ONE OF the West Country’s most experienced inshore racers is off to the Arabian Peninsula this week in a bid to win the latest edition of EFG Sailing Arabia – The Tour.
Stevie Morrison has taken part in the regatta before but his past involvement in a two-week programme, which mixes both inshore and offshore skills, has been as a crew member.
On this occasion, the Devon yachtsman will lead his own team against seven other international one-design Diam 24 racing boats and their personnel, all eager to test themselves against the challenges thrown up by Oman’s dramatic coastline.
The Gulf region’s premier yacht racing event has grown in popularity since backing from the Monaco banking giants saw it first launched in 2008, and it seems likely that the switch to the high-speed Diam trimarans, designed in France only four years ago, will boost those ratings still further in the coming years.
The latest entry combines a host of Sailing Arabia veterans with newcomers who have a wealth of Diam experience, much of it gained on the Tour de France à la Voile, which also uses the modern one-design multihull.
For example, French Tornado ace Daniel Souben, a former winner of both regattas, will be managing and coaching the Vivacar team, which will have his multihull-racing son, Matthieu, on the helm, while Swiss racing legend Bernard Stamm leads the Poujoulat boat.
Defending Tour champion Thierry Douillard skippers the EFG Bank Monaco entry. His triumph last year was part engineered by the contribution of former British Olympic sailor Morrison but this time the Exmouth man will be on the helm of the second ‘home-town’ Omani boat, Averda, and both those crews will again feature local people as part of Oman Sail’s ongoing development programme.
Morrison is relishing the prospect of racing against, rather than with Douillard, his team-mate on the last two French tours. “We have got to get as much exposure for our team that will race later in the year in France, as we can, so we have split our Tour de France a la Voile squad in two effectively,” said the 39-year-old son of Devon’s renowned naval architect, boatbuilder, sailmaker and former national and international champion Phil Morrison.
“Being a rival for the Tour with Thierry will be good as it will push all of us as a team to work harder,” added Morrison, jnr. “I know we will enjoy competing against each other as we have that team dynamic and mutual respect. There will be plenty of friendly rivalry, that’s for sure.”
Morrison’s crew includes his French regattas regular, Abdulrahman Al Mashari, as well as Quentin Poroy, an experienced offshore yachtsman from France.
But the change of format has resulted in long-term Tour supporter Marcel Herrera dropping out. He has sailed with a Plymouth University crew in most of the past editions which, on occasions, have also featured Somerset’s Mary Rook in the fleet’s all-female crew. This year’s Tour takes in eight venues, three offshore legs, three coastal raids, and four in-port races, with the 24-ft trimarans having to be disassembled and transported between venues on occasions as happens throughout the French tour version.
A new racecourse will take the fleet to some of Oman’s coastal gems, including Duqm, Barr Al Hikman, Masirah, Ras Al Hadd, Sur and Bandar Al Khiran.
It all starts on Saturday from Salalah, the capital of the southern Omani governorates of Dhofar and the second largest city in the Sultanate of Oman. A cultural and tourism programme running throughout the regatta is designed to bring a unique insight into the heritage of the region to a new, worldwide audience.