The first offshore leg of EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour began today with the nine international crews leaving Dubai bound for Abu Dhabi. The stage is the first of five that make up the 700-mile sailing adventure showcasing Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the UAE, Doha in Qatar and Khasab, Sohar and Muscat in the Sultanate of Oman. The event kicked off yesterday with a series of high-intensity in-port races in Dubai but the 61 nautical mile opening leg from the UAE’s largest city to its capital is a chance for the crews to test their mettle on a longer racecourse. The teams, representing Oman, Kuwait, Germany, Great Britain, Monaco, the Netherlands and Switzerland, are racing identical 30ft Farr 30 yachts which puts the emphasis on the skills of the crew.
After a short race in which the CEOs of each of the team sponsors took to the water, the EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour fleet gathered for the start of leg 1. With light northerly winds forecast for the leg it looked set to be a downwind drag race to Abu Dhabi. Kuwaiti crew Team Zain, skippered by French sailor Cedric Pouligny, took an early lead in the leg when they opted to tack away from the rest of the fleet.
The move nudged them ahead of their rivals but this afternoon they were clinging to a narrow lead of just one nautical mile over second placed Dutch crew TU Delft Challenge. Omani sailing star Fahad Al Hasni and his Renaissance Services team were in third but less than two miles separated the entire fleet.
Gilles Chiorri, race director of EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour, said the leg was turning out to be a fascinating race where tactics, skill and focus were all called into play. “The weather forecast for leg 1 is for light north north-westerly wind to build from five to 10 knots, and flat waters – fabulous conditions to start the first offshore race,” he said.
“Team Zain opened up the game when they became the first crew to tack onto starboard in a west-south-westerly breeze of six to nine knots. The wind is very unsteady because of the heat and so is constantly changing direction. Team Zain will have to tack again to make it round a passing mark at the halfway point of the leg. Who will be right – the group of boats more offshore playing the call of not having to tack twice or the route taken by Team Zain which favours more tacks in the hope of picking up a nice wind shift to cover less distance. It is turning into a fascinating first leg that all crews are enjoying.”
Tomorrow sees the Abu Dhabi In-Port Race series held in the waters off Emirates Palace Marina. The second inshore showdown will be hotly contested after Team Averda claimed victory in the opening round in Dubai yesterday ahead of Wouter Sonnema’s TU Delft Challenge and the Omani team Al Mouj, Muscat led by Nico Lunven. The winning teams were awarded by Aaref Ibrahim Al Haranki, Board Member and Head of the Rowing Committee in Dubai. A brand new trophy has been specially commissioned from British Royal Warrant holder and goldsmiths Thomas Fattorini Ltd, and will be awarded to the winning team of the 2016 EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour following the last leg into Muscat.