Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Sailing Abu Dhabi

This guy just sort of appeared
out of the haze.
It’s not every day that you get to see an International Moth out sailing. But around here, you never know what you’re going to see next.

The Etihad Towers are spectacular at night,
seen from the Emirates Palace Marina.

One Thursday evening, Abu Dhabi Cruiser Association (ADCA) organized a barbecue at the Emirates Palace Marina. Emiliano is interested in having the ADCA boats rent slips there. Not everyone is convinced, however. As always, there is discussion on the pros and cons, so we’ll see what happens. But, it’s a beautiful setting and it would be great not to have to go across town to meet up for the post-race debrief and beverages.

With our new sails, we're fast.

Emiliano and a friend had sailed Unwind over. The next day, Mark and I went along for the sail back over to our slip in the other marina, using the new sails so that Emiliano could see them for the first time. It was this day that made me really realize . . . it’s getting hotter, and more humid, like, dripping sweat humid.

The next weekend we finally had a chance to take Tom, Lucy, Dana and Deb sailing. The six of us have done two Caribbean cruises together, along with one other couple, Gary and Maggie.

It was a windy morning. We met in the Marina Tower coffee shop for lunch, and watched the wind die, just as Mark and I had predicted. We wondered if there would be any afternoon breeze after the transition and change in direction to offshore. Good news! While it’s often dead along the Corniche, there can still be decent breeze just offshore. We had a beautiful sail, and everyone had a great time.

It was hot, but we just poured buckets of water on each other.

One of the big highlights of the day was when we saw the International Moth . Here’s a video synopsis of the day. I’m learning how to make movies, and this is my first one that’s edited, with music.

Sailboat racing here is a developing sport, but we are doing our best to help it develop.
On April 6 and 7, we sailed on Unwind in the Emirates Open Regatta which was organized by the Emirates Heritage Club and the UAE Sailing and Rowing Federation. Race headquarters was the Emirates Sailing School, which is nowhere near the Corniche and race course, so the race office was at the Abu Dhabi International Marine Sport Club. Mark and I haven’t been to either of these places.

None of that mattered to us; we met at the boat in the Abu Dhabi Marina, and Emiliano knew all about the regatta, having helped promote it to the keelboats. It was mainly a dinghy regatta, with seven dinghy classes including Optimist Overall and Junior, Laser Standard, Radial, and 4.7, Two-person Dinghy, and Open Catamaran. Then there was our keelboat division, the Cruisers. Of course, we don’t exactly think of a Pacer 27 as a cruiser, but it does have a keel and a little tiny cabin.

The prize money for each division was:
First Place Dh7000 ($1900 US)
Second Place Dh5000 ($1362 US)
Third Place Dh4000 ($1090 US)

In total, that’s $35,000!

However for our division there was a problem: to be eligible for prize money, there had to be 10 boats in a start. We only had 8. The sad thing is that there are plenty of boats in Abu Dhabi that could have raced. We had six races; three per day. We only would have needed to have 10 boats in one of the starts. Emiliano had made personal calls to the boat owners, asking them to race. But it was not to be; not this time. Many keel boats sat in their slips as usual.

Zephyr takes their own time as the cross the finish line
Having a real bouy to round is a good thing.

Yet even with just a few boats, the racing was very competitive. We sailed three races on Friday and three on Saturday, starting at 10:00 a.m. With no race committee boat for our course, we were fortunate to have temporary marks set up for us. We had a start line, with a turning mark 1.4 nm due north. Everyone set their watches and recorded their own times, reporting to one of the boats after finishing.

The wind was light and coming from the southwest, building and shifting north during the afternoon. On Friday we started the first two races with spinnakers, with close reaches to finish. By Friday’s third race, it was a one-legged beat upwind in moderate breeze and spinnaker finish. It was hotter on Saturday, and the wind was moderate but consistent in both speed and direction. We had reaches all day. Each race took about 35 minutes for the faster boats, and just over an hour for the slowest ones.

The prize giving with a free buffet dinner afterward was supposed to be held at the Heritage Club in Heritage Village, near where the Volvo Ocean Race Destination Village had been. But after the races on Saturday, we were home getting cleaned up and got the message that the location had changed. Instead, it was held in an auditorium at the Zayed University, in the middle of town.

Emirates Open Regatta 025
The Bahrain team won big.

There were plenty of dignitaries on hand to present the awards. As we were waiting for late arrivals, servers came around with trays of juice, and the people in the front rows were offered the traditional Arab coffee. There was a speech in Arabic, which was translated into English, about the importance of sailing and its place in local culture and history.

Emirates Open Regatta 030
But so did we, sort of.

We collected a trophy for Second Place, but no money. Yalla Yalla took First Place.

After the ceremony, we went into the courtyard where there were beautifully set tables and a buffet. All my favorites were on the board: fattoush salad, tabbouleh, hummous, and Arab-style chicken and rice biryani. Another favorite dish for Arabs is pasta with cheese, aka macaroni and cheese. And then we came to a chafing dish heaped with familiar-looking fried chicken and potato wedges. “That looks like KFC,” Mark said. “Yes,” the man in kandura ahead of me said, “it’s KFC.” “Wow,” Mark was saying, “that’s amazing.” “It’s because . . .” the man struggled to find a word. “Because,” I offered, “people like it.” “Yes. Yes!” he agreed. “People like it.” We have noticed that the young people here love American style fast food: KFC, Subway, Pizza Hut, MacDonald’s. This is where they are test marketing the new pizza with mini hamburgers stuffed into the crust.

Emirates Open Regatta 031
Soon after this photo, the place was empty.
We thought there was a lot of food but it disappeared fast, just like our regattas at home. We were lingering a little, Emiliano was saying he needed to leave early because he was traveling the next day, and suddenly we were almost the only ones at the party. It was almost instantaneous; everyone was eating, then gone!

The dinner party had lasted less than an hour and, without the post-race happy hour that we are used to, it was a short party.

ADCA #12 004
The start line was in front of the theater.
 On May 25th, we sailed the last race of the ADCA Commodore’s Cup series. The race organizer, Marc, wanted a boat for boat finish, so each competitor had GPS coordinates of an imaginary mark based on their handicap rating. Interesting! We had a very competitive start on the short line between the channel buoys off the Corniche, and all sailed upwind as if we were going to the same mark. Then everyone tacked in different places, and rounded imaginary marks.

The goal on Unwind was to be Yalla Yalla, which we did. Afterward, everyone gathered at Al Bateen Marina as usual for debrief and beers.
Emirates Open Regatta 008
This probably says "Emirates Open Regatta." I don't know what else it says.

The Emiratis are very proud of their maritime history, but modern sailboat racing here is a developing sport in a developing country. Aside from the Volvo Ocean Race and other world-class sailboat races, their focus now is on getting young Emiratis into sailing, and not on building an international expat sailing community. And with expats constantly moving in and out, it’s a hard place to have a consistent racing fleet. Even the well-established Dubai Offshore Sailing Club has its challenges.
The dhow races are a spectacle.
Dhow racing is the grand big-boat sailing sport in the UAE. 60-foot wooden dhows are raced with large cash prizes going to the winners. Smaller 22-foot dhows are raced by young Emiratis, who are coached by adults. Dhows don’t go upwind, so they typically sail out to sea and race back. Instead of jockeying for position under sail at the line, they must wait until the start signal to raise the mast and the sail. Only Emirati nationals may be on dhow racing crews. And of course it goes without saying, men only.
Read more about dhow racing:

During the Volvo Ocean Race stopover, a fleet of eighty 60-foot dhows raced a 16-mile course. The prize money for that race was Dh3.67 million, or $1 million U.S. That is, I have been told, not an unusually large prize amount. In that race, they made an exception to the Emirati-men-only rule, and allowed people from the VOR to participate on the dhow crews.

You can watch a video of the Volvo crews racing on the dhows at

Here I am, baby . . .
Thanks for reading.

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