A team of Dutch students were the surprise runaway winners of the penultimate leg of Sailing Arabia – The Tour on Sunday.
The Delft Challenge – TU Delft team finished a staggering one hour and 12 minutes ahead of the runner-up team, EFG Bank Monaco, in the race down the Oman coast, from Dibba to Mussanah.
All eight teams are racing Farr 30 boats, and the margin of victory in the first six legs of the Gulf's only long-distance off-shore sailing race was usually measured in a few minutes.
Delft's wide victory stemmed from a bold decision by Kay Heemskerk, the skipper, to split from the rest of the fleet and head inshore in the early hours of the morning. The Dutch were rewarded with wind the rest of the fleet did not find, and at one point the Delft team were a full 10 miles ahead of their competitors in what was a 60-mile race.
"It's a sign of how wide open sailing can be as a sport," said Issa Al Isamili, the events director of the race organiser Oman Sail. "Our mission is to show everyone in the region that sailing is an accessible sport and there could be no greater vindication of that ideal than a win from one of our youngest teams.
"It's a thrill to see Team Delft excel."
The result leaves TU Delft solidly in fourth place overall.
The Dubai-based Team AISM, skippered by the Frenchman Bertrand Pace, a veteran of America's Cup racing, finished fourth in Leg 7 but remain in first place, more than five points ahead of BAE Systems, with only one race left.
Leg 8 on Monday takes the fleet from Mussanah to Muscat, where the race concludes at The Wave marina.
EFG Bank Monaco, skippered by Sidney Gavignet are third, but can move up a slot on Monday by finishing ahead of BAE Systems, a team also led by a Frenchman, Cedric Pouligny.
This is the is the third running of Sailing Arabia, which began in Bahrain on February 10 and has included stops in Doha, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ras Al Khaimah and Dibba.
The race began with nine boats, but Team Abu Dhabi was grounded on a shoal near the end of Leg 2, and has not rejoined the fleet.
The race includes the all-female Al Thuraya Bank Muscat team, who are seventh, ahead of the Royal Navy of Oman team.
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