Big breeze baptism of fire as EFG Sailing Arabia
Big breeze baptism of fire as EFG Sailing Arabia: The Tour 2017 gets underway
A feisty 20-knot breeze and wind-whipped seas will provide an early test for the teams, representing Oman, Kuwait, Switzerland, Germany, France, Great Britain and Italy, as they head into the inaugural battle of Arabia's premiere offshore regatta.
The 105-nautical mile overnight drag race north from Oman's capital city Muscat to Sohar is the first of five gruelling offshore legs that make up the 763nm race around the Arabian Gulf.
After sealing their third consecutive EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour victory in 2016, hot favourites EFG Bank Monaco (MON) will start the 2017 race as the team to beat despite long term skipper Sidney Gavignet having to miss the event due to a knee injury.
But French sailor Thierry Douillard, who takes over from Gavignet, says his crew – including former match racing world champion Mathieu Richard at the helm – will have to work hard to maintain their impressive win rate.
“The racing will be tough – the level this year is very high,” race veteran Douillard said.
“Our great rivals Team Averda, Team Al Mouj Muscat and Team Renaissance are back again stronger than ever and there's a new team from Italy to worry about too.
“We will miss Sidney but we have a really good replacement in Mathieu Richard. Sidney led this team to victory three times and we believe we have what it takes to get another result this year.”
After winning the opening in-port race series and first leg last year before dropping to third place overall, the young crew on Team Averda (GBR) are determined to challenge for the top spot.
“Last year we came out of the blocks almost too fast,” said Andrew Baker, who replaces the injured Marcel Herrera as skipper. “We started strong but took our foot off the gas a bit after that.
“When you're out in front you can think about it too much but if you're in second you keep pushing for that first place. We're just itching to get out to sea now and see how each team lines up.”
Dutch Olympian Annemieke Bes, skipper of all-woman crew DB Schenker (GER), says the crucial part of the opening leg will come in the early hours of tomorrow when the wind finally drops off.
“It's a full-on start to the race but we're ready for it,” said Bes, who will be counting on British Volvo Ocean Race navigator Libby Greenhalgh to support her with picking the right tactics.
“With the strong winds it will be an early test for us but I'm confident we're going to have a good leg.
“Towards the end the wind is going to shut down and we will have to choose between taking the breeze close to the land or staying more offshore. That could be the key moment.”
Planned in-port racing in Muscat was called off today when several yachts suffered minor damage in a practice race. Leg 1 is due to begin shortly once the damage has been repaired.
Prior to leaving Muscat the crews took to Al Seeb beach to pick up rubbish as part of EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour's commitment to safeguarding Oman's seas.
The first of several beach clean-ups that will take place during EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour, it follows the launch of a new marine conservation initiative by race organisers Oman Sail and integrated waste management company Averda to educate young Omanis about handling waste.