Oman Sail kicks off European sailing season
The focus is firmly on success for the Diam 24 race team as they build towards the classic Tour Voile around France, while 2018 will be a development year for the Diam second team, the Women’s Sailing Programme and the Class 40 team.
Amid a series of successful events in Oman – including the new-look EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour, Mussanah Race Week, the opening Act of the Extreme Sailing Series in Muscat and, on shore, the dramatically expanded Al Mouj Muscat Marathon event – the early season also saw a rigorous series of trials.
Every member of the Oman Sail squad, both male and female, were evaluated, with places on the various teams decided on performance criteria.
Attention now turns to the start of the European season and the 40th edition of the Spi Ouest regatta in La Trinite, France, which will see Oman Sail’s Diam and J80 women teams in action this weekend.
For the third year running the Diam 24 race team will be led by the highly experienced French racer Thierry Douillard and his co-skipper the British Olympian Stevie Morrison.
Maintaining consistency the race team will again be joined by French match-racer Mathieu Richard, and Omani regulars Ali Al Balushi and Abdulrahman Al Mashari.
“Spi Ouest is the start of a long campaign for us which will culminate with the Tour Voile,” said Douillard. “We know the competition will be strong at every event, but we have our sights set on a top-three finish in the Tour Voile, and perhaps even an outright victory.
“The training and performance trials we held in Oman over the winter went well, and every member of the wider Oman Sail squad has earned their place in whatever team they are in,” he added.
Oman Sail’s Diam development team will again be led by French racer Cedric Pouligny, with Omani sailors Sami Al Shukaili, Yasser Al Rahbi and Haitham Al Wahaibi joining the crew.
The two-boat Diam team will compete in a series of events around France leading up to the marathon of the Tour Voile in July.
The Women’s Sailing Programme’s J80 team, meanwhile, will this year be supported by Britain’s most successful Paralympic sailor Helena Lucas, who won gold in 2012 and bronze four years later.
She will be joining skipper Ibtisam Al Salmi, a long-standing member of the Oman Sail project, Marwa Al Khaifi and Tamathur Al Balushi, both Oman Sail instructors, and Laser sailor Hussain Al Jabri.
Spi Ouest will mark Lucas’ second stint with Oman Sail, having sailed last year with the crew before and during the SB20 Worlds in Cowes, UK.
“The dynamic is brilliant, it is really good fun sailing with them all and everyone gets on really well,” said Lucas speaking after a day of training ahead of Spi Ouest.
“I was so pleased with the training we have done, and the boat handling has really come on in what must have been 20 to 25 knots of breeze. The teamwork all came together and it was brilliant, I was so proud of them.
“There is myself, Ibti helming, Tami and Marwa, who were all on the SB20, and Hussain has come in to bring a bit of strength to the programme – none of the girls are any bigger than me so we are lacking in the weight and muscle department!”
After Spi Ouest the team will compete at the Grand Prix Ecole Navale in northwest France in May, followed by the J80 Worlds in Les Sables.
Looking ahead, Lucas said: “At the J80 Worlds if Ibti can be the first female helm that would be really good, and the top third of the fleet would be a really good result for us in a pretty competitive fleet, I would be really pleased with that.”
Also on a development curve in 2018, and following training at the boat’s home port in Lorient, the Class 40 team will start their programme at the Grand Prix Guyader in Douarnenez, France, in early May, immediately followed by the Armen Race from La Trinite sur Mer.
The team, led by experienced French yachtsman Guillaume Le Brec, will then relocate to the UK for the Round The Island Race in July followed by the challenge of the 1,800-nautical mile Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland Race in August.