Team Zain all set to put up best show

MUSCAT: When Kuwait-based Team Zain first contested EFG Sailing Arabia — The Tour in 2015, the focus was on team building but increasingly, their preparations are geared to achieving a good result. So, in 2017 the team, unchanged from last year with French skipper Cedric Pouligny and navigator Gerald Veniard back in control, will travel to Muscat early ahead of the start and devote as much time as possible to setting their boat up for the best possible performance. “The Zain crew were novices when we first competed but now we have some good competitive sailors so we will want to do better than last year but for me, what I’m looking forward to most is seeing a big smile on their faces at the end because that means our campaign has been a success,” said Pouligny who as Zain’s sole helm might have his work cut out during the two-week long race.
“We have a great team spirit on Team Zain — they are supermotivated and keen to learn. It might not be any easier this year but I know the guys will be really keen to go for it and will not be put off by any of the challenges.” Pouligny’s crew is drawn from Zain’s 5,000 strong workforce in eight Middle Eastern and African countries who back in 2015 responded to a company questionnaire asking for interest in taking part in EFG Sailing Arabia — The Tour. They earned their selection following weeks of intensive training.  In their first year, according to Mike Miller, team manager and member of Zain Group’s Finance team, they exceeded expectations by finishing on the podium because the boat set up was ‘fantastic’ and they had some ‘lucky breaks’ with the breeze in the final two legs.
“But last year, we didn’t put enough time into setting up the boat and didn’t have as much luck so a 5th place finish was a creditable one. Plus, there were a couple of extra pro teams and the Omani teams were hugely improved so all in all we were pretty pleased with our result. I’m hoping we will be in the top half of the table in 2017, but the competition gets fiercer each year and we are sailing against some really impressive people.”
For the employees of Zain, the leading mobile and data services operator, the physical and mental demands of racing 760 offshore miles and up to 10 in-port sprints are shattering. Even for professional sailors such as Pouligny, with more than a dozen Tour de France a la Voiles under his belt, EFG Sailing Arabia — The Tour is a seriously tough challenge. “The format of EFG Sailing Arabia — The Tour is very similar to the old Tour de France yet it is held over just two weeks which makes the racing even more intense.
“Many of the legs are pretty long for Farr 30s but you have to keep on rolling with no break. You arrive into port late at night and depart first thing the following morning which leaves no time to rest up so you are permanently tired. And there are light winds across the course so you need to stay focused and keep moving forward in the right direction for very long periods and then sometimes you get a strong wind of 25 knots.