Muscat: Oman Sail raced onto the third step of the podium in Dunkerque last weekend at the Grand Prix Guyader, second round of the M34 French Championships, after four days of battling it out against Tour de France rivals Groupama, who finished first, and second placed Courrier Dunkerque.
The event was the second of the season for the Oman Sail M34 squad and a second podium finish hot on the heels of an excellent first outing for Oman's flagship Musandam-Oman Sail MOD70 last week during the first half of the GP Guyader.
The event was a good next step towards the summer's main event at the Tour de France a la Voile and some of the giants of the circuit lined up in challenging conditions for the mixed inshore/offshore format that culminated in a 103nm offshore race from Treboul to Dunkerque overnight on Friday in 27knots and pouring rain.
"It was really good to measure ourselves against our main rivals on Groupama, Courrier Dunkerque and Bretagne Credit Mutuel early on in the season," said skipper Sidney Gavignet, who is leading a squad of Omani and European sailors for the 2014 season on the M34 for the Tour and the MOD70 programme which will culminate in the Route du Rhum in November.
"The Omani sailors onboard have made a big step forward this week. Having an intense month of training and racing on the J80, the M34 and the MOD70 and then finishing off on a high at this event has really helped to up their performance. There are still mistakes and areas to improve on for sure, but they have worked really hard and have progressed well as a team – we all have," said Sidney.
The Oman Sail M34 crew included Damien Iehl on the helm, Sidney Gavignet on tactics and navigation, Cedric Pouligny on mainsail trim, Gilles Favennec on headsail trim, Fahad Al Hasni on the spinnaker, Mohammed Al Mujaini in the pit and Ali Al Balushi on the bow.
"This race was great in terms of our learning curve," said Fahad Al Hasni who is fresh from two years on the MOD70, "We are shaping up as a new team and even managed to finish on the podium which wasn't our primary goal and makes it even more satisfying. I will be making the most of my 15 days back in Oman before the next event to get stronger as these boats are very physical and working a spinnaker sheet for a month during the Tour de France is going to require a bit more strength!
"I will also work on my playbook so that I make sure what I have learnt over the last weeks remains fresh in my mind for the next regatta."
Up next for Oman Sail is the Armen Race in La Trinite sur Mer (May 30-June 1), another opportunity to race the MOD70 Musandam-Oman Sail, supported by the Ministry of Tourism of Oman, and after that the squad moves back to the M34 for Normandy Sailing Week (June 9-15), their final training platform before July's main event.