DUBAI // For the first time in its 17-year history, the Dubai to Muscat sailing race has become an Emirates-only affair after Oman mysteriously banned racers from entering its waters at the last minute.
Sailors were forced to take an alternative route after being warned that no boat should enter Omani waters in the course of the race, which will take about four days.
The race was scheduled to start at the Dubai Offshore Sailing Club (DOSC) and pass through the Strait of Hormuz before reaching Muscat.
Keith Mutch, from the DOSC, which organised the event, said the race began as scheduled, but with an alternative route. "It was completely last minute," Mr Mutch said. "We were told that we would find out why it was cancelled in due course. They said that no boat should enter Omani waters."
The announcement was made on the DOSC's website on Thursday, immediately after the club was informed of the changes by Muscat's Marina Bander Al Rowdha, where the boats were scheduled to finish.
Bob Looker, the manager of the marina, said that he had not been given the reason for the cancellation from officials from Oman's ministry of sports affairs.
"We were only told that it wouldn't happen," Mr Looker said. "It's hugely disappointing for DOSC and for us as well," he said. "There's nothing we can do about it."
The Strait of Hormuz, through which the competitors were to have passed, is one of the most politically sensitive waterways in the world.
In July, a group calling itself the Abdullah Azzam Brigades claimed responsibility for an attack on a Japanese-owned tanker in the strait.
UAE experts examined the 333-metre MV M.Star and found traces of what they said were home-made explosives" on the hull, according to the government news agency WAM.
Last year, five Britons on their way to compete in the race were arrested when their yacht, the Kingdom of Bahrain, drifted into Iranian waters.
Their ordeal began when the 18-metre yacht developed propeller problems en route from Bahrain to Dubai. Without power, they drifted into Iranian waters, where they were seized by the elite Revolutionary Guard. A week later, Iranian officials released them, agreeing the crew had made an innocent mistake.
Under the new arrangement, the race will end at Al Hamra, rather than in the Marina Bander al Rowdha in Muscat.
The race will cover 370km, considerable shorter than the original 667km.
However, only 12 boats are taking part, against up to 20 scheduled before the cancellation, Mr Mutch said.
The boats left the DOSC on Saturday and headed for a point in Abu Dhabi by passing through the Jebel Ali approach off the Palm Jebel Ali.
The race will follow a route as far as the Abu Dhabi approach, which is about 20km off the Abu Dhabi coastline.
The boats will then head north for Sir Abu Nu'Air, an island 65km off the northern coast of the UAE. They will then race Neptune Point, off the coast of Dubai, before the Al Jazeera approach off Al Hamra Marina in Ras al Khaimah. The race ends at the entrance to Al Hamra.
The boats are expected to reach the Royal Yacht Club in Ras al Khaimah tomorrow.