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.
Kicking off from 14 February in Muscat, Oman, the two-week exhilarating race challenge will see some of the most difficult routes yet. Fans of the team and those wishing to get in on the action can see the inport thrills in Doha on 25 February, before the fleet begins its final leg to the exciting conclusion in Dubai.
“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 focussed and keep moving forward in the right direction for very long periods and then sometimes you get a strong wind of 25 knots.”
He added, “It always takes me at least one week to recover but this is what makes the race difficult and why we all love it.”
EFG Sailing Arabia - The Tour is the only annual race of its type, with a mix of long offshore legs and intense in-port racing, in the world and since it was first established in 2011, has become the most prestigious race in the Middle East with a reach and appeal that extends with each edition, among both recreational and professional sailors.
The teams race in identical Farr 30 boats and are in competition for around two weeks, completing more than 700 racing miles and stopping off at five different ports, which showcase the Gulf region to new sailors and to fans who follow the action online or via television images around the world.
In 2017, competition starts in Muscat, Oman, with the first in-port races before the fleet heads north to Sohar and around the tip of the Musandam Peninsula to Khasab. Competitors must tackle the challenges posed by the congested Straits of Hormuz before racing to Abu Dhabi and then on to Doha for the second round of in-port races. Then follows the longest leg to Dubai and a final opportunity to notch up points in the last in-port races before the winner emerges.
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