It may be billed as the race of a lifetime, but for Catalin Stanchu, the Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 2021 is a pleasant distraction.
Sitting inside his 13-metre Silverton yacht docked at the Yas Marina, the frenetic sounds of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix doesn’t disturb the reverie he associates with the site.
“If you own a boat in Abu Dhabi, then this is the biggest weekend of the year by far,” the Romanian engineer tells The National inside his intimate cabin, with a small television screening a live football match.
“It’s a fun atmosphere and you really see the marina comes to life. But I also enjoy it when it's calm as well. When I am alone in my boat, I do feel a sense of peace.”
Stanchu has a point.
Where the Yas Marina is dotted by mega yachts, with some such as the Amber Lounge functioning as full-scale floating clubs with live performances and a DJ, the smaller crafts offer their own kind of laid-back fun.
Strolling across the various berths in the marina, you can see families using their intimate boats for picnics, a game of cards or people watching.
For Brid Duffy, the family's 6.5-metre Starcraft has always been a place to escape the stresses of what has been a gruelling year.
Sitting on a picnic chair with a cup of tea, she recalls never intending to own their own boat when arriving in Abu Dhabi over a decade ago.
“We started going on other people’s boats and had such a great time, my husband and I thought, 'Why don’t we own one?'. Boat envy is a real thing,” she says, with a chuckle.
“But it is also a great way to gather the family and friends around and spend some together. Now with the Abu Dhabi Formula One, the boats docked at the marina get a number of free tickets, so we give them away to our kids and their friends while we parents stay here and chat and enjoy the breeze.”
Roger Hind says a boat retains a charm of its own.
Sitting on the stern of the Mojo, a pearl white 13.4-metre Princess 42 yacht, the Englishman says there is something about being out in the Abu Dhabi canal or peering out of the Marina at this time of the year.
“I am fortunate enough to have a friend who lends me his boat occasionally during the Abu Dhabi F1 over the last few years,” he says. “And no matter how big or small it is, it does have this kind of casual and luxurious vibe to it. Maybe it is the whole process of getting there, wearing comfortable clothes and enjoying the scenery that makes people relax.
“You kind of begin to understand why people like to do networking or business events on board, it makes people feel relaxed.”
The pleasures of the sea are not only limited to the rich and famous. Yas Island is home to various boat companies offering tours from cruising around the Yas Marina to a 90-minute journey right up to the shoreline of Emirates Palace hotel besides the corniche.
The Yellow Boats' Sanouf CP has been captaining tours on the company’s RIB (rigid inflatable boat) crafts for the past eight years.
A former fisherman and boat captain in the South Indian state of Kerala, he says Abu Dhabi does have a few nautical thrills of its own.
“Look, it’s nowhere as rough as Kerala can be but Abu Dhabi has interesting areas,” he says. “So when I take tours in the Yas Canal, it is calm and quiet but when I pass Saadiyat Bridge and Mina Port, then I will find some big waves and this is when the safety briefing is very important.”
Sanouf says the Abu Dhabi F1 is beneficial for Abu Dhabi boating companies.
“I see many people who never went on a boat tour before,” he says. “During the racing weekend, our company normally works as a water taxi taking people around the marina.
"But even in those few minutes, I see people relax and enjoy being in the marina and they come back after the F1 for boat tours. They feel like they saw a new and beautiful side of Abu Dhabi.”