It took round-the-world veteran Sidney Gavignet all his strength and guile to shake off a determined crew built around Plymouth University students to win the first leg of the EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour from Bahrain to Doha, Qatar.
The Frenchman, who is the leading skipper of the Oman Sail project, had to fight every yard of the 100 miles to overcome his 21-year old opponent, Marcel Herrera and the crew of Messe Frankfurt and by just three lengths of their identical Mumm 30 yachts.
Such was the intensity of the competition that both yachts ran aground seeking inshore advantage and Herrera led for much of the first half of the race.
Another student team from Delft in The Netherlands claimed the remaining top three place on a course where northerly, but cold, winds made for fast running south.
Before the start, the American Katie Pettibone, had warned “the boys had better watch out” and, sure enough, her all-woman crew beat both of their two rival Omani entries, the Omani Navy crew coming dead last. Pettibone is part of a much wider Omani programme designed to encourage Omani women to take up sport and is back for her second tour. Her fledglings delivered.
The start had been postponed for nearly 24 hours to take delivery of distress flares, essential safety equipment but banned in Bahrain as illegal weapons. On a crisp dawn and in a northerly wind, the yachts made fast time, never out of sight of each other, and shepherded by officials on the race organiser’s boat.
There are seven offshore legs and up to 12 inshore races, the first group of those in Doha on Tuesday. On Wednesday the fleet races to Abu Dhabi, on to Dubai and Ras al Khaimah in the UAE, and then to Dibba, Mussanah and Muscat in Oman.