The Solent was alive with boats yesterday at the start of the Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland race that kicked-off after a 21-hour postponement due to heavy conditions left in the wake of hurricane Bertha. Oman’s flagship 70ft trimaran, Musandam-Oman Sail, supported by the Ministry of Tourism, cast off from Cowes with a 50% Omani crew for the first time since Oman Sail’s inception.
Conditions may have appeared balmy off the Squadron start line as the 28-boat fleet got underway, but they were still blustery with 20-30 knots keeping everyone on their toes and the ultra-fast multihull will be racing into a big sea state and 40knots overnight in the North Sea ahead of the other boats which will make for a busy and tiring first night onboard for the six crew.
The spectacle of the giant trimaran bearing away for the start and sailing through the fleet of VOR65s and then the IRCs and Class 40s was memorable for the hundreds of spectators ashore. The Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland Race started at 0900 on Monday with 28 boats competing for honours, including five brand new Volvo Ocean 65s which are using the race to test crews and systems in the range of conditions which are forecast for the fleet over the next five or six days.
“It was a good decision from the race committee not to start yesterday – the weather is quite similar today except with less wind – the low pressure is stationary more or less over the Shetland Islands – it would still be better for us to leave a little later but for the event it is much better to all start together – so we are ready,” said French skipper Sidney Gavignet, who has this event as his last crewed race this year before he races the same multihull solo in the Route du Rhum later in the year.
With the delayed start, the course record is still within reach in theory, although in reality the sea state and heavy winds ahead of Musandam-Oman Sail will mean they won’t be rushing as Sidney puts it: “We could be very close to the record but I am not sure at this stage that we will break it – the computer says we can, but the reality is that the sea state will probably slow us down a bit – and we will still have 40knots overnight, so for this we don’t want to rush as the quicker we go the more wind we will have.”
Racing with a crew that is 50% Omani has filled everyone on the Musandam-Oman Sail team with pride and marks an important step in Oman Sail’s long-term plans for developing Omani talents and careers through the sport of sailing. “We are excited to have 50/50 Omani and International crew for the first time, we will have a full day to get into it and then a full moon tonight for our ride through the North Sea, not far from Scotland. We are happy on board – keen to get going to showcase Oman around the British Isles,” Sidney added.
Fahad Al Hasni, a MOD70 regular, is joined by MOD70 newcomers Sami Al Shukaili and Yassir Al Rahbi: “For the first time, we will be 50/50 Omani and international so it is going to be good fun and good for the team,” he said. “We expect good conditions for the Round Britain and with the course change to anti-clockwise we will be downwind reaching most of the way which should be fast – there is a chance to break the record, but we will see how we go. We are all really excited to get going!”
The Omani crewmembers will have Irish offshore expert Damian Foxall and America’s Cup and Volvo Ocean Race veteran Jan Dekker alongside them for the sprint around the country, but in terms of progress – for Oman Sail this is a landmark moment.
“This is my fourth year with Oman Sail and this is the best one in terms of the progress shown by the Omani guys,” said Sidney. “They have been sailing on the J80s, did the Tour de France and Sailing Arabia-The Tour and on the MOD70 so they have really improved and realise what it could mean to have a sailing career – they are gaining enough background and experience to see where it can lead so I am very happy.”
“In terms of achieving Oman Sail’s learning and teaching goals it is definitely our best year yet.”
This will be the last time the boat is raced with a full crew this year. The next time Musandam-Oman Sail slips its moorings in search of honours, Gavignet will be on his own, racing the 70 foot trimaran across the Transatlantic in the Route du Rhum.