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Dubai: Al Ghaffal, which means homecoming, is the traditional dhow sailing race held in Dubai annually. While the Dubai International Marine Club (DIMC) is preparing to host the 50-nautical mile race, it was a different homecoming of sorts for the Dubai-based Victory team in the powerboating circuit this year. The former champions have returned to the circuit after a few years’ gap and now aim to reclaim their past glory in the coming years.

“The whole marine industry got affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and the sport’s activity was halted for a short period of time. In 2023, we noticed that international activity has been picking up again and, as you know, Victory is a renowned team. So we started initiating our movements towards reclaiming the old glory days through participating in the formula one division and have had some good results in the past two races,” Mohammed Harib, CEO, DIMC, told Gulf News.

Mohammed Harib

“We will take one step at a time and it will be a gradual comeback to the international arena and will start rebuilding the reputation of Victory team,” he added.

Undisputable champions

Victory were the undisputable champions in various categories before the pandemic hit the marine sports scene. Victory Team, for their exemplary commitment and expertise, were given the title ‘Masters of the Sea’ by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of Dubai Executive Council. The team has won 24 World Championships and more than 600 awards and trophies.

Currently Victory are in fifth position in the 2023 UIM World Championship F1H2o team standings, while Swedish driver Erik Stark on Victory 4 is in second spot in Drivers’ World Championship standings with 21 points while Emirati racer Ahmed Fahim on Victory 3 in 15th spot. Stark’s fourth spot in the second round in China should boost the team’s morale for the rest of the season.

“We are currently focused on UIM F1H2o World Championship alone this year and target another division the next year and so on. We want to have a gradual comeback to the international arena, but our target for Victory team is to be on the podium in every race that we take part in,” Mohammed Harib added.

Diversified calendar

DIMC, while being one of the oldest clubs for marine sports in the region, organises a variety of events that include traditional sailing, rowing, modern sailing under their umbrella that caters to the needs of the grassroots level.

“DIMC has a very diversified calendar that needs to cater to the CSR (corporate social responsibilities) as well as the normal sporting events. In between them, we have the international calendar and then the traditional calendar. So we are covering a huge spectrum with plenty of community-based events in our calendar. Compared to a couple of years ago, now we have 30-plus events,” Harib said, adding the club has added new events like fishing competition. “We are striving to bring up new ideas, new concepts from the event management side to the sporting management side.”

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The traditional Al Ghaffal 60-foot dhow race between Sir Bu Na’air Island to Dubai will bring the sailing season to a close. Image Credit: Supplied

The DIMC season comes to a close with the Al Ghaffal 60-foot traditional dhow sailing race, to be held on May 27-28. Al Ghaffal has a rich heritage as this race will be the 32nd edition of the race held between Sir Bu Na’air Island and the Dubai coastline over a distance of 50 nautical miles.

Rich history

The Al Ghaffal race, organised under the patronage of late Shaikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, was first held in 1991. The Al Gaffal race is an embodiment of maritime traditions of the past and history along with a revival of memories. The race commemorates the festival that was celebrated by the forefathers of the UAE on their long journey after several months of pearl diving on the high seas. The race is now held under the patronage of Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

“Initially, Al Ghaffal started as a race, then it became a lifestyle. Today, it is a must to attend and being part of the race. It is a classic example of how this joint venture between so many entities has resulted in the success of the race over the years. Beyond racing, it also builds harmony in the society. I admire Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid’s foresight in creating this race.”

The registration is on for the 32nd edition and the organisers are expecting not less than 125 boats. Over the years, the race has seen a constant increase in numbers with last edition having 119 participants. “The scene is totally different in Al Ghaffal. While other races see a dropout of 15-20 per cent after the registration, in Al Ghaffal the number remains the same at the finish line. For a 119-boat race, there are at least 3,000 people on the water who are racing. If you calculate others like organisers, spectators and seagoers, then we are looking at somewhere between 3,000 to 5,000 people packed in that small area. That’s a huge number in the marine industry,” Mohammed Harib added.

Green races

DIMC has a rich heritage and was the benchmark in marine sports and Mohammed Hareb believes they could use all their expertise to take the sport to futuristic green races.

“Our target is to maintain the leadership of the industry and move one step at a time in future developments. Unless, there is a new sector of racing comes out, we would like to be the pioneers. Our goal is to go green, moving our sport from a carbon footprint-based sport. We want to make electrical engines, but it takes time. We want to be pioneers in that as well,” Mohammed Harib concluded.