The final countdown is well underway with just one week to go until the EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour 2015 (SATT) reaches Qatar waters on February 26th. 11 teams will sail into the Four Seasons Marina, Doha and take part in an action-packed in-port race set to thrill spectators from across the nation. The boats, which set sail from Muscat on February 15th are now on Day 5 of the Gulf tour and will depart Doha on the final leg of the race as they take on the ultimate head-to-head challenge to reach the finish line in Manama, Bahrain.
Now in its fifth year, the tour offers 15 days of intense sailing to test the skills of not only the region’s best sailing talent, but also a selection of elite world class sailors. The 760 nautical mile course spans over four countries from Oman to Bahrain, with eight of the region’s premier marinas playing host as stopover venues during the six legs of the course.
The race began with a wave of excitement at the new start location in Muscat, Oman on February 15th. Some of the world’s best international and local offshore sailing teams are now sailing through the azure Gulf waters and tackling the challenging route of strong headwinds and tricky shores. A total of 11 teams representing seven nations – Oman, Kuwait, China, Switzerland, EU, Monaco and The Netherlands – and of more than 20 different nationalities spent the final few days before the start to fine-tune and prepare for the challenge with practice sessions added to the race format for the first time this year.
Returning champions EFG Bank (Monaco) aim to continue the team’s flawless sailing streak at SATT. Sidney Gavignet, skipper of EFG Bank (Monaco) – Olympian and winning Volvo Ocean Race skipper – who took part in last year’s event, said: “Compared to last year, my crew is a lot more offshore oriented and that gives us an advantage. The new route, which features more upwind sailing will be more tactical and also harder physically for the teams but that should favour us because of our offshore experience. The harder the route, the better it is for us.”
The reversed route created a unique buzz around The Wave – Muscat, where the fleet of identical Farr 30s held practice sessions and launched on February 15th for the first leg of the race. The port and opening ceremony saw spectators gather from across the country not only to witness the elite sailors preparing for Sunday’s start, but also to offer their support to the region’s competitors who have embraced EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour with its commitment to inspire a new generation of sailors.
Team Delft Challenge skipper, Wouter Sonnema said concentration will be one of the key obstacles for the young team in the competition. “The continuous changing wind conditions in the Gulf will be one of the greatest challenges out on the water. Adapting to it every time of the day and staying focussed will be a key priority during the tour.”
“The Gulf’s waters are beautiful, clear and great to sail at, however it can bring some serious challenges. For me and other team members it’s not our first SATT, so we hope to bring some experiences from previous races to expertly navigate the local challenges.”
OMIFCO skipper Ahmed Al Mamari, who has an eight-strong team of Omanis onboard, says the there is plenty to challenge but that makes it even more interesting particularly to those who have not sailed in the Gulf before: “We definitely had an advantage because we understand the waters, we know the conditions, especially with the Musandam Peninsula which can be unpredictable. We are all focused on pushing our abilities to the limit and testing ourselves on the water but also we want to have fun – that is why we sail.”
British sailor Mary Rook, skipper of Al-Thuraya Bank Muscat’s all women’s team, is no stranger to serious racing. Preparing to represent Team GB in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, she is excited to return to the Arabian Gulf though she says competition this year will be fierce: “The race is always a great experience to be in the Arabian Gulf and compete against the best in the world. The team changes every year and so it’s not just about growing on our previous years, but each year we are able to challenge ourselves anew. We obviously do our best but overall it’s just great to be here and show women what they can do.”
Taking it seriously is what EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour is all about, and a good result is highly regarded particularly with the event’s growing reputation and pedigree as a world-class regatta.
IMCO skipper Mathijs Wageman said that crew morale was at an all-time high just before the race: “As a skipper I alternate between the pre-race excitement and apprehension for the race ahead. I know we are prepared, but you can never be prepared enough for this type of race.”
EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour 2015 starts in Muscat, Oman on February 15th and ends in Manama, Bahrain on February 28th. Sports fans can follow all the action of the Gulf region’s leading offshore race with live tracking and updates at www.sailingarabiathetour.com
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