x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Omani team strike the first blow in Sailing Arabia – The Tour

Little wind leads to a close finish but BAE Systems captain Cedric Pouligny delighted to get victory under belt.

The Team BAE Systems crew, skippered by Cedric Pouligny, celebrate as they arrive in Doha to secure victory in Leg 1 of the Sail Arabia tour.
The Team BAE Systems crew, skippered by Cedric Pouligny, celebrate as they arrive in Doha to secure victory in Leg 1 of the Sail Arabia tour.

The first leg of Sailing Arabia - The Tour came down to a sprint finish yesterday with Team BAE Systems winning the 100-mile race from Bahrain to Qatar by just 250 metres.

The Omani team, skippered by the world-renowned sailor Cedric Pouligny, came home ahead of EFG Bank and Team Messe Frankfurt to establish an early lead in the region's only long distance offshore sailing race.

EFG Bank (Monaco), skippered by Sidney Gavignet, grabbed second place by just a boat length from the youthful Team Messe Frankfurt, made up of students from the University of Plymouth in England and captained by the 19-year-old German Marcel Herrera. Team Abu Dhabi came in eighth.

The close finish was due in part to the conditions. In a contrast to last year, when competitors at the start were buffeted by 30-knot winds, the race departed from Bahrain in beautiful weather, but unfortunately without a breath of wind which severely restricted racing.

"We're just pleased to get in some racing at all. Obviously to have no wind is not ideal but at least the teams will be fresh for tomorrow's in-port sailing," said Issa Al Ismaili, the director of events for race organiser Oman Sail.

Having secured the opening leg in four hours, 49 minutes and 12 seconds, Pouligny said; "After waiting all night with so little wind it was tight out there and felt more like an inshore race by the time we started.

"There was a little positioning but it was mostly straight-line sailing. We won after getting a good start and it's always a pleasure to win the opening leg." Over the course of Sunday afternoon and through the night the nine crews were forced to use their engines to motor down the course and spent most of the early hours of yesterday morning waiting for wind to materialise by the "Fairway" mark, just off the north-east coast of Qatar.

At just after 8am, the breeze began to fill in and the Oman Sail Race Committee was able to set a 46-mile course towards Doha, south down Qatar's east coast.

The pre-race favourites, Dubai's AISM, skippered by Bertrand Pace, the 2011 winner and former America's Cup helmsman, got off to the best start but fellow Frenchman Pouligny eventually pulled BAE Systems clear.

The British record breaking single-handed round the world sailor Dee Caffari, who is skippering the all-female crew of Al Thuraya Bank Muscat, comprising of 50 per cent Omani sailors said: "It's painful, but we've had a good sail at the end. The race director did well getting a race in. It was sheet glass the whole way and we waited four hours hanging around for daylight to see if we would race in a sea of glass. But eventually the wind came."

Today, the teams will compete in the in-port race, on a national holiday in Qatar, before the second leg to Abu Dhabi sets off tomorrow.

Teams are expected to arrive in the capital on Friday.