By: Ashok Purohit

Sidney Gavignet, the skipper of defending champion EFG Bank Moncao, hopes to hold on to the title as the fifth edition of the EFG Sailing Arabia-The Tour (SATT) began at The Wave, Muscat late on Sunday afternoon.

Despite a noticeable increase in the number of boats this time – up from last year’s six to 11 – the Frenchman said that his crew has a wealth of experience that gives EFG Bank Monaco an edge over the other teams.

Speaking to Muscat Daily on Sunday, Gavignet said, “We are under pressure to defend the title, but we have a good team with experienced and specialist offshore sailors, like Damian Foxall of Ireland and Frenchman Fabien Delahaye.

“Our plan is to sail fast and see if we can be as good as we were last year. The key to winning is to post consistently good results at the top. The competition is tough, but we hope to retain the title.”

With three Omanis on board, Gavignet was all praise for Oman Sail over its role in developing the sport and promoting Omani sailors.

“Abdul al Mashari, Abdullah al Shukaili and Nasser al Marzouqi will be with us and it is a good sign. Also, the appointment of Fahad al Hasni as Team Renaissance skipper underlines the progress of Omani sailors. I am proud to see that Oman Sail is achieving its objectives. Fahad has been my key man at many regattas. I am very happy that he will be leading a group of Omani sailors,” Gavignet said.

The EFG Bank Monaco skipper said the new route of the fortnight-long SATT – starting in Muscat and finishing in Manama, Bahrain – is a ‘good concept’ as the teams are getting off to an easy start before facing tougher legs after the Sohar stopover. “It is nice to have an easy start – the stretch from Muscat to Sohar. But the real test will begin after this first leg,” said Gavignet.

The SATT will see the 11 teams competing over a distance of 760 nautical-miles, with the race expected to conclude on February 28. Besides the offshore legs, the teams will also compete in inshore races at a couple of marinas.

With some of world’s top sailors, including a mix of regional and international sailors representing 21 nations, alongside young Omani talent making their Tour debut, the SATT provides stiff competition for the teams with all of them using Farr30 boats.

Sunday’s opening ceremony was held at Oman Sail’s headquarters at The Wave, Muscat under the patronage of H H Sayyid Kamil bin Fahd al Said, Assistant Secretary-General of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister for Cabinet Affairs.

Also present on the occasion were H E Maitha al Mahrouqi, Oman Sail chairwoman and the Undersecretary at the Ministry of Tourism, H E Sheikh Rashad al Hinai, the Undersecretary at the Ministry of Sports Affairs, H E Khalfan al Na’abi, the Advisor at the Ministry of Sports Affairs, and David Graham, Oman Sail CEO.

In his remarks to Muscat Daily, H H Sayyid Kamil said, “This is an event that helps in reviving the maritime heritage of Oman and enhances the brotherly relations with our neighbours. I am happy to see a lot of Omani crew in action. Oman Sail is doing a good job in organising such top-class events.”

Graham said, “Through this event, we are writing a new chapter in the region’s history and making sailing a sport for all. The mix of teams in this year’s competition shows the wide reach of sailing, the passion for the sport around the world and the potential for sailing to capture the imagination of people across the region.”

Marcel Herrera, skipper of Team Averda said that though his team has new sailors on board, ‘we are confident of giving the experienced campaigners a run for their money’.

“It is always good to aim for the top, but the standard of competition this year makes it a very difficult challenge,” said Herrera, who finished second last year with Messe Frankfurt Sailing Team.

Australia’s Nick Moloney, skipper of GAC powered by Dongfeng Race Team, who won the Jules Verne Trophy sailing non-stop around the world in 2002 and competed in the Vendee Globe in 2005, is making his debut at the event.

He is sailing with a team comprising mostly Chinese sailors sourced from Dongfeng Race Team, which is competing in the ongoing Volvo Ocean Race.

The Omani challenge is being led by Hasni in Team Renaissance, Ahmed al Mamari in Team Omifco, the Royal Navy of Oman, a student crew on board IMCO and the women’s team of Al Thuraya led by British Olympian Mary Rook.

Mamari told Muscat Daily, “We are proud to have an all-Omani crew and we are aiming for a top-five finish. A lot of youngsters are on board and it will be a great learning experience for them competing against some of the world’s best sailors.”

Hasni said he hoped he could come up with a positive show with his all-Omani crew except for British sailor Philippe Falle.

Gilles Chiorri, the race director, said that though the first leg to Sohar is straightforward, the teams are likely to face light-wind conditions later into the night. He welcomed the new route – an exact reversal of last year’s one – and said ‘it would ensure an exciting finish as the course requires teams to sail a lot more upwind’.

Teams (with skippers’ names): Al Thuraya Team (Mary Rook), TU Delft Challenge (Wouter Sonnema), Bienne Voile (Lorenz Muller), EFG Bank Monaco (Sidney Gavignet), GAC powered by Dongfeng Race Team (Nick Moloney), Team Renaissance (Fahad al Hasni), Royal Navy of Oman (Omar Salim al Ismaili), IMCO (Mathijs Wagemans), Zain Kuwait (Cedric Pouligny), Team Omifco (Khalid al Alawi), Team Averda (Marcel Herrera).

SOURCE: Muscat Daily