x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

RAK gets thumbs up from sailors

Club plans rapid expansion in a place where you're 'guaranteed a breeze each day'

RAS AL KHAIMAH // Participants in RAK’s first international sailing event have belittled the security and infrastructure concerns raised last year at the time the emirate was chosen to hold the America’s Cup.

Officials and sailors in Sailing Arabia The Tour, a race from Manama to Muscat, said upon their arrival at the Al Hamra Marina yesterday that RAK has everything it needs to be a competitive venue for international sailing events.

They were speaking exactly one year after the America’s Cup was scheduled to begin in the emirate, a ruling overturned by the New York State Supreme Court after a three-month legal battle between Alinghi, a Swiss racing syndicate which favoured RAK, and its American challenger BMW Oracle Racing.

RAK was eventually disqualified because the document that governs the America’s Cup, the 19th-century Deed of Gift, specifies that a winter race must be held in the southern hemisphere.

“The ghost of the America’s Cup has now been exorcised,” said Toby Haws, the manager of the Royal Yacht Club of Ras al Khaimah and captain of Team RAK in this event.

Whatever the legal issues were last year, he suggested, the sailing has always been good at RAK.

The arrival of the yachts yesterday marked the first major international event hosted by the Royal Yacht Club of Ras al Khaimah, the third stop in the four countries of the 1,408km race.

Jean Michel Gandon, the race officer, said conditions exceeded expectations, though he conceded that he was surprised by RAK’s changing coastline. The newly-constructed Al Marjan Islands were absent from his map.

Mr Gandon, who was a race officer for Tour de France à la Voile, dismissed security concerns. “I think it’s one of the safest places on the planet,” he said. “The Strait of Hormuz has 20 per cent of the world’s petrol pass through it so for sure it’s a safe place.

We organised a special watch with the Navy but I think we didn’t need it.”
The boats were to set off this morning at 9am for “a short sprint around Musandam” before arriving at Zighy Bay, Oman. Mr

Gandon said the boats would stay a good 12 miles from Iran “but after all we are sailors, we are not political and I don’t think Iran is interested in us.”

Vincent Portugal, the skipper for Team New Caledonia, said weather conditions in RAK were “perfect” for international events.

“Technically you have a unique [situation] here and I believe that more and more international events are going to take place,” Mr Portugal said.

The marina’s shape allows for the best possible public viewing, he added, though only smaller boats can be accommodated.

In the first stages of Sailing Arabia, boats have been able to reach speeds of up to 20 knots, instead of the expected five. The race from Abu Dhabi to RAK, expected to take 26 hours, took only about 12. Strong north-westerly shamal winds are typical in winter, local sailors said.

“The America’s Cup was chosen to be here because of the sailing,” said Alan Linnitt, the managing director of Henderson International, which manages the yacht club.

“I think unlike the other emirates we’re pretty much guaranteed a breeze each day and we’re seeing many more sailing vessels moving up to RAK for that reason.

“We had a lot of businesses that were actually founded around the America’s Cup that stayed and are now seeing life in the area and activity,” Mr Linnitt said. “People did suffer an aftershock [but] now it’s turning around in a positive way.”

The club will build on this success. working to make the sport more accessible to beginners and to focus heavily on training, with six new boats planned for this year.

“To be honest 2011 is a real year of building and in 2012 RAK expects to have a sailing team in every major regatta, even if we have to absorb a lot of the cost of it,” Mr Haws said.

Such initiatives have been successful in Oman, which entered an fully-Omani team in the race and plan to open seven sailing schools for 30,000 pupils in the next five years.

Mohammed al Ghailani, 27, from Sur, left his job as a civil engineer to join Oman’s national team in honour of his grandfather. “The last maybe 30 years they stopped sailing because of oil, now they start again, in recent years it’s started to reignite this industry and it’s becoming more and more popular,” he said.

Team RAK, the only UAE entry among the six teams, is currently placed fourth.

azacharias@thenational.ae