Sunday, 21 June 2009
Oman Sail - Masirah the Extreme 40 that won line honours in the Round the Island Race, UK, 2009. Image copyright Lloyd Images.
by Ingmar Jense
In a fleet of 1,776 boats lining up for the annual JPMorgan Asset Management Round the Island Race off Cowes yesterday morning, two sailors stood out from the thousands of peers around them. Khamis Al Anbouri and Mubarak Al Battashi were representing their home country of the Sultanate of Oman for the first time in a competitive race.
The start was a slow affair but the class in which the Omani sailors were competing, the Extreme 40 catamarans, was possibly the most competitive on the water with Olympic medalists, World champions and Americas Cup superstars. Amongst them was British Olympic triple medalist Ben Ainslie who was set to take the glory from the rest of the 1,776 strong fleet of boats, ranging from 100' carbon racing yachts to 20' weekend pleasure cruisers.
One of the Extreme 40s representing Oman, named Masirah, was hot off the start line and immediately made it clear that they were not considering anything less than first place and took the challenge to the rest of the fleet with positions changing all the way round the island. At one stage Masirah was 22 minutes clear of her nearest challenger and victory looked like it was in the bag. Unfortunately for them, Americas Cup defender, Russell Coutts and his crew on TeamAqua had other ideas and challenged Masirah all the way up the Solent but their last push was just not enough and Masirah crossed the line just 29 seconds clear to take line honours.
Although the victory was sweet for all of Masirah's crew, it was an especially proud moment for Khamis Al Anbouri. Khamis has been following a training programme initiated by Oman Sail, a government based project in the Sultanate, to bring Omani Sailors up to an international standard. To do this, Khamis and his fellow countryman, Mubarak, who sails on the second Oman Sail Extreme 40, have been partnered up with some of Britain's star sailors who have risen to the top of their game in Olympic classes and world standard regattas and races.
'To come here today and be part of the winning team whilst representing my country in a competitive race for the first time is a very special feeling. We have been training hard and the guys on the boat have been very patient but I know they had faith in me and I made sure I did everything I could to help them gain this win on their home waters', said Khamis when they got back to dry land.
Pete Cumming is their head coach and mentor and was joined on Masirah by Chris Draper, Mark Bulkeley and David 'Freddie' Carr, all of whom have international titles to their names. The crew have trained Khamis and Mubarak since last year when they were new to sailing and had only experienced a sailing course at the UKSA (UK Sailing Academy) and some small boat sailing in Muscat, the capital of Oman. Since this team started coaching Khamis and Mubarak, they have been heavily involved with the Extreme 40 programme which takes them around Europe on the iShares Cup circuit which puts them on the same course as many of the world's best sailors. As Pete finished the race yesterday he exclaimed 'It has been a very sharp learning curve for all of us on the boat, not just Khamis, and we are very proud that he was with us today when we crossed the line. To be on a boat like the Extreme 40 and competing on an equal basis with some of the world's top sailors like he did today is a nerve-wracking experience and he showed today that he is an integral part of the team and I would happily have him on any boat I was on!'
Mubarak was one of the first to congratulate Khamis and told him how proud he felt that it was an Omani boat that won and looks forward to next year when he hopes to be in the same position!
From here the Oman Sail team will pack up their boats and head to the Hyeres in the South of France where they will compete in the second series of the iShares Cup circuit between the 3rd - 5th July. The first leg was held in Venice and the Oman Sail team took third and fourth place overall and are looking strong.
Oman Sail is an exciting new initiative formed in 2008 to reignite Oman's maritime heritage and to inspire the next generation. The project includes hi-tech ocean sailing and the highest level inshore professional racing, in turn driving interest from young Omanis to step on to a boat for the first time, creating dreams of their own. The embryo of a sailing academy is now established in Muscat, Oman and the long term objective is to make sailing accessible to schools and young enthusiasts, developing a wid er base from which sailors from around the country can progress up in to the Oman Sail Racing Team - or on to develop marine industry skills, and the infrastructure to create a sustainable future for sailing in Oman. The creation of role models like Mohsin Al Busaidi has already started to inspire young Omanis and shows that with determination and hard work, anything is possible.