Oman teams gain rich experience


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MUSCAT: The Al Thuraiya Bank Muscat women's and national men's offshore sailing teams returned to the Sultanate upbeat this week after gaining immense experience and training opportunities in the specialised sailing discipline of match racing during the annual Kingdom Match Race Championships in Bahrain.

The two Omani teams were among 16 Arab and international teams from the UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Tunisia, Russia and Austria contesting the prestigious event from December 15 to 21 at the Bahrain Sailing Club near Al Jazayer Beach in Zallaq.

"For both our teams the goal was to gain more experience and improve our levels of expertise in this highly demanding sailing discipline. We came home knowing that we had done well over the four days.

We achieved way more than we expected," said skipper Mohsin Al Busaidi of 'The Omani' Team.

The six member Oman men's team finished 11th overall in the event. Other members of the crew were Nasser Al Mashari, Fahad Al Hasni, Ali Al Balushi, Mohammed Al Mukhainai and Mohammed Al Mujaini.

The event also offered a leadership and team-work test for the Al Thuraiya Bank Muscat women's team who said it presented a very fitting and timely platform for training.

"We had hard decisions to make because of the strong winds that reached around 30 knots. But it was good practice for us to participate, to learn from our mistakes and review them tactically and technically," said women's team skipper Raja Al Owaisi.

Al Owaisi and her all Omani women's crew Raiya Al Habsi, Asrar Al Ajmi, Ibtisam Al Salmi along with new team member Hajar Al Omrani were 16th overall. It was their second consecutive entry in the event as the only all women's team at the event and once again were the focus of great media attention.
"We only sailed on two of the four days because the winds were so strong and in that way our results can't reflect what we achieved," said Al Owaisi.

Day 1 was delayed due to strong winds reaching almost 30 knots. Conditions remained the same on Day 2 but even though the race management opted for starting the race there were clear instructions not to use spinnakers. Even so Al Thuraiya Bank Muscat team decided not to race as a safety precaution and instead sailed a match-race format to test how to keep control of the boat in strong wind conditions.

The winds continued to range from 25-30 knots on Day 3 but Al Thuraiya joined the racing and were proud to showcase an impressive performance.

The Omani teams raced again on Day 4 but by then there was no chance of climbing the leader board.  "We learnt a lot. It was a fantastic regatta with a race management of the highest calibre. There were also quite a number of seasoned international judges running the jury for the event," said Al Busaidi.

He said match racing is a challenge to master as it is a very tactical, strategic and intense two boat contest which requires an aggressive attacking style of racing in order to get the upper hand. It is the format of America's Cup racing, governed by strict rules and considered one of the most demanding disciplines in sailing.

Both Omani skippers said they were overwhelmed by the tremendous support and outpouring of goodwill from the Bahraini organisers.  They were hospitable and generous and provided any amount of help the teams needed.

 "The championship also coincided with celebrations of Bahrain's national day which gave all the teams the opportunity to go out and enjoy time together socially. As a result we made new friends, met people from different countries and learnt about their respective cultures," said Al Busaidi.

Sheikh Khalifa Al Khalifa Bahrain Maritime Sports Association and chairman of the GCC Sailing Committee, said he was pleased to see the participation of the Omani teams and especially to welcome the The Al Thuraiya Bank Muscat all women team for a second time. He praised their commitment and fearlessness in the challenging conditions.

"They continue to inspire women sailors in the region and we are confident we will soon attract more women's team to the event.  We look forward to their return for the 2014 event," said Sheikh Khalifa adding that the event fell on the 30th anniversary of the hosting marina, Belaj Al Jazayer.

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