New teams, new route and a surprise or two are set to make 2016 EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour (15-29 February) the best yet, according to crews who have arrived in Dubai in preparation for the start of the 730nm sailing marathon around the Gulf on Monday.
With just a few days to set up their Farr 30 boats in readiness for the first in port race at Palm Jumeirah in Dubai on Monday 15 February, followed by the first short leg to Abu Dhabi the next day, the talk is already of which parts of the course will shake the fleet up and which one of the nine contenders might take the coveted 2016 crown.
On past form, EFG Bank Monaco are the favourites having won in 2014 and last year but according to French skipper Sidney Gavignet, his newly-assembled crew will have to work hard to maintain their ‘win’ record.
“I think this might be the best EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour yet because the standard is higher and there are some very good teams this year who are bound to give us a run for our money,” said Gavignet.
“I love this event because I like putting teams together and I like sailing in the sun but you have to remember I am quite out of practice on the race course these days which gives the other teams a real chance.”
In particular, Al Mouj, one of the new Omani teams, skippered by Gilles Favennec, could spring a surprise in the three in port races in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha since they are talented and experienced campaigners, Gavignet said, while the offshore legs will require concentration, patience and perhaps a bit of luck.
“You get a bad start on leg one and it is such a short leg that it will then be difficult to make up time. It is important to get a good start and to score early wins so you show the other teams who you are.
“But of course, our aim is to win overall!”
For Dee Caffari and the girls on Oman Airports-Al Thuraya, a forecast for light winds will offer a chance to settle in to roles and routines during the first 61nm leg.
“The forecast at the moment has some breeze forecast for Friday but at the weekend when racing starts for real, it looks light again.
“It is still too early to tell about the conditions for the first leg to Abu Dhabi but at 61 miles that is just the warm up as leg two and three are much longer.
“I welcome the warm up as it eases the girls into the racing gently. We have checked all the safety gear and set the rigs on our boats, collected the sails and cleaned the boat ready for action. We checked all our sails and mast and instruments and have started to sail the boat as a race team.
“The weather so far has been glorious sunshine with a sea temperature of 21 degrees and the wind has been light between six and nine knots, with a large swell left over from the windy conditions we have seen this week.”
Caffari is resuming her role as the Oman Airports-Al Thuraya Women’s Team skipper after a four year break and is excited about the potential she sees among her crew.
“Every time I come back to see them, they are really nervous at first and then they relax and sail as normal and so our training has been about them relaxing and us communicating as a team.
“They are excited and are looking forward to feeling more empowered and taking more responsibility. That is what I am hoping to achieve with them. I am delighted to be back and am enjoying seeing familiar faces again and I am looking forward to the racing as you can see from walking the dock, just how competitive this fleet has become.
“Let the games begin!” she said.
The action starts on Monday with EFG Bank Monaco (MON), Oman Airports-Al Thuraya Women’s Team (OMA), TU Delft Challenge (NED), Team Averda (UK), Team Bienne Voile (SUI), Renaissance Services (OMA), Team Mangold (GER), Al Mouj (OMA) and Team Zain (KWT) all chasing early points in the opening in port races.
by Oman Sail