sailing conditions and the Tour is an incredible opportunity to showcase the natural beauty of the country and explore the diverse landscape at each stop along the coastline. EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour is now a firm fixture on the international sailing calendar and we are delighted to be launching the eighth edition today.”
With 20 knots of wind blowing, race director Guillaume Rottee staged four exciting stadium races just metres off the beach, much to the delight of the crowds that turned out to watch.
The spectators were rewarded with some sensational racing as the teams, including Thierry Douillard’s reigning champions EFG Bank Monaco, battled to control their Diam 24 racing machines.
Valentin Bellet’s French team Beijaflore claimed bragging rights after three races, with two wins and a second shooting them to the top of the table.
“Today was a very, very good day for us,” said 26-year-old Bellet, who led his crew to third place in the 2017 Tour de France a la Voile. “We’re very happy to finish it in the lead. The wind was strong and that’s just what we like, especially when the water is flat. We had that today, so it was perfect for us. We couldn’t really have asked for a better start.”
Among those who will be looking to topple Beijaiflore over the coming clashes are Team Lorina Golfe du Morbihan, winners of the 2015 Tour de France a la Voile; Poujoulat led by Swiss sailing legend Bernard Stamm; French young guns Vivacar and all-woman crew DB Schenker, led by Volvo Ocean Race star Elodie Mettraux.
Olympian Stevie Morrison, fronting the British/Omani team Averda, began his bid for victory with a podium place in race three, relishing the conditions that Salalah offered.
“It was an amazing day – Salalah really turned it on,” said Morrison, who will be looking to finish the event ahead of Oman Sail team mate Douillard. “The race area was right off the beach and lots of people turned out to watch. It was a perfect way to kick off the event – in Europe it’s winter but here we were blasting around in 20 knots of wind in summer clothes. It doesn’t get much better.”
Longstanding EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour crew Renaissance took a dip in the water when they were overpowered by a gust and capsized early in the opening race.
The EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour safety team were on the scene immediately, quickly confirming the crew was safe before righting the boat.
“We had a big gust just as we were bearing away at the first turning mark, and we were a bit slow letting the sails out,” explained Yasser Al Rhabi, one of two Omani sailors on Renaissance. “The bows dug in, we nosedived and the boat went over. We made sure everyone was ok and the safety team was with us instantly. We got the boat upright again and we’ll be back racing tomorrow.”
Monday sees the first of six coastal raids take place as the fleet races 35 miles from Salalah towards Mirbat and back, testing the crews’ navigational skills and tenacity in equal measure.
The all-new race course will then take the fleet to some of the coastal gems of Oman including Duqm, Barr Al Hikman, Masirah, Ras Al Hadd, Sur and Bandar Al Khiran.
Racing will conclude in Muttrah, the old town of Oman’s capital city Muscat, on February 17.
Provisional results after the Salalah stadium races:
1. Beijaflore (Valentin Bellet) – 4 pts
2. Vivacar.fr (Matthieu Souben) – 9 pts
3. Lorina Golfe du Morbihan (Solune Robert) – 10 pts
4. Poujoulat (Bernard Stamm) – 10 pts
5. Averda (Stevie Morrison) – 14 pts
6. EFG Bank (Thierry Douillard) – 17 pts
7. DB Schenker (Elodie Mettraux) – 20 pts
8. Renaissance (Cédric Pouligny) – 24 pts