ABU DHABI // Sheikh Khalid bin Saqer, the President of the Sailing Federation, will hand out the prizes to the exhausted sailors who completed the difficult second leg of Sailing Arabia – The Tour by arriving in darkness at the Abu Dhabi Sailing and Yacht Club.
Courrier Dunkerque were the first team past the gate, winning the 36-hour leg by 42 minutes ahead of the rest of the nine-strong fleet, who saw their stamina and resilience tested.
The 296-kilometre leg, from Doha to Abu Dhabi, was the longest of the Tour, and unlike the downhill run from Manama to Doha in Leg 1, the fleet sailed in light to moderate headwinds and was obliged to navigate past oil rigs, no-sail zones and heavy shipping in the Strait of Hormuz, according to Jean-Michel Gaudon, the race director.
Raya Al Habsi, one of the four Omani women competing with Al Thuraya BankMuscat, who finished fourth, said the leg was "tough" and described her all female crew as "pretty tired".
The whole of the fleet are sailing Farr 30 yachts. Team BAE Systems finished second, Team Commercialbank were 18 minutes further back in third while less than three minutes separated boats three to five on the finish line.
Team Al Thuraya BankMuscat were pleased to finish fourth, 47 seconds ahead of Team Renaissance.
"It was a long race and very tough but we are very happy with the result," Al Habsi said. "We had good wind and we were really excited when we started catching up to the other teams. It was so close but we had some problems with one of our sails in the very long stretch to the finish so Team Commercialbank just beat us."
Al Habsi underlined the challenges the teams faced.
"It was so cold [Thursday] night but in the early morning as the sun came up, we had dolphins swimming alongside us and it was perfect," she said.
Al Habsi will have been pleased to claim the Oman bragging rights over Team Renaissance, who were skippered by Ahmed Al Mamari, who was one of the first to circumnavigate the globe by sail.
"It was a tough leg and all the team did a great job," Al Mamari said. "We are pretty tired after that but we are feeling great. We were fighting right to the finish line for the third place. We are now looking to the next leg, and are aiming for at least a top-five finish again."
Qassim Abdul Razaq, the skipper of Team Bahrain, navigated his Arabian crew to seventh ahead of Team Muscat 2012 skippered by the Omani Mohsin Al Busaldi.
The UAE-flagged entry Team Ras Al Khaimah, skippered by John Curran and largely crewed by first-time sailors, was the last yacht home, less than two minutes before the 3.30am deadline.
Curran felt finishing within four hours of second place was testament to the determination of his crew.
"When we consider the crew came together less than a week before the race and half hadn't sailed before it's an encouraging result, given it was a very tough and long race," he said.
The race was a triumph for the French - Daniel Souben (Courrier Dunkerque), Cedric Pouligny (Team BAE System) and Bertrand Pace (Team Commercialbank) - who skippered their yachts to the podium positions.
Despite having won the first two legs, Courrier Dunkerque's position at the top of the leaderboard is far from secure. With four more legs to complete, the competition between the fleet is expected to get tougher during the next leg, which will see the teams embark tomorrow on the 232km leg along the UAE coastline to Ras Al Khaimah. The fleet then will head into Omani waters for the final three stops, Musandam, Mussanah and the final port in Oman's capital, Muscat.