Bertrand Pace's team claims penultimate leg
The penultimate leg of Sailing Arabia-the Tour, was a slow upwind battle from start to finish, with waves over four metres high, container ships and fishing nets making it by far the most unpredictable leg to date.
The teams set off from Dibba, Oman for the 135 mile leg to Mussanah, and after a slight delay while they waited for the breeze to fill in, the race started in slow four-knot upwind conditions. Very little separated the fleet as they short tacked up the beach for the first short sprint along the coastline, and as they rounded the headland and left Dibba to stern, the fleet began to split into two groups.
Not surprisingly, the French skippered boats Courrier Dunkerque, Team Commercialbank and Team BAE Systems led the fleet, with the all women’s team Al Thuraya BankMsucat, who have been biting at their heels for a podium position since the Tour started, not far behind. Team Kingdom of Saudi Arabia secured its best start of the Tour, and held a strong position mid-fleet from start to finish.
Negotiating fishing nets all along the coast, the wind began to build, and after 21 miles, the fleet was greeted with a wall of container ships on the horizon. Over a three mile stretch they had to weave between over 200 ships, which Team Bahrain skipper Qassim Abdelrazaq said required shrewd tactics. “The ships were huge, they completely blocked the wind. It was a case of trying to find the best route through, so you could keep moving. It was an incredible sight.”
Once clear, the fleet sailed onto the first gate in about six knots of breeze with the sun setting behind them. The French skippers who have been so dominant in the Tour led the way – Courrier Dunkerque out in front with a 12 minute advantage over Team Commercialbank, while Team BAE Systems followed just two minutes later.
95 miles to go and in only four knots of breeze, the fleet prepared for a long night, with two more marks to take in. Battling upwind into erratic rolling seas with waves of over four metres, inevitably some of the fleet faired better than others under the changeable conditions, and current tour leaders Courrier Dunkerque was among those who suffered. Team BAE Systems skipper Cedric Pouligny elaborated: “It was a pretty fun race, we had been battling all day and night with Team Commercialbank and Courrier Dunkerque was quite far ahead of us both. Then the wind dropped and Team Commercialbank and us were better positioned to handle the new pressure than Dunkerque, so we ended up in front of them. It was a pretty good leg for us."
As they approached the third mark, most of the fleet was relieved to learn of the decision by Race Director John–Michel Gandon to finish the race at the final mark, instead of 34 miles down the coast. The news was particularly welcomed Bertrand Pace his Qatari-flagged Team Commercialbank, who had a solid 15-minute lead on the rest of the fleet, enough for them to secure their first leg win, much to their surprise, as Pace explained: “When we got to the finish line we thought that Courrier Dunkerque were actually ahead of us, as there is just a small light on top of the rig so it is very hard to see them. So when we found out we had won we were very happy! I think we sailed well and worked to improve our speed all the time, even in light winds.”
Team BAE Systems and Courrier Dunerque finished second and third respectively, much to the dismay of Daniel Souben, Courrier Dunkerque’s who despite being disappointed with the results, was still in high spirits.
“It was a difficult leg, we are disappointed to finish the leg early because we thought there was more wind coming in so we could have regained places. We feel we have had good races the rest of the legs and a very good Tour.”
The decision, taken because of the forecast of continued light winds, also incurred a time limit of 0930 am local time, which ultimately proved costly for Team Ras Al Khaimah, the only team to finish outside of the time zone.
For the women on Al Thuraya BankMuscat, who finished fourth, their arrival in Mussanah was particularly special, with friends and family waiting on the dock to greet the girls, and welcome them back to the port that they used as their training base before the Tour. Raya Al Habsi said she was speechless at the warm welcome they received: “I am so happy to be here and to have my family welcome me! This was probably the hardest leg but knowing they would be waiting for me when I arrived made me want to keep sailing to them!”
The fleet have now turned their attentions to the final leg tomorrow, and they cant help but weigh up how close the points are on the leaderbard. All teams have dis-guarded their worst race result, meaning despite the third place finish in the latest leg, Courrier Dunerque technically still have a clean slate.
Just one point separates third placed Team BAE Systems from second placed Team Commercial Bank, while the battle for fourth and fifth is just as intense between Al Thuraya BankMuscat and Team Renaissance, with just one point separating the Omani-flagged teams.
The fleet has a short rest in Mussanah today before an early rise and the final short sprint along the coast to The Wave, Muscat tomorrow morning. If the conditions stay as predicted, with a building breeze throughout the day, it will be a thrilling final leg.
Leg five results (Zighy Bay-Mussanah)
1 – Team Commercialbank (Qatar)
2 – team BAE Systems (Oman)
3 – Courrier Dunkerque (France)
4 – Al Thuraya BankMuscat (Oman)
5 – Team Kingdon of Saudi Arabia (SAUDI)
6 – Team Bahrain (Bahrain)
7 – Muscat 2012 (Oman)
8 – Team Renaissance (Oman)
9 – Team Ras Al Khaimah (UAE)
1 – COURRIER DUNKERQUE – 9
2 – TEAM COMMERCIALBANK – 19
3 – TEAM BAE SYSTEMS – 20
4 – AL THURAYA BANKMUSCAT – 38
5 – TEAM RENAISSANCE – 39
6 – TEAM KINGDOM OF SAUDI ARABIA – 54
7 – TEAM BAHRAIN – 55
8 – TEAM TEAM MUSCAT 2012 – 64
9 – RAS AL KHAIMAH – 73