Inaugural GC32 Championship begins in Muscat from today
Oman's reputation as one of the top sailing destinations in the world seems to be underlined by the different world-class regattas it has been organising over the past couple of years.
Be it the Laser worlds or the Louis Vuitton America's Cup World Series or the annual Extreme Sailing Series (ESS) or the ongoing Sailing Arabia-The Tour (SATT), the regattas have attracted some of the best sailors of the world.
And on Tuesday, when the first-ever GC32 Championship for the combined fleet from the GC32 Racing Tour and ESS will begin, it will yet another milestone for the event's host, Oman Sail.
The ultra high-speed foiling one design GC32 catamarans will be competing at the GC32 Championship from Tuesday to March 5 with the races to take place off Al Mouj Marina at the Al Mouj, Muscat.
Oman's only entry, Oman Air, will aim to kick start its 2017 season in style at home but is expected to face a stiff competition from Ernesto Bertarelli’s Alinghi.
The Swiss team won the 2016 ESS title and competed on the GC32 Racing Tour in 2015.
Oman Air is led by World Match Racing Tour winner Phil Robertson, who has also previous experience in both GC32 circuits.
Last year, the New Zealander skippered Gazprom Team Russia at the Act 5 in ESS in St Petersburg and subsequently steered Flavio Marazzi’s ARMIN STROM Sailing Team to second place on the GC32 Racing Tour at Copa del Rey MAPFRE in Palma.
Oman Air comes with one of the most successful GC32 crews. Pete Greenhalgh, Nasser al Mashari and Ed Smyth all sailed on Sultanate of Oman, which won the GC32 Racing Tour in 2015, along with James Wierzbowski.
Robertson said, “I have always thought it is a very, very cool concept to have all the boats racing on one start line, the two different fleets and anyone else that wants to from around the world who’s got a boat.
“So I am excited to hit the start line with so many foiling catamarans. We will try to take as much from it as we can before the start of the Extreme Sailing Series. I have always looked up to teams like Oman Air so to have the opportunity to sail with them now is pretty special. It's early days but so far everything has been going brilliantly.”
The opening Act of the 2017 ESS will begin on March 8.
Among the other teams are Red Bull Sailing Team, led by double Olympic gold medallists Roman Hagara and Hans-Peter Steinacher, also feature in the star-studded line-up alongside SAP Extreme Sailing Team with America's Cup sailor Adam Minoprio at the helm.
Two other GC32 Racing Tour teams making their Oman debuts will be 2016 runner-up Team Tilt and Team ENGIE.
Despite the high level of competition Mashari, Oman Air's Omani bowman, is hopeful of exploiting the 'home advantage'.
“As a team, we have sailed these waters a lot in the past, but then again so have the other teams. Racing at home is always special and a matter of pride for me,” he said.
Participating teams: Alinghi, Team Argo, Oman Air, SAP Extreme Sailing Team, Team ENGIE, Team Tilt, Red Bull Sailing Team, Tawera Racing, Land Rover BAR Academy.