Pace leads early morning charge into Abu Dhabi
Dubai-based Team AISM has claimed the second leg of the EFG Bank Sailing Arabia – The Tour following 18 hours of maximum exhilaration for the nine international and regional crews competing between Doha and Abu Dhabi.
At 159 miles, this leg from the Qatari capital, Doha was the longest of EFG Bank Sailing Arabia – The Tour, the region’s only long distance offshore race. It was sailed in 20 knot northerlies and for the crews competing aboard their Farr 30s, it proved to be drama-laden with their boats pushed to the limit, resulting in numerous broaches in the brisk conditions and an incident for the Abu Dhabi team who were airlifted off their stricken yacht after running aground.
Yet for the leaders that arrived into Abu Dhabi in swift succession just before dawn this morning it was smiles all round.
At the front of the fleet a cut throat competition was going on between the three world-class French heavyweights – the Bertrand Pacé-steered and Dubai-based AISM, Sidney Gavignet’s team on EFG Bank (Monaco) and Cédric Pouligny on team BAE Systems. Gavignet’s team lost the lead when their yacht suffered problems with their electrics to be overtaken by Tuesday’s triple in-port race winner, AISM. Into Abu Dhabi Team AISM continued her winning streak, with BAE Systems second and EFG Bank (Monaco) dropping to third.
“It was amazing,” enthused Bertrand Pacé, “because we kept changing spinnakers, but actually the boat speeds were very close. We had a big fight with EFG Bank (Monaco). Many things happened - we caught some seaweed and there were many islands on the course and you had to decide to which side to pass them. And it was fun because we were very quick for a small boat - we hit 17 knots a couple of times.”
Cédric Pouligny also looked exhausted on his arrival having had no sleep and barely anything to eat since setting off from Doha yesterday lunchtime. The Frenchman agreed with Pacé that one of the crucial decisions early on was which side of an island they should pass and he admitted that their decision regarding this turned out to be the wrong one.
BAE Systems, leader going into this leg continues to hold first place but has second-placed AISM closing on them, on 6.75 points to their 5.5. “It was a good leg, but Bertrand is going to be hard to beat. He has a 100% pro crew and they don’t mistakes,” Pouligny warned.
Volvo Ocean Race veteran Sidney Gavignet was putting a brave face on EFG Bank (Monaco) losing first place and, aside from the issue with their electrics, admitted he made a few errors due to his continued unfamiliarity with the Farr 30. However he was pleased with his team’s performance, leading for much of the leg, particularly after they had been over early at the start and had had to go back and recross the line.
The course itself was also taxing on the navigators who had to remain constantly on high alert with exclusion zones around oil fields on either side of the race track and several other obstructions to avoid en route.
The first boats to suffer were Renaissance and Delft Challenge, who, racing alongside each other, both ran aground on to the same rock. On Renaissance the impact was enough to catapult poor Bruno Dubois forwards, injuring his face in the process. Fortunately both boats were able to extract themselves and continue racing (although Renaissance used her engine in the process).
Delft Challenge skipper, Kay Heemskerk, who was ready to drop from exhaustion upon his arrival at the Abu Dhabi Sailing & Yacht Club, said that they had dived on their keel to see if there was any serious damage – there wasn’t and he was satisfied they could continue. As a result they came home fourth, just ahead of their student rivals, the University of Plymouth team aboard Messe Frankfurt. “I am proud of the guys,” said Heemskerk of his team mates.
The fledgling crew sailing with Adil Khaled on Team Abu Dhabi was not so fortunate, they were sailing a course to the south of their opposition yesterday evening when they ran aground on to a sandy shoal to the north of Halat Tinah island, some 73 miles from the finish. They were unable to get their boat off and because of the depth, the race committee boat that shadows the fleet, could not assist them, so given the weather conditions, the UAE coastguard was asked to instigate a rescue. Some five hours after the incident the crew was successfully transferred to their life raft from where they were airlifted to safety.
"It was a difficult leg, with a number of challenges and tricky conditions. When I knew I had no control of the rudder I directed the team to go below deck to ensure their safety and we waited for the helicopter to airlift us off. I’m just happy the crew is safe and there were no injuries,” said Khaled once back ashore.
“We are a young team and our goal before we started was to win a leg or an in port race and we hope that goal is still achievable. We are in talks on recovering the boat and hope to continue the tour and achieve our goal."