DUBAI // Three months from now, thousands of spectators are expected to line the Dubai shoreline to watch the world's top sailing teams battle it out for the Louis Vuitton Trophy (LVT). One member of the public, however, may get the best view of all.
The Dubai International Marine Club said it was considering a competition to find a person to fill the 18th position on its LVT boat. Usually the 18th spot is filled by a VIP or a major sponsor. The winner would not take part in sailing the yacht around the course when the action begins on November 14. Instead, he or she would be able to soak up the on-board drama. Kevin Shoebridge, the operations director of the New Zealand Team, which is sponsored by Emirates Airline, said few sports allowed a spectator to get so close to the action.
"It is like being in the middle of the ruck in rugby," he said. "You will be right there in the middle of all the action. "You have no idea the power [the boats] generate with all the ropes and cables buzzing and running over your head; the sheer noise and the power is quite a surprise." Ben Ainsley, the skipper of the British competitor in the LVT series, Team Origin, said the winner could expect 20 minutes of intense excitement: "It's pretty crowded on board and they are busy most of the time, especially during the manoeuvring."
The most aggressive part of the race is just before the start, as the boats jostle to get their timing just right. They circle through the starting line, waiting for the signal and hoping that when it comes they will be positioned just behind the line and ahead of their competition. "The boats gets very close and sometimes there are even collisions," Mr Ainsley said. "It is aggressive, fast, furious and good for the spectators but certainly for the 18th man. He is right there."
During the two weeks of LVT racing, 10 teams will compete for the trophy, first with a round robin to establish rankings, and later in knock-out races. The event's start coincides with the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix, and LVT organisers hope that some of the tens of thousands of motor-racing fans will extend their stay to catch some of the action in the waters off the marine club. The organisers also expect visits from the F1 drivers and high-profile celebrities.
To kick-start the event, schools will be involved and will be given exclusive access to the teams and the 70-foot yachts. A heritage village will convey the UAE's centuries of sailing tradition, with information on pearl diving, fishing and the country's long association with the sea. In the racing village, each team will have a stand with information about its boat and crew members, who will be there when they are not racing. The public will be able to board some of the boats.
There will be outdoor food stands, live music and big screens showing the racing. The LVT race in Dubai was set up to keep America's Cup-level sailing active in the Emirates after the disappointment over the America's Cup. That competition was going to be held in Ras al Khaimah but a New York court vetoed the venue and instead the Cup was contested in Valencia, Spain, in February. The LVT race also serves as preparation for the round-the-world Volvo Ocean Race, which will stop off in Abu Dhabi in January 2012.