ABU DHABI // The number of teams has grown from six to nine. The number of Arab teams has grown from two to eight. The number of women's teams has grown from zero to one.
With that, Sailing Arabia The Tour will gather later this week in Manama, Bahrain for a Sunday start to its second race, slated for 15 days, seven stopovers, and one moody Arabian Gulf with its gamut of conditions, toward a finish on February 27 in Muscat, Oman.
"We are only in our second year, and we see this as a jump, from six to nine teams," said Mohammed Al Eissa of Oman Sail, the four-year-old non-profit organisation conducting the event. "It is a great jump."
As outlined yesterday at a press conference at the Abu Dhabi Sailing and Yacht Club, the contestants consist of four teams from Oman and one each from the UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and France. The UAE's entry is Team Ras Al Khaimah, led by the skipper John Curran.
The eight Arab teams significantly outpace the two Omani teams from 2011. They include the Qatari entry Team Commercial Bank Group, which has signed as skipper France's Bertrand Pace, who won the inaugural SATT last year with Team New Caledonia.
The seven stopovers include two from the UAE, one at the Abu Dhabi International Marine Sport Club, slated for arrival on February 17 from Doha after a projected two-day leg (Leg 2), and the Royal Yacht Club of Ras Al Khaimah, slated for arrival on February 20 from Abu Dhabi after a projected one-day leg (Leg 3). Both Abu Dhabi and Ras Al Khaimah will hold in-port races.
The women's team, meanwhile, represents Al Thuraya Bank Muscat and will include four Omani sailors who participated in an intensive programme beginning last October. From 30 sailors at that point, Sail Oman chose four in mid-January.
"The programme is tough but it is fantastic," one of the four, Intisar Al Tobi, said. "At the beginning I was a bit hesitant about whether I would be able to do this, but now, every day I am learning something new and the hesitation is gone."
The female team derives from Oman Sail's two sailing schools, which have instructed "seven thousand Omani kids", Al Eissa said. "Half of them are now girls."
Like all teams and their Farr 30 yachts, Al Thuraya Bank Muscat will utilise seven sailors while at sea, with the British yachtswoman Dee Caffari as skipper, the only woman to have circumnavigated the world non-stop in both directions.
"Sailing Arabia The Tour is going to be a tough one," Caffari said last month, citing "a whole new area for me to sail in personally, but we are going to amazing places" along the 1,408-kilometre route.
She and her crew have been preparing in the Arabian Gulf with both day sails and overnights.
In Gulf conditions that gained praise for variety from sailors last year, she will compete against two other British skippers, three French skippers, one Bahraini and two Omanis, both renowned in Oman, both having circumnavigated the world and both having held crew positions during the inaugural race.
Ahmed Al Mamari, who competed in the round-the-world Clipper Race in 2010, will lead Oman Sail's own entry, Team Renaissance, one year after serving as a crew member last year for Team Renaissance's runner-up finish.
Mohsin Al Busaidi, a former officer in Oman's Royal Navy, will skipper Team Muscat 2012 after joining third-place Team Commercialbank Group's crew last time.
An original product of Oman Sail's programme, Al Busaidi joined a crew of five with two Frenchmen and two Britons for a 76-day circumnavigation on a multihull in early 2009, after which a crowd welcomed them in Muscat.
"Our idea is to get more and more sponsors involved and more and more sailors involved, and we can only see this growing year by year," Al Eissa said.