On 18th March 2013, the world’s first all female Arab sailing team will fly to Quiberon in France to take to the testing waters of The Bay of Biscay and prove themselves on the world’s keelboat racing stage. These notoriously tough waters will challenge the girls in new ways, they’ll not only have to learn to cope with the cold chill of the Atlantic winds, but they’ll be sailing in heavier breeze and larger waves than they are used to. However, the intrepid 6 are not perturbed by this, instead they are ready and raring to rise to this new challenge.
All six women are part of the Oman Sail Women’s Sailing Programme which was launched in 2011 as part of a national effort to celebrate Oman's rich maritime history and empower women in the world of sport. The programme puts a large emphasis on family support, encouraging parents to inspire their young daughters to pursue a sporting skill such as sailing, giving them the confidence to learn and compete in these exciting international events.
The young women, all aged between 21 and 28, will be training towards competing in the world-renowned regatta- Spi Ouest, a 5 day event running from 28th March- 1st April, with between 130 and 150 boats on the start line, featuring some of the worlds best yachtsmen and women. This is a much larger fleet than they are used to sailing in, meaning that they are going to have to fight hard to be on the front row of the start, and will be tested the whole way round each course as they compete against some of the top names in sailing.
This is a huge step for any sailor to make and it certainly won’t be easy for the girls, but it is an opportunity for them to show the world that the women of Arabia can compete on an even playing field with the rest of the world’s sailors.
Niall Myant Oman Sail’s Keelboat Coach says: “The girls have been training hard for just over a year and they have earned this opportunity to go and compete outside their home waters.” He added: “the experience they will gain from a competition of this level will be huge.” Whilst the girls are fiercely competitive on the water, they understand that this is not just about competing, but it is also about learning, and demonstrating to the world that they are capable of sailing at an international level.
Rajaa Al Uwaisi, from Musannah, has been sailing with the keelboat team for 6 months, and she has been given the tall task of helming (steering) the boat, she comments: “I’m a bit nervous, this will be a new experience for me, and the first time that I will be able to steer the boat in a regatta myself, it’s a big responsibility for me to take on, but I’m looking forward to it, and learning new skills.”
Not only will the girls have to get to grips with a new boat and new sailing venue, but the temperature will also be a new experience for them. There will be rain and at times bitingly cold winds, Intesar Al Toobi comments: “I am a bit worried about the cold, but I’ve been told to wrap up warm and wear lots of layers!”
Despite these worries, overall the team members are looking forward to this incredible learning opportunity, and a chance to experience a whole new culture, Al Toobi states: “I’m interested to learn about how life is in France, it’s great that we will be able to spend a decent length of time there so that we will really be able to see what it’s like in Europe.”
Regarding the boat which the team will be sailing, Myant states: “The J80 is slightly smaller than the boat they are used to, and is much more lively downwind in strong breeze. They will be taking on a lot more responsibility than they have ever had before, undoubtedly they will find it hugely challenging, but they are keen to learn and prove themselves on the international circuit.”
The all female team will be training along the Quiberon Peninsula, using the National Sailing School as their base. Their usual routine of fitness sessions in the mornings and on the water training in the afternoon will continue, as a good level of fitness is paramount when sailing the J80. For the regatta itself, the team will be joined by top RYA coach and experienced racer, Liz Rushall from the UK, in order to help guide them through the intricacies involved with big fleet sailing.
Round the World Yachtswoman, Dee Caffari, who has been racing and training with the girls for the past year comments: "This is an incredible opportunity for the team, they are certainly ready for a new challenge, I have no doubt that they will embrace the experience and learn from it, whilst sailors from around the world look on in amazement at these courageous young women."