ABU DHABI // As the UAE leg of the Volvo Ocean Race came to an end yesterday, team Abu Dhabi's crew felt a legacy had been left to the city in its inaugural host year.
"We've put Abu Dhabi on the world map," said Butti Al Meheiri, the head of the shore crew. "This will make it a real destination for tourists, to see how beautiful sailing is here, especially in the winter."
He said the event had spurred much interest from Emiratis eager to try the sport. "A lot of locals have come to ask how to get involved, how to learn sailing. It's really helped promote the sport here."
Khalid Al Qubati, an Emirati volunteer at the event and a sailor himself, said: "This shows the world what fun it is to be in Abu Dhabi and what a beautiful place it is."
Ross Farquhar, from Canada, has spent many years sailing. During eight years living in the UK before coming to Abu Dhabi three years ago, he took part in many major races, including Cowes.
"There needs to be greater accessibility to sailing here, more of a community," he said. "There's only two places to sail in Abu Dhabi and it's all small boats. There's a bit more in Dubai, but not much."
Caoimhe Lalor, from Ireland, also sailed regularly before moving here eight years ago. "Hopefully this event will encourage people to sail, to get boats and get on the water," she said.
After winning Friday's port race, Mr Al Meheiri said the Abu Dhabi team had left for their sprint to Sharjah with a spring in their step. "It definitely gave them a boost," he said. From Sharjah, the teams will be taken to a safe haven in the Indian Ocean, the boats loaded onto a carrier to avoid the threat of pirates, before starting the race to Sanya, China, the next leg of the nine and-a-half-month marathon.
As the boats left shore yesterday they were sent off with a grand farewell. The England cricketers Graeme Swann and Alastair Cooke, in the UAE to play against Pakistan, set sail on Azzam, before jumping off as it left port.
Friday's festivities attracted the largest crowds of the event so far, pulling in nearly 23,000 people to see the in-port race and music and sporting activities.
The event attracted a string of dignitaries including the former British prime minister Tony Blair and Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, who both arrived for the in- port race.