x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Sailing Arabia off-shore race starts while Team Abu Dhabi is ‘taking it easy’

Race started from Bahrain on Sunday with six teams and the UAE do not have a boat this year but race organisers expect up to two entries in 2015, writes Osman Samiuddin.

EFG Bank (Monaco) are back this year and are among the six teams that started the Sailing Arabia offshore race on Sunday from Bahrain. Lloyd Images
EFG Bank (Monaco) are back this year and are among the six teams that started the Sailing Arabia offshore race on Sunday from Bahrain. Lloyd Images

The fourth EFG Sailing Arabia race, the region’s leading offshore race, began Sunday with six teams from four countries preparing to cross 760 nautical miles over 15 days across four countries.

The boats started from Bahrain and will first dock in Doha, Qatar, before winding their way to Abu Dhabi on Saturday.

There is no boat from the UAE this year, after previous participation, but race director Issa Sultan Al Ismaili said it was part of a deliberate, longer-term vision to have more sustainable participation from the region.

“We’re trying to encourage more and more local sailors from the GCC regions,” Al Ismaili said. “Team Abu Dhabi participated last year with a 100 per cent Emirati crew but they didn’t participate to compete, but for the sake of participation.

“Now we are co-operating very closely with the Abu Dhabi Sailing and Yacht club and they are very keen on encouraging team boat sailing.

“They have invested in buying commercial boats and decided to take it easy this year and have more of a joint cooperation with Oman Sail [the race organisers] to train for a whole year before coming back in 2015, not to participate but to compete and actually be competitive.

“For 2015, we will have a fully properly structured Abu Dhabi team managed by the club and maybe not just one, but two teams from Abu Dhabi next year.

“They could’ve come this year to have more participants, but we want sustainable participation, which is our bigger-picture goal.”

There are teams representing Monaco, the European Union and the Netherlands. There is also Al Thuraya Bank Muscat, an all-women’s team, which is part of Oman Sail’s women’s sailing programme.

Skippered by the American Katie Pettibone, the team is now in its third year of participation and one, Al Ismaili said, to look out for.

“They have been pretty aggressive this year and they want to be on the podium, which they haven’t been,” he said. “They have trained very well and they have taken part in a number of races this year.”

The focus will be on the Messe Frankfurt team, skippered by the German Marcel Herrera, 21. Herrera was with the Ras Al Khaimah team in the inaugural race in 2011 and led Messe Frankfurt to a fifth-place finish last year.

Gradually, however, Al Isamili’s ambition is to produce more and more team racing sailors from the region itself in the mould of Mohsin Al Busaidi, who in 2009 became the first Arab to sail around the world.

“Our priority is to have all GCC states competing, every single one, not only with international crew members but with local crew on board,” he said.

“Today we have Mohsin Al Busaidi, the first Arab to sail and he has 100 per cent Omani crew, but that did not happen overnight.

“It took three years, starting with 50 per cent, then 80 per cent and now 100 per cent. We are very happy Abu Dhabi is on board and we want to encourage all the others.”

osamiuddin@thenational.ae

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