Muscat: The Oman Sail initiative begins a whole new chapter this weekend with a step into the ultra-competitive world of Class 40 racing. It’s new territory, but there are some familiar faces in the frame.
Sidney Gavignet, a long-term partner in the pioneering Oman Sail national project, has been paired with his highly successful protégé Fahad al Hasni in the two-handed class. The Class 40 campaign is the latest instalment in a six-year relationship between Al Hasni and Gavignet, the duo having also raced together as part of the record-breaking MOD70 Musandam-Oman Sail trimaran crew.
Starting this weekend at the Grand Prix Guyader in Douarnenez, France, the programme will see the Class 40 duo take on the Normandy Channel Race next month, the 2,500-mile Azores-and-back Les Sables-Horta Race in July, and the legendary Rolex Fastnet Race in August. All being well, the 2017 campaign will culminate with the Transat Jacques Vabre in November, the 3,000-mile race from Le Havre to Salvador in Brazil.
With unforeseen circumstances limiting preparation time before Grand Prix Guyader, Gavignet is managing early expectations while remaining positive about the future.
“We are running late, but that is life — we will find a way, be super-positive and get the best out of every moment on the boat,” said Gavignet.
“Even if we are not in optimum condition we want to be there, though for us it may be less a racing regatta and more an opportunity to get to know the boat. But one of the reasons we are in the Class 40 is that the boats are simple, so we hope it will all come together without too much trouble.”
It is a realistic view shared by Al Hasni: “It is a new venture for me and there is a lot to learn. We have had a very busy time getting ready for Guyader and we know just getting out on the water will be a challenge. But I have a great teacher in Sidney and we will be giving our all.”
As part of the on-going Oman Sail objective of continual development, the fully-crewed event in Douarnenez will also include Sami al Shukaili, another MOD70 regular, and Oman’s most successful female sailor, Ibtisam al Salmi.
Meanwhile, their Oman Sail compatriots racing in the Diam 24 class also go into GP Guyader as part of another campaign with long-term objectives.
After victory in the opening Grand Prix Atlantique event in Pornichet, Thierry Douillard’s expert crew followed up with a solid fifth place at the Spi Ouest France regatta in the highly competitive trimaran fleet. GP Guyader is a further step on the road to the ultimate goal of success in the high-profile Tour de France a la Voile in July.
After a more than respectable fifth place in the French classic last year, Douillard is aiming for a podium spot this time around. Back on the helm is British Olympic sailor and 49er world champion Stevie Morrison, with talented Omani sailors Ali al Balushi and Abdulrahman al Mashari trimming. The team is boosted this year by former match racing world champion and fellow Frenchman Mathieu Richard on navigation and tactics.
“We are really happy with everything about the Diam project so far,” said Douillard. “We started well with training in Muscat in January before coming to France. We won the first regatta and came back well in the second to win the last race — it’s all been very good for the team.
“Guyader is a regatta you want to win for sure, but also we want to learn and improve. There are six or seven really good teams taking part, and the top 10 are all really strong.”
A Diam 24 development squad has been training and racing alongside the team, emphasising Oman Sail’s commitment to nurturing young talent. Led by French racer Cedric Pouligny it features Omani sailors Yasser al Rahbi, Raad al Hadi, Akram al Wahaibi and Haitham al Wahaibi.