by Daniel Smith
At the ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year Awards, Muscat, Sultanate of Oman is a familiar site for Raiya Al Habsi and she will be joined by friends and family.
Training prior to the Fastnet race. Raiya Al Habsi (OMA) and Dee Caffari (GBR)
The ground breaking Omani made history in 2013 when she became the first Omani woman to sail the Rolex Fastnet Race on Oman’s flagship, the MOD70 Oman Air-Musandam.
For her success Al Habsi received a nomination for ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year, 'It’s very good for me as I am the first female Arab sailor. It means a lot to me and my country and to all the female Arab sailors.'
Al Habsi’s extensive family will be flying in from around Oman and from overseas and is happy to see her success celebrated on her home soil, 'That is a very pleasing for us as Omanis because we are so pleased that you chose our country to come and do the event here. If I win I will give it to my country first and it’s a really good and we’re so proud to have you here.'
Al Habsi used to be a customer service assistant in a bank but she was given the chance to join Oman Sail Women’s Sailing Programme when it first launched in 2011.
A positive attitude and a hunger to learn ensured the vibrant Omani stood out from the crowd and sparkled brightly as she became a key member of the Oman National Sailing Team
'I had never sailed before,' recalled Al Habsi, 'I started the steps by taking a dinghy program and then I went to the keelboat for offshore and then I jumped into the MOD70.'
Al Habsi was the first Omani female to sail on the Rolex Fastnet Race in August 2013 and received her nomination for her efforts not only during the race but across the year where she took in Sail Arabia The Tour and the J/80 Worlds.
'It was amazing [Rolex Fastnet Race], an awesome experience to be on-board with the professional people who have been sailing 15 to 30 years. To sail such a long offshore race with them was amazing.
'The Fastnet from the beginning was crazy for me. To cross 600 miles on the fastest boat I’ve ever been on in my life was the MOD70, it was so good.'
Raiya’s diversity has made her stand out and as part of an all-female crew she enjoyed the J/80 Worlds experience, 'That was so good because I sailed with four Omani girls who are my friends and one professional. We presented our country as it was the first time Arab women were doing the J/80 Worlds so it was an awesome experience for us.
'We met a lot of different people and communicated with all the different sailors and took their experience, it was an awesome opportunity.
'Now we have to jump from more of this and continue more races and do more international races in the future.'
The 2013 ISAF Rolex World Sailors of the Year will be announced on Tuesday 12 November at a glittering award ceremony in Muscat, Sultanate of Oman.
The winners are selected by the ISAF Member National Authorities (MNAs), the national governing bodies for sailing around the world, who vote for the one male and one female nominee who they believe most deserves the Award.