The winning team sailed across the line at 11.52 yesterday and received a warm welcome from the team at IMCO (International Maritime College Oman) – host of the first stopover.
The light, fluky winds proved exceptionally taxing and put an emphasis on good tactics and navigation skills but Gavignet and team, who led from the early stages of the race from Muscat, Oman, managed to retain their lead to the finish.
With 10 miles to go to the finish in Sohar, Team EFG Bank (Monaco) – the defending champions including the strong Omani team – Mohammed Al Mujaini, Abdull Rahman Al Mashari, and Abdallah Al Shukaili – found a wind hole, leaving Marcel Herrera (GER) and team on board Team Averda to challenge for the lead. Team EFG Bank (Monaco) however, managed to seek out a puff of breeze and inch ahead. In the building 6kt breeze that followed, they established a solid lead, which they held to the finish.
Commenting on his win, Gavignet said: “It is a great advantage to be first because we have more time to rest. It was a difficult leg for sure, but it all went to plan and the wind did what was expected. It was challenging because as always in those conditions, is difficult to keep up the momentum. I have to say, I am very, very happy with the team who are working well together. It is a good start and puts us in a good place for the next leg.”
Once ashore, the sleep-deprived sailors, and guests were treated to a lavish, traditional Omani welcoming ceremony laid on by hosts, International Maritime College Oman. Under the patronage of H.E. Sheikh Mohana bin Saif Al Lamki, Governor of North Al Batinah, and with the presence of H.E. Yerzhan Mukash the Ambassador of Kazakhstan to the Sultanate, and Dr. Hilal bin Ali bin Azzan Al Hadrami, the Dean of the college, each team was welcomed and enjoyed the generous hospitality.
Marcel Herrera skipper of Team Averda (Oman) who finished second on Leg 1, 15 minutes behind EFG Bank (Monaco) said he was glad to be back in Oman and sailing once again on the challenging waters. Chatting about the team’s first leg performance, Herrera said: “We are pleased particularly after our poor first leg. On the run we split to the south, inshore, for a while and some good crew work particularly from Richard Mason the navigator and Rob Gullan tactician pulled us up the fleet. From there on we made more and more gains and enjoyed a really good first race. We are pleased with our our boat speed too.”
Fahad Al Hasni and his all Omani team on Renaissance sailed an impressive race. They were always in the top ranks of the fleet but good crew work and concentration throughout the night paid dividends. They were lying fifth at the halfway stage but persevered and eventually finished in third place.
Commenting on the team’s Leg 1 performance Fahad Al Hasni said having a crew of fishermen onboard is a real advantage. “We know exactly where to go to avoid the fishing nets which helps a lot. We are also really well prepared. We concentrated on sailing to the weather predictions all the time and made sure we placed ourselves exactly where we needed to be, in the favourable breeze. I think good preparation was key.”
Although IMCO, the host team, were last to cross the finish line into Sohar, the team was proud to fly the flag of the host port and keen to express their excitement as they made their way on to the welcoming stage. Ali Al Barwani, who sailed on the IMCO team commented: “Despite not doing so well on the first leg we are very excited about competing in this race because it is our first time racing and first time sailing offshore. We have spent the last four months training on the Farr 30 so it is great for us to have the opportunity to put it into practice. We also feel honoured be able to fly the flag for IMCO by sailing into our home port at the college. We are now preparing for the longest leg but I think the key will be team work and good communication.”
The 11-strong fleet representing seven nations and a mix of 21 different nationalities including China, UK, Netherlands, Switzerland and New Zealand, have now set off on the longest and one of the most challenging legs of the course at 172nm from Sohar to Ras al-Khaimah (UAE) via the Musandam Peninsula.
The light wind forecast however, ran true to form this morning, which caused Gilles Chiorri – race director – to postpone the start. In an effort to keep on schedule in the tight time scale of the Tour, the decision was made to allow the fleet to motor up the Musandam coast as far as possible in an effort to find a decent enough breeze for a start.
When the fleet arrives in Ras Al Khaimah, it will be based at the 200-berth Al Hamra Marina and Yacht Club, a new development built at the mouth of the Al Hamra lagoon. The venue is also noted for its America’s Cup connections when it played host to the Alinghi team during the 34th ACC campaign.
Now in its fifth year, this 760nm, six-leg EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour, which runs until 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.