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AISM verging on the unbeatable

Bertrand Pace's team claims dramatic leg from RAK to Dibba through the Strait of Hormuz on Sailing Arabia - The Tour

Thursday February 21st 2013, Author: James Boyd, Location: Oman

Leg five of EFG Bank Sailing Arabia – The Tour may have proved to be the decisive one, with Bertrand Pacé’s AISM winning her fourth consecutive offshore leg. With second-placed BAE Systems coming home in fifth place, AISM now holds a 5.75 point lead which will be extremely difficult to topple with two more offshore legs to go.

The leg between Al Hamra in Ras Al Khaimah, UAE and Zighy Bay in Oman is the one that all the crews look forward to, taking the eight Farr 30s through the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world’s great seaways, between the Gulf of Arabia and the Gulf of Oman. After days of sailing along a low-lying shoreline, the desert rolling into the sea, in stark contrast this leg rounded the severly mountainous Musandam Peninsula.

In the race, Bertrand Pacé’s team on AISM once again proved the class act and led for the duration of the race. But they came perilously close to losing it with two significant park-ups en route at dusk and at dawn. “The difficulty when you are the leader is that you are always the first one to fall into a hole and then everyone goes around you,” said AISM navigator and Tour de France a la Voile veteran Hervé Gautier. “Bertrand is very good at judging angles and at staying conservative with the fleet and we took turns to have enough sleep, so we are always very alert.”

The fleet passed through the Strait of Hormuz sadly in the dark and, on down the eastern side of the Musandam Peninsula, the wind disappeared again for the best part of two hours. Over this period the fleet went from being spread out over 10 miles from first to last to regrouping and effectively restarting.

“When we got caught by the others, our plan was to be closer to the shore. At one point we were afraid that it might have been the wrong choice, but once again we picked up the wind first. So it was a restart, but being in front, you get the breeze first. However the danger was once again to fall into a hole. Fortunately that never happened,” said Gautier.

The results of this leg were determined by this ‘restart’. Behind AISM, Dee Caffari’s team on Al-Thuraya Bank Muscat and the Dutch students on TU Delft were the first out of the wind hole, closest to the land, while Sidney Gavignet’s crew on EFG Bank (Monaco) somehow managed to extricate themselves from the offshore side of the group.

Aside from AISM, the star performer of this leg was TU Delft. Al-Thuraya Bank Muscat led the trio past the last headland of the course, but shortly afterwards the Dutch nosed ahead into second. “We were the first to set our masthead spinnaker,” said TU Delft skipper Kay Heemskerk of how they got ahead. “It is a long way down here and it was pretty tiring for everyone. I am exhausted at the moment. I’ll have some food, take a shower and go to bed.”

Delft University has traditionally been a competitor on the Tour de France a la Voile, but according to Heemskerk this is the first time in years that they have been on the podium of an offshore leg. Most of the team heralds from the Netherlands-based university, although an exception is Heemskerk who studies Sports Marketing in Amsterdam.

There was a heart-in-mouth moment when they became entangled with a fishing pot just 200m from the finish line. This also happened to EFG Bank (Monaco), requiring skipper Sidney Gavignet to dive overboard to disentangle it.

EFG Bank (Monaco) had one of the most up and down races. “It seemed like there were lots of obstacles and little traps to fall into and we fell into most of them,” admitted the team’s Neal McDonald. One that went wrong ended up leaving them in last place. “You have to have a plan, just ours was wrong.” However they were able to fight back after the second park up, to end up third.

Others weren’t so lucky. BAE Systems, lying in second place overall, got trapped in the light winds for the best part of two hours, leaving them in an uncharacteristic sixth place, 8 miles from the leader.

Dee Caffari’s all-female team on Al-Thuraya Bank Muscat was holding a solid podium position, only for it to slip through their fingers in the last miles. “It was tense. It was a difficult leg because there were lots of restarts and everyone piled into the back of everyone and floated around for a while and then there was a mass restart,” recounted Caffari.

Of their fortuitous exit from the second park-up she continued: “We went from last to second - which was quite impressive, although I’m not sure how it happened! We went towards the beach with the Dutch and everyone else was left behind. Then out of nowhere Sidney comes roaring up like a train and we were going ‘how did he do that?’”

Racing continues tomorrow with the in port race in Zighy Bay.

Overall results

Pos Team RAK to Dibba Tot
1 AISM 1 13.25
2 BAE Systems 5 19
3 EFG Bank Monaco 3 20.5
4 Delft Challenge - TU Delft 2 31.25
5 Messe Frankfurt TLE 32.5
6 Renaissance 6 39.5
7 Al Thuraya Bank Muscat 4 42.25
8 Royal Navy of Oman 7 56.75
9 Abu Dhabi DNS 66.25

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