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Al Sahel knocks the wind out of champion Al Zeer in Dhow race

posted on 28/05/2012: 2226 views



Patience and cunning tactics was the key to the success of surprise winner Al Sahel at the 22nd Al Gaffal 60ft Traditional Dhow Sailing Race.

Skippered and owned by Saeed Salem Saeed Al Rumaithi, Al Sahel upset the inspiring comeback that defending champion Al Zeer, skippered by Mohammed Rashid Bin Shaheen, had planned in the hopes of clinching a record fifth title.

Braving a harshly windy start, quickly followed by the exact opposite, Al Sahel saw the Burj Al Arab emerge from the haze in front of them, and before they knew it, after nearly six hours of sailing, the chequered flag was billowing on their starboard side.

"From the beginning I didn't want to take any kind of risk so I stayed in a safe position knowing that the breeze would eventually increase, and indeed it did,” said Al Rumaithi. "The main thing I wanted was to have a safe race, not to put too much pressure on the boat and on the crew.

"Then, after I crossed the first finishing line at Moon Island I basically started pushing to the limit through good decisions and good choices, and my tactic paid off quite well.”

It is true the victory for Abu Dhabi's Al Rumaithi was unexpected, impressive and well deserved, but the real story belongs to Shaheen, and the definition of Al Gaffal, meaning ‘The Return' - which refers to the homecoming of fishermen and pearl divers after months at sea - is especially significant this year because of the extraordinary circumstances that befell his crew.

In the comeback of all comebacks, Shaheen and crew started off on the 51.30nm endurance ahead of the pack in more than favourable conditions at close to 7am yesterday morning, but only got a few nautical miles before losing a sail and capsizing, leaving them well behind in the chase to the Moon Island checkpoint, and eventually depriving them of victory.

Interestingly enough, chasers Al Qaffay (4) were the next to go, which cleared the way for Zef Zaf (59) to join a small fleet including Mura'ab (13), Zilzal (25), Al Serb (80), and Ghazi (103) ahead.

Zilzal, Al Serb and then Mura'ab were the first to round the island while unforgiving conditions continued to rip sails to shreds, treating dhows such as His Highness Sheikh Sultan Bin Zayed Al Nahyan's Al Raed, like delicate petals in a thunderstorm.

Finally, as predicted by forecasters, the wind disappeared around 11am and Ghazi (also Sheikh Sultan's) found themselves leaders but almost literally at a standstill.

Meanwhile, although a way behind, Al Zeer was back in the hunt in progressing winds, and all it took was a change of sails and a change of course to suddenly see them leap ahead of the group and finish second through an extraordinary display of tactics. In third was Al Wasl (96), followed by Al Serb, then Ghazi.

Sheikh Rashid Bin Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum was the chief guest and presented the awards in the presence of Ahmed Bin Thani, Chairman of the Dubai International Marine Club, Ali Nasser Bin Hebbala, Vice President of the Dubai International Marine Club, and board members Huraiz Mohammed Bin Huraiz, Marwan Al Tayer and Mohammed Hareb. - Sport 360°

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