Oman’s first ever all-Omani offshore racing team have made history this week with a spirited performance in the competitive and challenging Tour of Bretagne. Sami Al Shukaili and Ali Al Balushi teamed-up to compete against 36 other teams, including many of Europe’s offshore racing elite, in the high-performance two-handed Figaro 3 yacht. The duo got off to a flying start with a remarkable 5th place on the leg from St Brieuc to St Malo, the first stage of the classic week-long race around France’s rugged north west coastline.
The experienced and long-standing Oman Sail members faced the full range of conditions as the event progressed. Strong winds of up to 40 knots, big seas and fast sailing tested the crew on the long 285-mile second leg from St Malo to Brest which took the fleet far out into the English Channel.
However the breeze dropped later in the week, with later stages offering the very different challenge of light air sailing and tactics. One leg of the event was also cancelled when the wind disappeared completely.
The Omani pair completed the final stage in La Trinité-sur-Mer on Saturday, finishing in 29th place overall in the 37-strong fleet and reaching their pre-Tour goal of a top-30 finish.
“We are both very happy though it was tough and hard,” said skipper Al Shukaili. “For me the highlight of the whole event was not just the result, but to be able to sail fast and clean throughout.
“Early in the week it was very windy with strong gusts in the night, but we were able to keep the boat safe and, the most important thing, keep ourselves safe as well. It’s part of the game to have strong wind and light wind, and we had both through the regatta. The very light wind was a new experience as we had not had that while training.
“We were racing against many very good sailors, but we were able to compete and fight in the middle of the fleet, and we kept on pushing hard.”
His crewmate Al Balushi was equally delighted with their performance: “We are proud to have finished where we did with the boat in good shape. It has been a great experience but we have a lot of things to learn and some things to prove, but that’s the game and we are in a good place
“It is also a big thing for us to be the first all-Omani offshore racing crew, and it is a great message for Oman – we can do a great many things in the future and I think this will inspire the future generation as well that they can achieve their goals and their dreams.
“Today we are very pleased to have had this great opportunity and pleased to have finished this in a good way.”
As the final event on the 2019 Figaro calendar, the Tour of Bretagne is widely regarded as one of the most demanding challenges on the circuit. It attracts many of Europe’s most experienced sailors, including stars of the Vendee Globe and other high-profile races, and generates enormous interest across the region and far beyond.
For Oman Sail the event is a marker on the development programme leading towards participation in next year’s double-handed Transat AG2R La Mondiale race across the Atlantic, as well as a single-handed 2020 Figaro campaign.
“Sami and Ali have done really well on the Tour de Bretagne, showing really good seamanship and skills across a wide range of conditions,” said Rashid Al Kindi, Oman Sail’s national team manager.
“They can be proud of what they have achieved, sailing safe and fast, and they finished in front of many very good sailors – it was a great result.
“It also sets up a great foundation for next year. We know they both have a list of things they can work on and improve, and that will be the plan over the winter.”