ABU DHABI // Having braved the cold during a sea journey exceeding 290 kilometres and lasting more than 36 hours from Doha to Abu Dhabi, Raya Al Habsi showed no signs of being exhausted from the longest leg of the Sailing Arabia - The Tour event.
"I was excited from the very beginning, especially to sail alongside an experienced crew and most importantly to be competing at an international level," the 23-year-old Omani said yesterday of her debut in the six-leg regatta which concludes in Muscat.
"I felt good because we were training and had done this course three times before the actual race. This time it was a real race. To be honest, I was very nervous at the beginning, but with the work I had, I soon forgot being nervous."
Al Habsi was one of four Omani women selected to be part of the all-female Al Thuraya BankMascat team.
"There are many girls wishing to get this opportunity," she said. "I wish there will be more than one team for the Omani women next year. I know they were a bit disappointed as only four could make it into the team."
To be selected, Al Habsi and her teammate, Intesar Al Tobi, trained for five months both onshore and at sea.
"I was fit because I used to play squash, volleyball and a lot of swimming," Al Habsi said, adding that the training included three long-distance sailing legs of more than 24 hours.
"It is mentally exhausting and physically demanding, but I think it is all about how much you enjoy doing it," she said. "For me, it has been really good feeling. I have enjoyed every moment and am looking forward for more."
Al Habsi is employed in a financial institute in her native Oman. She is the second last in a family of six girls and six boys.
Al Habsi has enjoyed the company of her international crew, which includes two sailors each from Britain and France, and one each from New Zealand and the United States.
"The whole crew has been amazing," she said. "They have encouraged both me and Intesar all through the training and now in the race. They kept talking and joking all through while challenging the other boats." Hannah Morris, an experienced sailor from New Zealand, praised the Omani women.
"It is their first race but they haven't shown any signs of fatigue or uneasiness during the long and hard journey," she said. "It has all gone well and we are giving the men a good run." They were fourth in the leg to Abu Dhabi, finishing ahead of five boats crewed by men.
Kholous Al Kindi and Tahira Al Yahyi are the two other Omanis on the team. They were given the task of rounding off the in-port event in Abu Dhabi yesterday.
"I knew how hard it would be but I was ready for that challenge," Al Habsi said. "The journey from Doha to Abu Dhabi has already taught me to be mentally tough.
"Now I can't wait until we reach Oman. I am just excited and already looking ahead for the journey ahead and for next year's race."