Although this year's EFG Bank Sailing Arabia - The Tour (SATT) did not see any of the Oman based teams on the final podium, there are plenty of reasons for the Omani sailing community to celebrate. “This year's competition was extremely close and we saw a lot of improvement in terms of logistics and the skills of the local sailors,” said Vincent Portugal, the team manager and pitman of the winning AISM team. “This is the third time we are taking part and the fact that this race is seeing participation from international sailors like Betrand Pace (AISM), Cedric Pouligny (BAE Systems) and Sidney Gavignet (EFG Bank Monaco) shows how much this Oman-based event's profile has risen in its short history.”
The 15-day competition saw nine teams from around the Middle East with international crews race Farr 30 boats from Bahrain to Oman with seven legs and eight tour calls, including in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. In Oman the boats docked in Musannah and finished at The Wave, Muscat. The BAE Systems and EFG Bank Monaco teams came in second and third position respectively behind AISM.
Sailors from the sultanate took part in the Renaissance team (sixth), Royal Navy of Oman team (eighth) and the all women Al Thuraya Bank Muscat team (seventh). The race included plenty of excitement with Team Abu Dhabi grounding their boat with a dramatic helicopter rescue ensuing. “We always knew this was going to be a big challenge,” said Raya al Habsi, one of the Omani girls in the Al Thuraya Bank Muscat team.
The Al Thuraya Bank Muscat team is the result of a 2011 initiative to encourage women to take part in the sport. “When we star-ted this programme, the only thing us girls had in common was the fact that we had never sailed before. Some of us knew how to swim, others didn't. We started off in little dinghies and were initially clueless when we got on a competition boat with its various ropes and related jobs. But for us to compete with some of the best teams in the region and some of the best sailors in the world, and come close to a few podium finishes is a huge improvement. But still it was really hard to accept and it was very emotionally draining to lose after coming so close.”
Vincent said, “It was a very hard fought competition and for the first time, in the history of the race, we had to wait till the very last day to see who was going to win. That's how close all the boats were to each other and this made for a very competitive sailing experience. I have been competing in various boat races for the last 19 years but this is definitely one of the most beautiful races that I have ever sailed in. It was very hard and you have to know both in port and off shore racing and the full skills of navigation.”
The varied conditions from day to day tested the skills of the teams. “Sometimes there was absolutely no wind, at other times it was very windy and at other stages, for example, when passing through the Straits of Hormuz, we had to navigate through strong currents,” said Mohsin al Busaidi, skipper of the Renaissance team. “This is a complete race requiring good in port and offshore skills and excellent navigational skills. It will challenge international and local sailors and help improve the standard of sailors in the region. We look forward to coming back again next year,” Vincent added.