(MENAFN - Muscat Daily) Unfavourable sailing conditions at the Amwaj Marina in Bahrain hardly seemed to have dampened the spirits of the sailors on board the nine teams as the third edition of the EFG Bank Sailing Arabia-The Tour (SATT) 2013 got underway on Sunday. The fortnight-long race, which is organised by Oman Sail, spans 1,400km, with stopovers at four GCC countries.
With a breeze of just 3-5 knots, the teams set sail for the region's only long-distance offshore race, following a brief opening ceremony at the Amwaj Marina held under the patronage of Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad al Khalifa, Chairman of the Supreme Council for Youth and Sports and the Bahrain Olympic Committee's chairman. Race director Giles Chorri initially decided to begin the race on time, hoping that the wind conditions would improve. However, the teams on board the Farr 30 boats had a delayed start because the poor wind conditions continued. The fleet's first stopover will be the Pearl Marina, in Doha, Qatar.
The teams are expected to reach Doha by Monday morning. Ahead of the start, some of the participating skippers told Muscat Daily that the SATT is a good getaway for sailors based in Europe, where winter is not a season for the sport. Cedric Pouligny, skipper of Team BAE Systems, said, ''The SATT gives us a platform for training ahead of the European sailing season, which begins in mid-March.''
For record-setting British sailor Dee Caffari, skipper of the all-women Al Thuraya bank muscat Team, the SATT showcases the success of Oman Sail's programme for women sailors. She said, ''Last year, we raced with two Omani girls. This time, my crew comprises four Omanis and two reserves. That constitutes 50 per cent of the team. It underlines the big strides taken by Oman Sail.'' Dee is joined by veteran international sailor Katie Pettibone on board the Al Thuraya bank muscat Team. Oman's Mohsin al Busaidi, the skipper of Team Renaissance, is leading a crew of young Omani sailors and the first Arab sailor to circumnavigate the world is confident of a good show.
He said, ''The SATT gives Omani sailors a great opportunity to challenge their worldclass opponents. It is a learning experience for them as they are getting to compete against the likes of Sidney Gavignet, Bertrand Pace, Dee Caffari and Cedric Pouligny.'' Besides Busaidi's Team Renaissance and Al Thuraya bank muscat Team, the other two Omani teams in the fray are Royal Navy of Oman and Team BAE Systems, skippered by Oman's Qais al Mamari and Pouligny, respectively. Frenchman Gavignet, skipper of EFG Bank (Monaco) Team, expects solid competition and believes the regatta has already attained a good level. ''We are lucky to be part of the SATT, with a new team from EFG Bank,'' he said.
''We also have young Omani sailors in our crew.'' Sheikh Nasser al Khalifa said, ''It is great to see the maritime tradition of the region being highlighted. We will continue supporting the SATT.'' Sheikh Khalifa Abdulla al Khalifa, chairman of the Bahrain Maritime Sports Association, said, ''Bahrain is proud to host the first leg. Oman Sail has managed to create a world-class event, which unites the region through sailing.'' The 2013 edition features teams from the region apart from Omani and European contenders.
Team AISM represents Dubai with Pace as its skipper, while Team Abu Dhabi comprises an all-Emirati crew with young Adil Khaled as its skipper.
Meanwhile, Team Delft Challenge-TU Delft of the Netherlands suffered a minor blow when its skipper, Kay Heemskerk, pulled out of the first leg with an arm injury on Sunday. The opening ceremony was attended by top Oman Sail officials, including Major General (retd) Albert Whitley, executive director, Issa al Ismaily, events director, Neil Coxon, director of sailing, and Rashid al Kindi, national teams'