At last a winning moment for the beleaguered and soon to be ex-chief executive of BP, Tony Hayward as the yacht in which he has a half share, Bob, won the Queen’s Trophy on the opening day of Cowes Week.
Hayward’s name was not on the crew list and it was entered by his yachting partner Sam Laidlaw, the boss of Centrica, which this week announced a substantial boost to its profits, not least from British Gas.
The 52-footer was nearly five minutes ahead, on handicap, of Charles Dunstone’s 52-foot Rio. The Carphone Warehouse boss also carries the colours of Team Origin, Sir Keith Mills’ challenge for the America’s Cup, which will be racing from Tuesday against the holder of a trophy that began its journey in 1851.
It`was a benign enough introduction to eight days of racing for the 900 boats most of which may be blissfully unaware that there is a new Middle East flavour to the world of yachting in general and the Solent in particular.
Most prominent is a 105-foot trimaran carrying the colours of Oman Air, which is due to be skippered by Frenchman Sidney Gavignet in the transatlantic Route du Rhum in November.
Further down the Green are a pair of Extreme 40 catamarans carrying Omani colours and a third, Team Pindar, is sponsored by the Dubai-based GAC shipping and transportation company.
Andrew Pindar also sponsored Brian Thompson in the Vendee Globe round the world race as a promotion for Bahrain and it was one of his two Volvo 60s that was hi-jacked by the Iranians when on its way down the Gulf to a race in Dubai, where the RC44s stage a regatta.
Abu Dhabi has already been announced as a stopover for not just the next Volvo round the world race in 2011 but the one after that, scheduled for 2014. This week will see the announcement of its entry in the 2011 race, with an overseas management and skipper integrated into a wider development programme.
And, if the then holder, Ernesto Bertarelli and his Alinghi team had had their way, the tiny emirate of Ras al Khaimah would have been the venue for the America’s Cup defence which was eventually staged in Valencia in February.
While Abu Dhabi is bringing in top line expertise and Dubai backs Emirates Team New Zealand to give them high profile prominence, Oman has chosen to combine a bottom up as well as a top down approach.
It is 15 years into a 25-year programme which includes the aims of staging world championships and putting together an Olympic sailing squad. It has sent an Omani as a crewman on a round the world voyage, recently supplied 50 per cent. of the crew for the French-based Tour de France a la Voile, and wants to see a similar tour of the whole Gulf area. The Sultan, Qaboos bin Said, is, to say the least, keen. His Oman Sail chief executive, David Graham, is under no illusions about the dual objectives of the programmes he runs. “We are taking 100 children a wee sailing and plan to train 35,000 over the next five years,” he says. “We also use sailing as a platform for tourism.”
Pindar wants the Extreme 40s to run a series in the northern hemisphere winter, a move that is heartily endorsed Mark Turner, whose Offshore Challenges already runs the European circuit.
The common thread is the historical seafaring and trading heritage which established the silk, spice and pearl routes. “It’s outstanding what has been achieved in two and a half years but the key is developing a local sailing base,” says Turner. “That’s what makes it sustainable.
Sidney Gavignet looks forward to being solo in the Atlantic