MUSCAT: Though less than a quarter of the way through the Tour de France a la Voile, the Oman Sail Diam 24 team have shown they are serious contenders for a top-three finish. The mix of long coastal races and quick-fire inshore stadium events at a succession of venues offers a series of unique challenges to the 29 teams taking part in the classic French event. After the opening two acts in Dunkirk and Fecamp, the Oman Sail team — led by co-skippers Thierry Douillard and Stevie Morrison — are in sixth place overall with a total of 175 points, just five away from the third spot. So far the squad has earned six top-three podium places in the nine stadium races to date, and finished fifth and seventh in the two offshore races held so far.
“We are doing OK but we would like to be doing better,” said Douillard after the Fecamp grand final. “We had a very good beginning coming fifth in the first coastal race and we won a race in the stadium racing in Dunkirk.”
Along with several other crews, however, the team suffered a setback in the same stadium section, receiving a ‘black flag’ penalty after being judged to have started slightly early. Unlike mainstream yacht racing which allows restarts, a black flag on the Tour results in instant disqualification from the race in question.
“Unfortunately the black flag meant we did not reach the final in Dunkirk, and you have to accept that as being part of the Tour. Then we had a nosedive in big wind during the coastal race at Fecamp and we lost a lot of places and finished seventh.
“We had some great results in the stadium racing after that and reached the final in Fecamp. We had an average race and finished fifth, but we are beginning to think that we can reach the podium. Our boat handling is getting better and everyone is working well together.”
In 2016 the Omani team finished in an impressive fifth place on the Tour. This year Douillard — a three-time winner of the event — is again sailing with talented Omani sailors Ali al Balushi and Abdulrahman al Mashari, as well as helm and co-skipper Stevie Morrison, with Mathieu Richard strengthening the crew as navigator and tactician. The three-man race crew are rotated among the squad of five over the course of the month-long Tour.
“We have got a long way to go and we will have good races and some bad ones along the way,” said sail trimmer Al Balushi. “It is good working with the team again and we know from our pre-Tour results that we can compete with any of the crews here.”
After a single rest day, the team now goes into an intensive period with three back-to-back events in Jullouville, Normandy, and Arzon and Les Sables D’Olonne in Brittany. Later in the month the Tour switches to the Mediterranean, visiting Roses in Spain, then Port Camargue, Marseille and Nice.
After the two events so far the French-flagged Team SFS has established an early lead, winning both the coastal and stadium sections in Dunkirk, and coming second and third respectively in Fecamp. Only 10 points covers the next six teams with Oman Sail level on points with fifth placed Beijaflore Sailing, winners of the grand stadium final in Fecamp, and a point ahead of Lorina Mojito, victors in the coastal event.