x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: A view from the yacht

At Yas Marina, it is the busiest year so far, with a record number of boats sailing in for the Grand Prix.

“There’s only two races on the Formula One calendar where you can watch the race from a yacht. One is Monaco and one is Abu Dhabi,” said Danny Berger who owns a company which chartered one of the yatchs berthed at Yas Marina for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Christopher Pike / The National
“There’s only two races on the Formula One calendar where you can watch the race from a yacht. One is Monaco and one is Abu Dhabi,” said Danny Berger who owns a company which chartered one of the yatchs berthed at Yas Marina for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Christopher Pike / The National

Abu Dhabi // It is not just Formula One cars that are providing the glamour at Yas Island this week: boats have also turned out in force.

For Yas Marina, it is the busiest year on record, with more boats sailing in than ever before.

“It is a busy time. We are expecting above 200 boats in the marina, which is an increase compared to last year, so we are very pleased with that,” said Cedric Le Rest, general manager of Yas Marina.

With Abu Dhabi rivalling Monte Carlo in offering first-class vantage points from boats, some famous faces have graced the marina. And more are expected this year.

“We do get celebrities. I don’t know who will come this year but it is a venue which is quite glamorous,” said Mr Le Rest.

“In previous years it was not uncommon to see Michael Schumacher walk along the pontoon,” and the actress Demi Moore was here last year.

Forty-three of the boats have a berth with a track view, so people on-board can keep on top of the action without having to set foot on dry land.

“If the boat is big enough, they can see the track. The boats which are 25 metres and above are normally double or triple deck and they will see the track,” said Mr Le Rest.

For those who do not have a view of the action, there are large TV screens.

And it is the combination of the floating venue, entertainment and post-race parties that gives the marina such an electric atmosphere.

“It’s buzzing. It’s full of people who are here to have a good time.

“There are some hard-core F1 fans that really want to see the race but I don’t think that’s the majority of our clients. They are here for the atmosphere,” he said.

The marina has surged in popularity over the years, with the turnout up from 180 boats last year.

“We have had a steady increase since 2009. Then we started with 125 boats and now five years later, we are at 200,” said Mr Le Rest.

“It’s due to the fact that we have got more annual tenants in the marina. So it’s not only Formula One guests, we do have a great number of boats with us on a yearly basis.”

While some of the vessels are from Abu Dhabi or Dubai, others come from further afield, such as Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and Saudi Arabia.

Some have made an even longer journey to get to the UAE.

“We have got boats that come from the Mediterranean. They finish their season in Europe mid-September, get the boat ready and in early October they sail. It takes about two weeks,” he said.

For many of these globe-trotting vessels, the event marks the start of their winter activities and some will journey on to places such as the Maldives for Christmas.

Danny Berger owns a company which charters yachts and offers corporate hospitality. He has one, which sailed all the way from Holland, with 40 guests at Yas Marina.

“There’s only two races on the Formula One calendar where you can watch the race from a yacht. One is Monaco and one is Abu Dhabi,” said Mr Berger, who also spends the weekend on-board.

“Having a floating venue, as opposed to having a stationary venue, is different and a bit glamorous,” said Mr Berger, who is British.

The boats are also a great place for entertainment and parties after the races.

“The atmosphere in the marina is always fantastic, here and in Monaco, after the racing has finished,” he added.

John Gillespie, who is Irish, owns a company which manages several yachts that are hosting guests for the F1.

“I think the event itself attracts all walks of life, from your general consumer to your VIP. I think it’s probably one of the few events in the world that offers that,” he said.

About 5,000 people are expected to be in the pontoon area every day of the event.

While a pass is needed to access these areas, the restaurants are open to the public.

“The community can come and enjoy the new restaurants and the atmosphere of the marina,” said Mr Le Rest. “Access by car is limited so we recommend that people come by taxi.”

ecleland@thenational.ae