Even more commendable is the fact that the crew consists of enthusiastic novices, formed mainly from employees of Zain – one of the Middle East’s leading mobile telecoms operators. They managed to take the lead during the night on the windy, 90nm leg from Doha, and engage in a tough battle with Team averda in the closing stages. Team averda took the lead for a while, but some smart moves by Zain Sailing Team put them ahead and they crossed finish line off Bahrain in first place, completing the course in 18 hours, 31 minutes.
Zain’s win on this leg also shifted them up the rankings to a podium position at third place overall. Cédric Pouligny commented: “We are really happy. Happy for the team and happy for Zain, our sponsors, too. Our speed was not so good at the start in the big winds but when the wind started to die we improved. The teamwork was good because we fought hard during the night, had good boat speed and managed read the windshifts well. We are truly delighted.”
A third place on this leg, however, was enough to confirm Sidney Gavignet, and his mixed Omani team the overall winners of the EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour for the second year in a row. Gavignet, together with his highly-tuned crew; Damian Foxall, Alex Pella, Nicolas Lunven, Fabien Delahaye (from Muscat to Ras Al Khaimah) Mohammed Al Mujaini, Abdull Rahman Al Mashari, and Abdallah Al Shukaili, sailed an impressive series. They won all but two of the six legs and finished the event 9.25 points clear.
Chatting as he stepped ashore, double Tour champion, Gavignet expressed his delight and paid tribute to his team: “I feel good to achieve the goal, and especially this time because we had a great atmosphere onboard, which I believe helped our performance. It was clearly the hardest Sailing Arabia – The tour event that I have done.”
The champions did not have it all their own way however, they were chased, hard throughout by Marcel Herrera and his young student team from Plymouth on Team averda who, for the second year in a row, took second overall, and Zain Sailing Team. The young student Team averda demonstrated how amateur teams can compete equally well with the pros. They sailed a solid series and, although they did not win a race, they were consistent, which is what competing at the Tour is all about. They were always in contention right to end and took another second in the final leg. Marcel Herrera, Team averda skipper commented: “We are really pleased to have retained second place for the second year. It shows consistency and proves that last year was not just a fluke. Hopefully we can return next year to challenge for first place.”
Wouter Sonnema and his Dutch team on Delft Challenge from the Technical University in Delft went into the final leg in third but couldn’t quite match the speed of Zain and had to settle for fourth place, which meant they dropped to fourth overall. Despite losing a place overall, they are delighted with their performance particularly with their 172nm, Leg 2 win. Sonnema said: “It has been fantastic with many highlights. For this leg however, we had a good start and were in third but during the night we lost speed and went to the wrong side of the beat. Zain sailed well and were faster so deserved to win that one.”
On this leg, Mary Rook and the all-girl team on Al Thuraya (Oman), sailed exceptionally well and were always in contention and finished the leg in fifth place. They also managed to retain sixth overall beating GAC powered by Dongfeng Race Team after a close battle to the finish. Mary Rook commented: “Much nicer leg, still windy but with a flatter sea, so we were happy. In the closing stages we had to defend our place over GAC powered by Dongfeng Race Team. If they had beaten us today, they would have beaten us overall so we needed to make sure they were behind. Thankfully we managed it.”
Nick Moloney and his mostly Chinese team on GAC powered by Dongfeng Race Team were just behind in sixth, which meant they finished eighth overall. Ahmed Al Ma’mari’s Team OMIFCO are a young Omani team who have never sailed offshore, so to finish in seventh place on the final leg was a great achievement. They finished ninth overall.
Having led for three hours, Team Renaissance ran into trouble when they first hooked a fishing net, then a rope round the propeller. They lost half an hour in total and eventually finished eighth. They did however, retain a respectable fifth place overall. Fahad Al Hasni, skipper, commenting on what happened, said: “We lost at least half an hour and ended up the wrong side of the shift because we couldn’t tack. We are however, so happy about our result, and extremely pleased about the team’s performance. They have improved such a lot, so the goal now is a podium position in 2016.”
Mathijs Wagemans and the predominantly Omani crew on Team IMCO, representing the International Maritime College Oman finished ninth in leg but had to settle for 11th overall. Lorenz Müller and his Bienne Voile team (Swiss) lacked the performance they had in the final inport races in Doha where they finished third, and instead concluded the series with a 10th. They did however, finish a respectable seventh place overall.
After the race, the organisers held a closing ceremony and prizegiving at The Dragon Hotel & Resort under the patronage of Sheikh Khalifa bin Abdullah Al Khalifa President of the Arab Sailing Federation, and President of Bahrain Maritime Sports Association and H.E. Abdullah Rashid Al-Medailwi, Oman’s Ambassador to the Kingdom of Bahrain. At the ceremony, Ali Al Balushi (Renaissance) and Richard Mason (averda) were announced as winners of the newly-launched Volvo Ocean Race Rookie Award. The award followed a recognition by Volvo Ocean Race to EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour as a leading development race for young offshore sailors. Both winners, who are under 30, will fly to Newport, a Volvo Ocean Race stopover, for a full weekend trip to watch the race.
David Graham, CEO of Oman Sail, organisers of EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour, reflected on an incredible exhibition of sailing prowess. He said: “Calling at eight of the region’s world-class marinas, sailors from around the world have gone head to head and faced a unique sailing challenge. “Covering over 760 nautical miles in 15 days, my congratulations go to all of the competitors who have shown determination, mental strength and a high level of sailing skill even when their bodies must be aching and their minds are tired. EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour showcases the potential of the Middle East as a high-end tourist destination, and illustrates the capability of this region to host magnificent events.”