The Gulf’s only pan-regional off-shore sailing race launches from Amwaj Marina this month with crews from around the world taking part in an event which delivers 15 days of intense action across four different countries and seven marinas in Bahrain, Qatar, the UAE and Oman.
Organised by Oman Sail and now in its third year, the aim of the race is to promote one of the region’s fastest growing sports and reignite the Gulf’s rich maritime heritage, which has been partly forgotten in recent years.
The race will start in Bahrain on Sunday, February 10, and will continue on to Qatar. The boats will be racing on to Abu Dhabi and Ras Al Khaimah, in the UAE, before sailing around Oman’s peninsula to Musandam and finally reaching Muscat for the closing ceremony.
The event was initially launched in 2011 as an alternative to the Tour de France à la Voile and has now turned into a regional event that attracts some of the sport’s best talent.
And this year the competition between teams - including confirmed new entries from the Royal Navy of Oman and Team Messe Frankfurt in addition to some of the teams that participated in the 2012 edition- is likely to be fiercer than ever. Teams from across the region and further afield will be competing in a fleet of identical Farr 30 keelboats, one of the Grand Prix racing world’s most exciting boats.
Last year the sailors of the French team Courrier Dunkerque were crowned 2012 champions after a downwind sprint to the finish line situated off shore of The Wave, Muscat.
In two short years the event has proved to be a cutting-edge off-shore race that not only establishes the Gulf as a sailing destination but also demonstrates that there is a wealth of talent within the region.
Last year several of the teams, including Bahrain, raced with all-Arab crews.
The number of participating teams has grown year on year increasing from six in 2011 to nine in 2012 and this year’s entries already top that with, again, a number of all-Arab crews.
David Graham, Oman Sail CEO, said: “Now in its third year Sailing Arabia – The Tour has really established itself as part of the winter sailing calendar, attracting some of the very best sailors from the region and beyond to compete in the superb sailing conditions the GCC has to offer. Interest in sailing is at an all-time high within the region and Sailing Arabia – The Tour will demonstrate the benefits that the sport can bring to communities in the GCC, including youth training, economic development and health and fitness.”
Issa Al Ismaili, Oman Sail director of events, added: “Sailing Arabia – The Tour aims to not only encourage healthy competition between Gulf nations but also to raise the profile of the GCC internationally as an exceptional sailing destination complete with unbeatable sailing conditions, local talent and decades of sailing heritage. We are expecting 12 teams to compete in the 2013 edition of the tour.”
Let’s hear it for the girls
Al-Thuraya Bank Muscat is once again putting up an all-female crew led by record-breaking British skipper Dee Caffari.
The team will also include four pioneering Omani women aged between 21 and 28, two of whom competed in last year’s race.
“Members of the all-female team have just had 400 miles of off-shore experience which has been brilliant because it has demonstrated the massive progress they are making,” said Caffari, who became the first woman to sail solo, non-stop, around the world in both directions after completing the Vendee Globe in 2009 and her own single-handed westward circumnavigation three years before.
“These young women are a real inspiration to others in the region. In the near future all-women crews from the Middle East competing in these events will be commonplace and there is no reason why these girls shouldn’t go on to compete in races around the world. That will take time but success at EFG Bank Sailing Arabia – The Tour 2013 is definitely within their grasp in the short term.”
Commenting on their marathon 15 days of racing and looking forward to the 2013 event, Raya Al Habsi said: “I was first introduced to sailing in 2011 and it really has changed my life. Sailing Arabia – The Tour has given me the chance to compete against some of the best sailors from around the world as well as travel the region and I can’t wait to arrive in Bahrain.
“We recently took part in our first ever match race in Bahrain which was great fun so I look forward to going back. Everyone is always really excited and there is a great vibe before a race starts. We were so close to a podium place in Sailing Arabia – The Tour 2012, so I’m keen to get back out there and fight for a place that we have worked so hard to achieve.”
The teams so far
• Royal Navy of Oman skippered by Qais Saif AlMamari
• Team Renaissance skippered by Mohsin Ali Al-busaidi
• Team Al Thuraya Bank Muscat skippered by Denise Caffari
• BAE Systems skippered by Cédric Pouligny
• EFG Bank skippered by Sidney Gavignet
• Team AISM Bertrand Pace
• Team Messe Frankfurt – Marcel Herrera
• Team Abu Dhabi – Adil Khalid
As we went to press Bahrain had not confirmed its team for the race but Sheikh Mohammed bin Daij Al Khalifa is expected to, once again, lead an all Bahraini crew.