Dubai: The Dubai-based Team AISM grabbed the overall lead in the EFG Bank Sailing Arabia The Tour when arriving in their home city on Sunday.
Leading almost from the start of the leg from Abu Dhabi, AISM kept their cool to hold off all challengers in the light breezes off the UAE coast. Having been just a quarter-point behind BAE Systems after the in-port racing in Abu Dhabi, the stage win gave the crew, skippered by America’s Cup veteran Bertrand Pace, a slender lead of three-quarters of a point ahead of Monday’s short 53-mile race to Ras Al Khaimah.
The AISM crew’s victory in the 78-mile Abu Dhabi to Dubai leg proved that they can perform offshore as well as inshore during the Sail Arabia event, which is the Gulf region’s only long-distance offshore sailing race. They finished four minutes ahead of former leaders BAE Systems and a further seven minutes in front of EFG Bank (Monaco).
“I am quite happy with our speed downwind,” Pace said afterwards. “We were probably quicker than anyone else. We have prepared well and we try not to be too heavy.”
BAE Systems skipper Cedric Pouligny said: “It was a lot of fun — a lot of strategy and positioning and also boat speed, as usual. You had to play some gybes and take some options, it was full VMG sailing, so more of a game, more fun.”
AISM got ahead of them, according to Pouligny, because of a small communication failure on their part. “We let him go on our right, we didn’t react quickly enough and then it was a fight and he overtook us and when we gybed he was ahead of us.”
Skipper of EFG Bank (Monaco), Sidney Gavignet, was once again pleased that his team were on the podium again, but less happy about their third-place finish. “It is annoying to be at the back of the top three, but I think it is clearly going to be between the three boats. That is why finishing third is not bad, but not so good.”
Gavignet praised his Omani crew. “Fahad Al Hasni is doing very well on the trim. On the first leg he gave us some very good tips because we did the Tour de France a la Voile before, about moving the crew weight forward. But neither he nor Yasser Al Rahbi liked the early start this morning!”
Dee Caffari’s team on Al Thuraya Bank Muscat was holding fourth place for most of the race but got pipped at the post by the capable Dutch student team on Team Delft Challenge.
“It was a brilliant race,” said Caffari. “It was really close racing all the way with Team Delft Challenge. We were just ahead of them at the final gate but we had to let them through on the inside.”
In-port racing is due to take place at Ras Al Khaimah on Tuesday morning. For more information log on to www.sailingarabiathetour.com