Out of the Gulf
Leg four of Sailing Arabia–The Tour was frustratingly slow for the nine-boat fleet, but despite a lack of wind for most of the leg, the battle on the water was no less tense. Arriving in daylight for the first time, the fleet entered Omani waters in the early hours of this morning, and after sailing 278 kilomteres from Ras Al Khaimah to Musandam, many of the teams found themselves match racing to the line.
Daniel Souben and his professional French crew on Courrier Dunkerque claimed their fourth consecutive leg win, and with that are all but untouchable at the top of the Tour leaderboard. But it was the local knowledge of the Omani-flagged Team Renaissance and Team Muscat 2012 that was the most impressive in this leg, and Souben commented that although he is confident in his team’s abilities, they were wary of the Omani teams now they were in their home waters.
“This is yet another victory for us, and we are very happy, especially since it was the hardest stage of the Arabian Tour. It is thanks to the good preparation of the boat and crew and an excellent management team on site. The Omanis have the advantage of knowing the water now, and we have the advantage of knowing the boat so the racing will be very interesting from now on.”
The fleet struggled to get racing underway yesterday morning, with only two knots of wind as they prepared to leave Ras Al Khaimah. After a general recall on their first attempt with too many boats over the line, it was second time lucky for the majority of the fleet – only Team Kingdom of Saudi Arabia were penalised a second time with another recall – which ultimately proved costly for British skipper Robin Elsey and his crew.
As the fleet left the shelter of Ras Al Khaimah behind they immediately had to contend with rough seas states, battling into big waves. A tactical decision to head closer to shore provided some respite, and after 35 miles as they traversed the spectacular mountains of the UAE coastline, they were finally greeted with much more welcoming conditions and a steady six knots of breeze.
Once into Omani waters, and 55 miles to the finish, the wind eased off again and the fleet crawled to the only gate of the leg, located on the edge of the shipping channel in the Straight of Hormuz, at around two knots, battling into strong tides.
Courrier Dunkerque led the fleet, with Team Commercialbank nine minutes back, and Team BAE Systems 15 minutes off them. Team Renaissance and Al Thuraya BankMuscat passed in fourth and fifth respectively, and Al Thuraya BankMuscat skipper Dee Caffari summed up the conditions: “When we got to the top mark and the wind completely shut down and actually the whole fleet closed up. We found it very tough with shifty winds, boats really close together and really strong currents that weren’t doing what we expected. And then we all popped out into day light and found out where everybody was and couldn’t believe that some teams had got in front of us, and others were behind, so we were a little disappointed that we found ourselves in sixth place this morning.”
As the sun rose spectacularly over the fleet, it was all change, particularly for Team BAE Systems. The team, which has consistently finished in the top three had a frustrating leg, and a tactical error cost them valuable points of the leaderboard, as skipper Cedric Pouligny explained: “We were third at gate, and in a good position but as we sailed through the narrow passage in the Straight of Hormuz we were fighting against strong currents and we were getting tired. We missed a big wind shift and that was it. We couldn’t regain our position.”
Team BAE Systems went on to cross the line in eighth place, and fall from second to third on the overall Tour leaderboard, on joint points with fourth placed Team Renaissance.
Oman’s Ahmed Al Mamari and his Team Renaissance crew took full advantage of Team BAE Systems' error, and he was thrilled by their first podium position, finishing third just three minutes behind second placed Team Commercialbank: “Leg three was a difficult leg, and we feel very lucky to come top three. It is not easy to secure a podium place against these professional sailors and skippers and we did our best so we are very happy. We are now in our home waters and I know this area well. Just two months ago I won the Musab to Muscat regatta, and it think I know this area more than anyone here. I will try to use this experience along with my team to achieve more great results.”
Team Bahrain, which just two days ago claimed victory in the Ras Al Khaimah inport racing, showed considerable improvements during this leg, narrowly missing out on a podium place to Team Renaissance by just one minute. Ebraham Abdullah, the Bahraini skipper for this leg was thrilled with the teams performance: “We did very well today, we had over 24 hours sailing and it was a great experience. We are very happy to finish in fourth but it wasn’t easy. We were right at the back of the fleet we passed the gate and we made some good tactical calls which put us in a good position and allowed us to climb to fourth.”
The battle for fifth and six was intense between the all women’s Al Thuraya BankMuscat and Team Muscat 2012, and in a photo finish Team Muscat 2012 crossed the finish line less than one boats length ahead of the women.
Team Kingdom of Saudi Arabia secured their best result of the Tour, finishing five minutes shy of Al Thuraya BankMuscat in seventh, before an extremely disappointed Team BAE Systems, in eighth. Team Ras Al Khaimah brought up the rear, in ninth place.
The stopover is Musandam is hosted by Six Senses Resort and Spa Zighy Bay, which will tomorrow host inport racing for the fleet within the spectacular bay.
The fleet has already covered 1,047 kilometres, sailing from Bahrain, Qatar, and the UAE over the first four legs, and has a further 362 to go, before they reach their destination at The Wave, Muscat on 27 February.