Gavignet gets two girls
Omani sailor Raiya Al Habsi will carve out a slice of history in August after Oman Sail selected her as a member of the mixed Oman Air-Musandam MOD70 crew for the international racing classic, the 2013 Rolex Fastnet Race. The 25 year-old former customer services assistant, who joined Oman Sail as part of the pioneering Women’s Sailing Programme in 2011 will become the first Omani woman to take part in the race, inspiring a new generation of intrepid young sailors across the Sultanate.
Al Habsi will be joining Dee Caffari in Sidney Gavignet’s eight strong MOD70 crew. The two have sailed together before, as part of the all-female Al Thuraya Bank Muscat team in the 2012 and 2013 editions of EFG Bank Sailing Arabia – The Tour.
Muscat-based Al Habsi has also spent much of this season in Europe, as a member of Oman Sail’s J/80 Al Thuraya Bank Muscat crew competing at SPI Ouest France, Grand Prix Ecole Navale, Normandy Race Week and the J/80 World Championship in Marseilles.
“I think this will be the biggest challenge I have faced but I am really looking forward to it,” she said. “I have talked to Fahad and Ahmed [Oman Air-Musandam crew] and collected quite a lot of information about these boats but obviously I shall be learning a lot. These boats are really big and very fast so it will be something completely new and different.
“I have sailed offshore before but in Farr 30s and J/80s which are slow compared to the MOD70 so I’m looking forward to learning exactly how the guys do it.”
Al Habsi’s family in Muscat have given her their full support though are mystified as to why she might want to be involved in an event where she is likely to get cold, wet and hungry!
“They think I am crazy but they are very supportive,” said Al Habsi, who has 11 brothers and sisters. “My parents are always encouraging me to try new things though I think they are a bit concerned. Many of my friends don’t fully understand – they think racing is like cruising or fishing – so I have to tell them how complicated it is and how I must always think about techniques and about the wind, always using my mind and my muscles.
“The rain and the cold don’t worry me at all - I’m just excited at having the opportunity of racing on such a fast boat.”
Skipper Sidney Gavignet was delighted to be giving Al Habsi the opportunity to join Oman Sail’s elite racing team for such a prestigious event and had no concerns over her lack of experience.
“We know she is inexperienced so will have no expectations of her,” he said. “We also know she is tough and will have no problems with the conditions, Dee is a very good sailor and knows Raiya well so she is the right person to learn from as well as Fahad, Ahmed and of course Neal McDonald and Damian Foxall.
“Our hope is that she will enjoy her offshore experience with us and inspire other girls in Oman to go sailing by recounting the stories of her adventures.”