There was drama on the high seas early yesterday morning as Team Abu Dhabi’s all-Emirati crew were airlifted to safety after their boat ran aground 73 miles from the finish of Leg 2 of Sailing Arabia - The Tour.
They now face a race to get the boat ready for tomorrow’s in-port race in Abu Dhabi.
The team, captained by Adil Khaled, were sailing a course to the south of their opposition when rudder damage caused them to run aground to the north of Halat Tinah island.
They were unable to get their boat off and because of the depth, the race committee boat that shadows the fleet, could not assist them, so the UAE coast guard was asked to assist. Some five hours after the incident, the crew were successfully transferred to their life raft from where they were airlifted to safety.
“It was a difficult leg, with a number of challenges and tricky conditions. When I knew I had no control of the rudder I directed the team to go below deck to ensure their safety and we waited for the helicopter to airlift us off.
“I’m just happy the crew is safe and there were no injuries,” Khaled said.
“We are a young team and our goal before we started was to win a leg or an in-port race and we hope that goal is still achievable. We are in talks on recovering the boat and hope to continue the tour and achieve our goal.”
Speaking after a dramatic night of sailing Issa Al Ismaili, director of events for race organisers Oman Sail said: “Sailing Arabia was established to give the best sailing talent in the GCC and from around the world an intense challenge. And this notorious leg to Abu Dhabi has proved once again what a stern test the tour is for all.
“But it’s only through such experiences can our local crews push themselves to the limits.”
Dubai-based Team AISM claimed the 159-mile leg from Doha and Abu Dhabi. The nine-team event is developing into a cut-throat competition between the three heavyweights – the Bertrand Pace-steered and Team AISM, Sidney Gavignet’s team on EFG Bank and Cedric Pouligny on BAE Systems.
Gavignet’s team lost the lead when their yacht suffered problems with their electronics to be overtaken by Tuesday’s triple in-port race winner, AISM.
BAE Systems came second and EFG Bank dropping to third.
“It was amazing,” said Pace, “because we kept changing spinnakers, but actually the boat speeds were very close. We had a big fight with EFG Bank. Many things happened – we caught some seaweed and there were many islands on the course and you had to decide to which side to pass them. And it was fun because we were very quick for a small boat – we hit 17 knots a couple of times.”
Pouligny also looked exhausted on his arrival having had no sleep and barely anything to eat since setting off from Doha.
The Frenchman agreed with Pace that one of the crucial decisions early on was which side of an island they should pass and admitted to getting this wrong.
BAE Systems, leaders going into this leg continue to hold first place but have second-placed AISM closing on them, on 6.75 points to BAE Systems’ 5.5.
“It was a good leg, but Bertrand is going to be hard to beat. He has a 100 per cent pro crew and they don’t mistakes,” Pouligny warned.
Gavignet, the Volvo Ocean Race veteran, was putting a brave face on EFG Bank losing first place and, aside from the issue with their electrics, admitted he made a few errors due to his continued unfamiliarity with the Farr 30.
The teams will have today off before racing resumes with more in-port racing tomorrow at 11 am, just off the Abu Dhabi Corniche.
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