Abu Dhabi: Under clear blue skies and in the shadow of some of the UAE's best-known landmarks, eight boats played a cat and mouse game over three in-port races for the latest leg of the EFG Bank Sailing Arabia–The Tour. By the end of the morning, the competition was poised on a knife's edge, and an exciting leg lies ahead as the competitors prepare to set sail for Dubai today. With light but constant winds, and in front of spectators along the waterfront and on the Corniche, the racing was intense, and the lighter boats had a field day. EU student team Messe Frankfurt scored a win in the first race, ahead of crews with many years of racing experience.
Veteran Bertrand Pacé demonstrated the value of his experience by clawing back a great result to finish in equal first place for the series with Marcel Herrera and his Team Messe Frankfurt.Only a quarter point separated the two leaders after the second round of in-port racing yesterday. Three races were held in the lagoon between the state-of-the-art facility of Abu Dhabi Yacht and Sailing Club and the world-famous Corniche.
The biggest surprise was the student team that dominated yesterday. The University of Plymouth crew on Messe Frankfurt won the first race and came home third in the latter two races. Points-wise, this left them as the joint winner of the day alongside the substantially more experienced Frenchman and former America's Cup helm Bertrand Pacé and his AISM crew.
However, the outcome was less surprising to Messe Frankfurt's German skipper Marcel Herrera: "We had local knowledge. I've lived here for 13 years, and I used to sail here. So we won the first race because we knew where to go while the other teams were watching. From there, it went a bit downhill, but the whole team did quite well. We didn't make too many big mistakes. We are all buzzing."
All of the Messe Frankfurt crew are students, and yet they proved to be an equal match for some of the top names in yacht racing such as Pacé and his pro crew or Sidney Gavignet and his team on EFG Bank (Monaco). Although it can be intimidating to sail against America's Cup helmsmen and round-the-world racing sailors twice their age, Herrera explained, "We won the first race, so our chins were up, and we are looking to do a bit more. They have more experience on the boat, but we are mixing it up with them."
Herrera praised the teamwork on board and Messe Frankfurt's inshore helmsman Matt Rainback.
Pacé's day on AISM was one of successful damage limitation. "In the first race, we decided to go to the left, but the right was much better, so we lost a lot. However, we managed to stay in contact and finished fourth. In the third, I was a bit early, so I was obliged to turn back, but it was okay."
After yesterday's racing, AISM now has 8.5 points in the overall results, just 0.25 points behind the Cedric Pouligny-steered BAE Systems. "That is very close, but the off-shores will decide who wins this event," noted Pacé.
There were mixed feelings on board EFG Bank (Monaco) today after she posted a pair of fifths but ended the day with a win—her first of the event to date. Skipper Sidney Gavignet admitted he didn't have a clear enough plan in the first two starts, and they weren't fully confident while judging the downwind sailing. "Today, in the lighter winds, the fleet was more compact, but you paid for your mistakes. It was not an easy day."
Familiar with racing in Abu Dhabi is Gavignet's No. 2, British former Volvo Ocean Race skipper Neal McDonald, who was here just over a year ago, aboard Telefonica. At the time, he had been leading the fully crewed round-the-world race. "We didn't go too badly; we just never really got off the blocks well, and I didn't feel that I did a good job. I threw away several places downwind, which is upsetting when you try so hard to get them," McDonald said.
Showing a considerable upturn in their performance since the in-port races in Doha was Dee Caffari's all-female team on Al Thuraya Bank Muscat, which posted a 4–5 in yesterday's latter two races.
The Al Thuraya Bank Muscat all-female crew includes four "pros" and four young aspiring Omani sailors. Omani bowman Raiya Al Habsi was delighted by her team's performance: "I am so happy with my work. I am even happier because we had some issues and we corrected them. I have learned about 100 things today! It was a major achievement for us to get a fourth and a fifth. It was very nice." The action continues today as EFG Bank Sailing Arabia–The Tour heads off on the short 78-mile offshore leg from Abu Dhabi to Dubai, which could see the young German skipper causing a major upset in the rankings. But with world-class sailors such as Sidney Gavignet, Dee Caffari, and Bertrand Pacé still in the race, it will be a tough task for the students.