Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 June 2019

Pursuit race: Taking part in a fun, new sea-faring hobby is plain sailing in Dubai

It doesn’t matter if you’re new to the sea or a veteran sailor, everyone can take part in Dubai Offshore Sailing Club’s weekly pursuit races, says Marie Byrne

Every Tuesday night, at least 20 boats head out to sea from the Dubai Offshore Sailing Club. One by one the crews set sail, staggering their starts from 5pm, depending on their handicap. Whichever boat and crew is in the lead come 7pm, they’re the winners for the evening. This, for anyone who is unfamiliar with sailing terminology, is a pursuit race.

“It’s very good fun and I’ve been doing it for years and years,” says Marie Byrne, a sailing instructor and regular participant in the club’s race. She says it’s good for everyone, from beginners to advanced sailors.

You never stop learning. Sailing is one of the best hobbies in the world

Marie Byrne, sailing instructor

“It’s very friendly and afterwards there are small prizes for first, second and third,” she says. “There’s a nice atmosphere and you can have dinner at the club afterwards, get to know people. If you’re selected, you could become part of a crew. And then you can come every Tuesday and it can be a little hobby and a midweek break. It’s very attractive – or at least I think it is!”

Byrne has been sailing for more than 20 years, having been a hang-glider pilot for about a decade before that. She got into sailing quite by accident. “One day I happened to be in the Canary Islands and someone suggested going on a yacht for a couple of days to see what it’s like,” she explains. “After about an hour they asked if I wanted to take the wheel. Well, the moment I took the wheel I felt I’d come home. I thought, ‘this is my sport, this is the one I’ve been looking for’.

About 20 boats join in the pursuit race every week. Chris Whiteoak / The National
About 20 boats join in the pursuit race every week. Chris Whiteoak / The National

It’s interesting on so many levels – there’s navigation, maintenance and the sailing itself. You never stop learning. It’s one of the best hobbies in the world.”

Join Dubai's sailing community

It was the America’s Cup that brought the Irishwoman to the UAE in 2009. “It was supposed to be in Ras Al Khaimah in March 2010, so I took a job as a special needs teacher out in Sharjah in September, so I could be close to RAK and go sailing there,” she says.

The cup was cancelled that year, but Byrne stayed on, moving to Dubai, where she soon got involved with the offshore sailing club. “I then bought a boat, and bought another one, and there you go,” she says. Now she works with the club, but also teaches and gives one-on-one sailing sessions, too.

To be a sailor, she says, it’s not about physical strength, but about the skills you learn. “It’s a slow sport. You can be moving at one nautical mile per hour, or even six or 10,” she says. “Mostly, you’re going at four or five. It’s for people who want to learn the skills, how to get a boat to do what you want at that kind of speed … it’s about managing the sails, how to set the sails and so on.

Marie Byrne has been sailing for 20-plus years, and takes part in the Dubai Offshore Sailing Club's pursuit race every week. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Marie Byrne has been sailing for 20-plus years, and takes part in the Dubai Offshore Sailing Club's pursuit race every week. Chris Whiteoak / The National

That’s the real mark of a sailor – how well you can get your boat to sail and how fast you can go in the limits of what you’ve got.”

While she also gets involved with various competitions and other events, she doesn’t miss a Tuesday pursuit race. Every week, you’ll find Byrne out on her boat, Dreams, setting sail with the other participants. In order to join, you have to be or know a member, but Byrne is always happy to welcome new crew members. “You simply need to get there on time and be reliable,” she says. “Also, you should have an interest in the sport itself and be willing to learn the skills. If they’re already a sailor, then great. If they simply want to learn, that’s fine too.”

First-timers come back week after week, learn new skills, and some even join the small but strong community of sailors in the UAE and wider region. “See how you get on. It’s up to you then to see if it’s for you,” says Byrne.

While Byrne naturally believes sailing is a great hobby, she also admits it’s not for everyone. “Some people hate it, some people get seasick, some people can’t understand why other people are so fascinated with it,” she says with a laugh. “But for those who find something in it, it’s captivating. You become obsessed.”

For more information about the Dubai Offshore Sailing Club, go to www.dosc.ae

Updated: June 6, 2019 12:38 PM

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