The countdown to the start of EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour has commenced with the six crews touching down in Bahrain to make their final sailing preparations.
EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour
The fleet of identical Farr 30 boats will be based at the Amwaj Marina in Manama until February 9 when they set off on the first leg to Doha in Qatar, a distance of 100 nautical miles which will be an opportunity for all crews to lay down vital markers in the region’s only long distance offshore sailing race.
Commenting on the boats arrival to Bahrain prior to the start of the race, Ali Al-Fardan, General Manager, Amwaj Marina said 'It’s an exciting time to visit the marina. There is so much energy as the sailors get acquainted with their boats and make adjustments before the start of the race. Some of these teams are just getting together for the first time, so this week we’re getting a first glimpse of not only the boats, but the teams and how they’re working together. It’s truly the first glimpse of what’s to come over the next 15 days.'
'For some of the sailors this is there first time to the region, and we’re pleased to welcome them to our facilities and show them some of the cultural delights the region as to offer and our rich maritime history. Based on these few days alone, we at Amwaj Marina know it’s going to be a great race.'
One of the teams that are meeting for the first time in Bahrain is Sidney Gavignet’s professional team. They have done zero training together but despite that, have emerged as the boat to beat in the 760nms endurance race around the Gulf due to the sheer expertise and experience on board, including two of Oman’s young sailing prospects Ali Al Balushi and Mohammed Al Mujaini.
'We’ll have two days of training just before the start,' said Gavignet.
'On paper we have a very good team compared to the others and we will be going all out to win. Our sponsors EFG International want us to win so we will be trying to make them happy.'
'But Messe Frankfurt Sailing Team are bringing their own boat and were definitely fast last year so they could spring a surprise. We are expecting a very intense race – you arrive at night, go sailing in shore the next day then leave on the next leg early the following morning. It will be fun.'
Messe Frankfurt Sailing Team, the team comprised mainly of students, are the most prepared of all with more than eight months of training behind them, but like all the crews flying in from a chilly northern Europe, they will have to do a lot of adjusting before they set off under a hot sun on February 9th.
'There are four of us who did it last year and four new people including a new navigator which hopefully means we can up the progress and do a better than last year,' said skipper Marcel Herrera.
'We have been racing together on the boat every weekend and some entire weeks for eight months, getting familiar with the boat and with each other’s roles.'
'Our aim, set at the end of the last race, was to do better in this one so we would hope to be inside the top four and expect to win the amateur rankings. Sidney’s crew is definitely the one to beat this year but our personal aim is to beat Team Delft Challenge because we are both university teams.'
'We have been training in 40 knots of wind and freezing temperatures over in the UK so we would like it to be quite windy. It has been quite windy in Bahrain but when I last looked it said things might ease off. Our biggest problem will be adapting to the heat but we have a few days to get used to it before we start.'
The crew on Royal Navy of Oman are also well prepared and although skipper AbdulAziz Al Haisani only joined them recently, he has seen enough from his crew of naval officers to be confident in his expectations.
'I did the first version of SATT and my team participated last year and have been training for 2014 SATT for a couple of months. This is a professional crew and I think they have become very good in their roles on the boat and in the race.'
'They have learned fast and I can see they have improved a lot since last year. Faster reactions, better skills, better teamwork and better performance. There has been a lot of development so we are being quite ambitious…I’m sure we will get on the podium for a few stages.'
The Omani girls on Al-Thuraya Bank Muscat trained as a unit for most of last year on the Farr 30s and in J/80s at championships in Europe where their learning curve proved almost vertical but skipper Katie Pettibone and mentors Mary Rook and Liz Baylis have only been with them for two weeks in January so their curve ahead of the 760nm endurance test remains steep.
'I have only been with them for two weeks and we will have another week in Bahrain,' said Katie.
'We will be focussing on setting up the boat especially for the long offshore legs and fine tuning the goals on racing positions. The girls are pretty excited – they are really starting to enjoy the racing because they understand their roles so much better and have really improved. The three new girls only joined in January and by the end of the training, they were really enjoying the team environment but obviously they are learning.'
'My goal is to get on the podium at some stage in the race. I would love to pull that off. That is my aspiration but realistically it is a tough fleet.'
'Sidney and Cedric Pouligny are a powerful combination and they will be tough to beat. The youngsters on Team Delft and Messe Frankfurt Sailing Team bring a lot of passion and youthful energy and drive so they will be also be difficult to beat and the Omanis have tailored their training to this kind of racing and spent a lot of time at it.'
'These offshore sprints are very demanding mentally especially for the new guys because you have to carry on performing when you are sleep deprived and that is really hard. But it will be the team that can keep up the pace for the longest who will win.'
'I love racing in the Gulf,' Pettibone continued. 'It is a magical place. Unique. It is complicated. Every year it is different. It’s really lovely sailing conditions – always nice not to get battered by snow and ice. The spirit of this race is also special – upbeat, fun and friendly which is part of the desire to keep coming back. Magnificent vistas, enjoyable sailing, well organised and a great bunch of people.'
The battle of the students Team Delft Challenge versus Messe Frankfurt Team is set to be become the main talking point of the 2014 EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour with both skippers already sizing up their opponents.
'Last year was our first Tour and we were selecting our new team by the end of the summer so by the end of August we had our crew and have been training ever since,' said Delft’s Kay Heemskerk.
'It’s been pretty good. We are all under 25, all students and all close friends and on the boat things are going pretty well. In Bahrain we will tune the boat then focus on our offshore skills. Last year we came fourth overall so hopefully we will get a podium place in 2014. That’s what we are aiming for.'
'EFG Bank is the boat to beat this year but we are looking forward to a nice little battle with the other students on Messe Frankfurt. I saw what they did last year and they have been training a lot so will be tough to beat.
'We have been training in five degrees below zero so the first few days in Bahrain will be spent getting used to the climate but hopefully by the start we will have acclimatised.'
Starting in Bahrain on February 9th, EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour 2014 will continue to Qatar, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ras al Khaimah, Dibba and Mussanah in Oman with competitors crossing the line on February 24th in Muscat. Along the way, teams will compete against each other in exciting in-port racing and take part in events designed to let local sailors see the state-of-the-art Farr 30 One Design boats up close. As the only event of its kind in the gulf region, EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour 2014 – the fourth edition of this thrilling contest which has become established on the international sailing calendar – is sure to provide a great role model for young people from the region aiming to get involved with sailing; and with the involvement of sailing federations from along the route of the race, the competition’s influence is sure to grow.