With Sailing Arabia – The Tour 2017 (SATT) hitting the water this week, the GCC prepares for two weeks of unmissable action as crews from around the world set sail in the Arabian Gulf. As the only annual event in the world to offer a mix of inshore and offshore competition, the stakes are high for the eight skippers and their crews, but for the organisers, Oman Sail, the 763 nm race offers the chance to roll out the red carpet for the teams and their supporters to highlight the region’s vast array of natural and cultural assets. With stops in iconic destinations such as Muscat, Sohar, Abu Dhabi, Doha and Dubai, SATT is one of the most prestigious sailing events in the calendar, promising picturesque coastlines, iconic ports and intense racing action.
Since its inception in 2011, SATT has been fundamental in promoting the profile of sailing in the region, with both international and regional crews taking part in the previous six editions, including returning teams EFG Bank Monaco, Bienne Voile and Team Averda, while newcomers Team Andelasia di Torres join the fray to see what the GCC has to offer. Amidst those crews are some of the most highly regarded sailors of the modern era with the likes of Tour de France de Voile winner Thierry Douillard, youthful champion Marcel Herrera and world-record setter Omani Fahad Al Hasni skippering crews in this years’ race.
Six-time SATT participant and Team Renaissance skipper Fahad Al Hasni, who has a seven-strong team of Omanis onboard, says there is plenty of challenges on the combination up-and-down wind route but that makes it even more interesting:
We definitely had an advantage because we understand the waters, we know the conditions, especially with the Musandam Peninsula which can be unpredictable and the upwind battle from Abu Dhabi to Qatar. We are all focused on pushing our abilities to the limit and testing ourselves on the water, but also we want to have fun – that is why we sail.’
The opening ceremony at Al Mouj Muscat on 14 February set the scene when the SATT skippers were introduced for the first time against a backdrop of Oman’s premier lifestyle destination before receiving a flag from the guest of honour, Sayyid Badr Al Busaidi, Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ahead of the first in-port race.
SATT will welcome the fleet of identical Farr 30’s to the shores of Qatar at The Pearl-Qatar, on 22 February. Designed and engineered to be an everlasting icon in Qatar, The Pearl-Qatar, a man-made island in the heart of Doha’s West Bay is an obvious destination for water-sports enthusiasts, with its pleasant waters, safe beaches, world-class equipment and award-winning marina infrastructure. The first of the three in-ports will be the annual CEO Challenge Race where the heads of some of the region’s leading companies race as guests on board the boats, with the winner earning an award at the prize-giving later in the day.
As the penultimate stop for the gruelling two-week race, The Pearl-Qatar will play host to the eight crews for a demanding in-port race before kicking off the longest offshore challenge of 203 nautical miles to the finale in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, tensions will be mounting when the crews slip anchor and head back out to the Straits of Hormuz. This final opportunity to earn offshore points is bound to lead to a highly tactical exercise.
Olympic Dutch sailor Annemieke Bes, skipper of DB Schenker’s all women team and stepping in for returning champion Denise ‘Dee’ Caffari, is no stranger to racing in exotic locations. She is excited, though she says competition this year will be fierce:
The race is always a great experience to be in the Arabian Gulf and compete against the best in the world. The team changes every year and so it’s not just about growing on our previous years, but being able to challenge ourselves anew. We obviously do our best but overall it’s just great to be here and show women what they can do.’
The 2017 EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour is the seventh edition of the race, which combines long offshore legs with high action in-port racing at venues along the 763nm course. The race got underway at the Al Mouj Marina in Muscat on 14 February 2017 and finishes with a prize-giving celebration in Dubai on 1 March 2017.
Oman Sail first launched the race in 2011 and since then, it has grown into the jewel in the crown of Middle East sailing, as the Gulf region’s only offshore event and the world’s only annual race of its type that combines a mix of long offshore legs and intense in-port racing.
For more information, visit sailingarabiathetour.com.