Ras al khaimah: As EFG Bank Sailing Arabia–The Tour (SATT) heads out from Ras Al Khaimah, the most experienced team in the competition, Bertrand Pacé's Dubai-based Team AISM, leads the overall competition, despite a disappointing day of in-port racing. BAE Systems, under Cédric Pouligny, which led the race all the way from Manama to Dubai, rests in second place at 1.75 points behind the leaders, while EFG Bank (Monaco), under Sidney Gavignet, sits in third place.
As the second-longest leg of the tour kicks off this morning in very light winds, local knowledge of tidal currents and patience may be the key to winning. The boats leave Ras Al Khaimah at midnight and are expected to complete the 150-nautical-mile leg in the early hours.
Issa Al Ismaili, Events Director for Oman Sail—the event organisers—outlined the challenges ahead for the teams: "This is one of the most spectacular and challenging legs of SATT.
The Musandam Peninsula is a place of breathtaking beauty, and the tidal currents and tricky winds of the Strait of Hormuz are legendary. The winning team will need to stay focused and use all their local knowledge to get through to Dibba ahead of the pack. For all the Omani sailors taking part, especially the all-female team of Al Thuraya Bank Muscat, this is the leg they have looked forward to the most. They will enjoy the pride and prestige of sailing back into home waters, knowing the finish is not too far off."
The Omani teams are looking forward to sailing in home waters. Al Thuraya Bank Muscat, led by round-the-world sailor Dee Caffari and comprising mainly young Omani women, currently stands in 7th place overall, after running into fishing nets on the way into Ras Al Khaimah and arriving in port after the expiry of the time limit.
Raiya Al Habsi described the pressure felt by the crew as they enter home waters: "Going back home—I am really happy about it. I feel like we have to work harder because we are going back home, and we have to get something good because we will be meeting our family and friends, and we want to give them something." About the challenges this entails, she added, "The area is known to be very difficult because of the weather conditions. Sometimes, it is very cold and windy, and sometimes, it is very hot and there's no wind."
With the latter looking likely for this year's crossing, Al Thuraya Bank Muscat, which is lighter than many of the other boats, may have the advantage by maintaining a higher boat speed in the shifting zephyrs of the Strait.
Considered the ultimate test of endurance during the two weeks of SATT, the leg from Ras Al Khaimah to Dibba is also traditionally the most scenic of all the legs, where desert backdrops give way to steep cliffs. All the teams, however, will have their minds on other things, and with the top of the leaderboard separated by only a few points and only three legs to go, today's stage could either cement the standings or lead to a major upset.
Leaving Manama on Feb. 10, SATT called at Doha, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Ras Al Khaimah and will now head to Dibba and Mussanah before reaching its climax on Feb. 25 in Muscat.