Defending champions, EFG Bank Monaco are on course for a fourth consecutive EFG Sailing Arabia which is the Tour title after winning two of the five legs of the epic 763 nautical mile (nm) race. The team sailed to glory in the 153nm stage from Khasab, Oman, to Abu Dhabi, UAE their second offshore victory in three legs and now they are well positioned to secure the upcoming fourth trek to Doha, Qatar.
Crews got off to a spectacular start and Oman’s sailing legacy was on fine display during the first leg to Sohar, Oman. Kicking off from Al Mouj Muscat’s stunning marina after a tense in-port race, the eight-strong fleet started in a familiar spot with three-time winners EFG Bank Monaco strongly in the lead for much of the 105nm leg. A new face amongst the race veterans, French skipper Theirry Douillard lead the replacement of three-time champion Sidney Gavignet, who unfortunately stepped out of this year’s race due to physical injury.
However, the tides soon turned as Omani skipper Fahad Al Hosni led his home team to victory by snatching first place from the event favorites just before the finish line in Sohar and allowing fellow Omani crew Team Al Mouj Muscat to move up to second place.
Bouncing back from an initial upset, EFG Bank Monaco returned in fine form for the second leg of the race, determinedly taking over arch rivals Team Al Mouj Muscat less than ten miles from Khasab after more than 130nm of intense racing. Led by skipper Douillard, the crew crossed the line victorious at 12.37pm local time (GMT+4), 24 hours and 37 minutes after setting sail from Sohar. In a clear indication of how tight the racing was, Team Al Mouj Muscat, led by Christian Ponthieu of France, finished just three minutes later in second place.
EFG Bank Monaco took an early lead for the third leg to Abu Dhabi, though Omani team Al Mouj Muscat stayed tight on its heels. The veteran crew, saw off, spirited attacks from rival crews Team Al Mouj Muscat (OMA) and Team Zain (KUW) to seal the top spot in the 153-nautical mile sprint from Khasab on Oman’s Musandam Peninsula to Abu Dhabi. The triumph is all the more impressive given the hurdles EFG Bank Monaco faced on the leg. At one point, their Farr 30 racing yacht became entangled in a fishing net, causing them to lose the lead to Team Al Mouj Muscat, but they were able to recover and overhaul their rivals overnight and take the upper hand going into the last two legs of EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour.
Stepping off the dock at Emirates Palace Marina, in Abu Dhabi, Douillard said: “It was a very nice run. We had a good start, a great beginning around old Musandam and the coast. It was incredible, the view was beautiful and our start was a fast one.
Our navigator, Fabian Delahaye, grabbed almost all of the shifts [in tide], which put us in a solid lead before the official race gate. We did have a small issue with a rather large fishing net, sadly, we were caught for a while and it did scare us for a few minutes, but finally we got free and back on course in third place. We fought hard to get ourselves in top position by the final gate through some fast moves with the boat and we’re just very pleased with the job of the boys on the crew here and looking forward to keep the momentum up to Dubai.”
Returning for its third year, Zain Team of Kuwait’s team manager Michael Miller said his crew was in high spirits from the podium finish and looking forward to more wins. “This is the first time in the 2017 tour that Zain’s hit the podium, after two fourth places, so we’re hugely excited. I’m so pleased for the team and all of us, it’s been hard work and we really deserve it.”
The EFG Bank Monaco team, who lifted the EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour trophy in 2014, 2015 and 2016, now sits comfortably with four points clear at the top of the overall standings with two offshore legs and two in-port race series remaining. They have proved almost unbeatable in upwind conditions but with turbulent seas still ahead for the final 365nm leg remaining until the podium in Dubai. Douillard said, his team must now outperform their challengers with their spinnakers hoisted if they are to seal overall victory.
Omani crews Renaissance and Al Mouj Muscat rank second and third, respectively, as the battle for an overall podium position heats up. British title contenders Team Averda had hoped to claw back some points on EFG Bank Monaco during the final stage, the longest of the event but currently hold steady on a bitter seventh in the rankings.
Zain Team’s colleague-friendly voyage stays strong as a potential Renaissance upset, earning a fourth ranking with their podium finish on the last leg. Ranked directly behind the Kuwait team is Sardinian yachtswoman Caterina Nitto’s newcomers, Team Andelasia di Torres, with Swiss boat Bienne Voile directly behind, and Dutch Olympic yachtswoman Annemieke Bes’ DB Schenker women’s team sit in eighth.
The fleet departed Emirates Palace marina last Wednesday, heading to the open shore for the penultimate sprint in a fresh 10-knot wind, the identical Farr 30s made good headway towards their next port of call at The-Pearl-Qatar in Doha.
EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour is the only annual race of its type in the world and since it was first established in 2011. With a mix of long offshore legs and intense in-port racing, it has become the most prestigious race in the Middle East with a reach and appeal that extends with each edition, among both recreational and professional sailors. For more information on the race, please visit: www.sailingarabiathetour.com