The six crews who will compete in this year’s EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour have arrived in Bahrain to make their final preparations for the 15-day race.
The Tour (Satt) – the fourth edition of the Arabian Gulf’s only long-distance race – begins in Bahrain on Sunday, when the teams set sail for Doha, Qatar.
There are also stops in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ras Al Khaimah and Dibba before finishing in Mussanah in Oman on February 24.
The fleet of identical Farr 30 boats will be based at the Amwaj Marina in Manama this week ahead of the 100-nautical-mile first leg.
Some of the teams are meeting up for the first time, including Sidney Gavignet’s EFG Bank team. They have done no training together but will still be favourites in the 760nms race due to the experience on board, including two of Oman’s young sailing prospects Ali Al Balushi and Mohammed Al Mujaini.
“We’ll have two days of training just before the start,” Gavignet said.
“On paper we have a very good team compared to the others and we will be going all out to win.
“But Messe Frankfurt Sailing Team are bringing their own boat and were definitely fast last year, so they could spring a surprise. We are expecting a very intense race – you arrive at night, go sailing in shore the next day then leave on the next leg early the following morning. It will be fun.”
Messe Frankfurt, the team comprised mainly of students, are the most prepared of all with more than eight months of training behind them, but like all the crews flying in from a chilly northern Europe, they will have to adjust to the warmer weather.
“There are four of us who did it last year and four new people, including a new navigator, which hopefully means we can up the progress and do better than last year,” said skipper Marcel Herrera, 21, who is on board for the third straight year. They finsihed fifth last year.
“Our aim, set at the end of the last race, was to do better in this one, so we would hope to be inside the top four and expect to win the amateur rankings.
“Sidney’s crew is definitely the one to beat this year, but our personal aim is to beat Team Delft Challenge because we are both university teams.”
Team Delft Challenge, from the Netherlands, are also eagerly anticipating that contest.
“We are looking forward to a nice little battle with the other students on Messe Frankfurt,” Delft’s Kay Heemskerk said.
“I saw what they did last year and they have been training a lot so they will be tough to beat.”
Oman will also be represented by the Royal Navy of Oman, Team Renaissance and the all-female Al Thuraya Bank Muscat team.
Al Thuraya Bank have trained as a unit for most of the past year, but skipper Katie Pettibone has not had much time with the team.
“I have only been with them for two weeks and we will have another week in Bahrain,” Pettibone said.
“The girls are pretty excited – they are really starting to enjoy the racing because they understand their roles so much better and have really improved. My goal is to get on the podium at some stage in the race.”
Pettibone is looking forward to the change of scenery.
“I love racing in the Gulf,” she said.
“It is a magical place. Every year it is different. It’s really lovely sailing conditions – always nice not to get battered by snow and ice.
“The spirit of this race is also special – upbeat, fun and friendly, which is part of the desire to keep coming back. ”
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