Muscat: Dutch Student Team Delft Challenge-TU Delft pulled off a stunning victory in today's leg of the Gulf region's only long distance offshore sailing race, finishing over an hour ahead of the nearest rival. The leg, which takes in some of the scenic backdrops on the Tour, should have been plain sailing for the leading three teams.
Issa Al Ismaili, Events Director of race organiser Oman Sail, however, knows that upsets are all part of the thrill of sailing: "It's a sign of how wide open sailing can be as a sport – our mission is to show everyone in the region that sailing is an accessible sport, and there could be no greater vindication of that ideal than a win from one of our youngest teams. It's a thrill to see Team Delft Challenge excel here on one of the final legs of the tour, in idyllic sailing conditions."
All the boats competing in EFG Bank Sailing Arabia – The Tour are Farr 30 one designs, identical boats of identical speed and under normal circumstances in an offshore leg the boats are separated by minutes, if not seconds. However on the sixth leg of the event from Zighy Bay to Mussanah Marina, the leading boat, TU Delft, arrived one hour and 12 minutes ahead of her rivals.
After taking the risky tactics of splitting from the rest of the fleet and heading inshore in the early hours of this morning, the Dutch student team led by Kay Heemskerk had extended away at one point by more than 10 miles – impressive on a leg that ended up being less than 60 miles from start to finish, after it was shortened.
The result leaves TU Delft solidly in fourth place overall, while Bertrand Pace's team on AISM continues to lead albeit with only a 4.25 point advantage over second-placed BAE Systems going into tomorrow's final sprint leg of EFG Bank Sailing Arabia – The Tour, from Mussanah Marina back to The Wave, Muscat.
But the real fight will be on for second place between the Sidney Gavignet on EFG Bank (Monaco) and the Cedric Pouligny-skippered BAE Systems, now just 0.5 points ahead of Gavignet's team.
The winner of this duel will be second overall. On a day trip to Oman to experience the event his bank sponsors, Keith Gapp, Head of Strategic Marketing and Communications at EFG Bank, saw the boats arrive in Mussanah Marina.
"So far we're very happy," Gapp commented. "We are active across quite a broad front in sailing in the Americas, Europe and Asia, so this fills geographically a missing piece of the jigsaw and it touches quite a few points in the region which I think is useful in terms of making it distinctive for us from a marketing stand point."
Fahad, Al Hasni on board of EFG Bank (Monaco) commented: "We are excited to be here and to see all the fans here and to be home. It certainly helped us sailing back into home waters. Tomorrow it will be the last race and if we finish ahead of them [BAE Systems] we will be second."
With just one leg to go, the crews are all resting well, the top three on their guard to ensure that another upset can't happen before the fleet reaches The Wave Muscat. Whatever the outcome today, however, EFG Bank Sailing Arabia – The Tour has highlighted the great potential and ideal sailing on offer in the Gulf, and with ever increasing participation, EFG Bank Sailing Arabia – The Tour counts as a win for sailing and a win for all of the countries.