Omani skipper Fahad Al Hasni led his home team to victory in the opening leg of EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour, snatching first place from the event favourites just before the finish line in Sohar. Al Hasni's Team Renaissance (OMA) had trailed reigning champions EFG Bank Monaco (MON) for much of the 105-nautical mile leg from Muscat to Sohar, the first of five offshore stages that make up the 763nm Gulf classic. But as the leg reached its climax they were able to squeeze some extra boat speed from their 30ft racing yacht to close down fellow Omani crew Team Al Mouj Muscat to move up to second place.
With only one leg down and competition still high; fans of the racing series will be on edge to catch the second to last inshore action in Qatar at The-Pearl-Qatar, Doha, on 25th February before the crews head towards the thrilling finale in Dubai, UAE. Just a few boat-lengths from the finish off Sohar Port Al Hasni's men took advantage of a wind shift to overhaul EFG Bank Monaco, in the end beating them by just a few metres. Team Al Mouj Muscat crossed the line in third place to round off the podium in what was a thrilling curtain raiser to EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour.
Al Hasni, who has competed in every edition of EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour since it began in 2011, said the win would give his crew a welcome boost ahead of the second leg to Khasab, starting tomorrow. “It is an amazing feeling to win the opening leg of EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour,” Al Hasni said. “It is even more special as we are an Omani team winning in Oman. We managed to stay in good pressure, and first we overtook Team Al Mouj Muscat and then we managed to pass EFG Bank Monaco right before the line after we got a good wind shift. It was very satisfying to win like that. It's all down to our communication onboard, which was brilliant.”
EFG Bank Monaco are favourites to win EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour after taking the top spot in the previous three editions. Thierry Douillard, skipper, said his crew, which includes former match racing world champion Mathieu Richard, would come back stronger in Leg 2. “The first leg was 105 miles long and up until 104 miles everything was perfect for us,” he said. “We had a very good leg and we had a good lead but unfortunately Team Renaissance managed to get a good shift and get close to us. They were faster than us and were able to pass us. It is frustrating to sail 99 per cent of the leg in the lead then come second but it's all part of the game. We know now why we were slower and we will sort it for the next leg.”
Team Al Mouj, runners up in last year's EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour, took an early lead in the stage as it began in strong winds yesterday afternoon, but slipped back to second place overnight. Despite eventually having to settle for third, trimmer Gilles Favennec said the crew were happy with the result. “We showed we can be strong when it's windy which is important,” the French sailor said. “We're happy with third place on Leg 1. We were leading early on then made a few mistakes, but we're very content with our boat speed and team spirit. It is only the first leg – there are four more to go so it's all to play for. Team Renaissance did a great job to take the win from EFG Bank Monaco. It shows the racing will be tight and that any team can win a leg.”
Kuwaiti crew Team Zain finished in fourth place, ahead of Adelasia di Torres (ITA), Team Averda (GBR), Bienne Voile (SUI) and DB Schenker (GER). The Leg 1 prize-giving will take place this evening at a special cultural evening at Sohar's International Maritime College Oman. Leg 2 sees the fleet race 140nm north to Khasab on Oman's stunning Musandam Peninsula. Starting at midday local time, the stage is expected to take around 22 hours to complete.
Results after Leg 1:
- Team Renaissance (OMA/Fahad Al Hasni) – 1 point
- EFG Bank Monaco (MON/Thierry Douillard) – 2 points
- Team Al Mouj Muscat (OMA/Christian Ponthieu) – 3 points
- Team Zain (KUW/Cedric Pouligny) – 4 points
- Adelasia di Torres (ITA/Renato Azara) – 5 points
- Team Averda (GBR/Andrew Baker) – 6 points
- Bienne Voile (SUI/Lorenz Mueller) – 7 points
- DB Schenker (GER/Annemeike Bes) – 8 points
For more information on the 2017 edition of EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour, please go to: http://sailingarabiathetour.com