Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Abu Dhabi Sailing – ADCA racing, Yas Island Rally

ADCA Yas Cruise 010
We are two-thirds of the way through the sailing season, which runs from mid-September to the beginning of June, coinciding with the months of the year that human beings can survive outdoors in the UAE. Mark and I have been doing a lot of sailing during these cool months.

Our club here, the Abu Dhabi Cruiser Association (ADCA), holds races every third Saturday. We also participate in special events including the recent Emirates Open Regatta and an annual ADCA Yas Island cruise out. The following briefings will give you the season’s highlights so far, with some local color and characters.

The move to Emirates Palace Marina

Life changed for the better – MUCH better – when we moved from the crowded marina near the Marina Mall, over to Emirates Palace Marina.

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The floating dock is used for prize giving and posh dinners

Let’s just start with the parking, which is spacious and beautifully landscaped whereas at the other marina it’s a permanent construction zone, and you may as well park across the street in the mall parking lot, taking your life in your hands to cross the street.

Plus, although it’s a spacious marina designed for mega yachts, it has the following environmentally sustainable green credentials, according to Marina Manager Capt. Toby Haws:
- ISO 140001 waste management
- Blue Flag Award
- ICOMIA Green Marinas
- 5 Gold Anchor Award
- Carbon footprint assessment done
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Idefix and Unwind are neighbors

The $3 billion US Emirates Palace Hotel is in a class of its own, and so is the marina. The concierge will deliver you and your gear to the slip in a golf cart, and fetch ice if needed. They are at the dock to catch our dock lines as we arrive after a sail. And they offer catered lunch to be delivered dockside, complete with fine china and cloth napkins.

I have seen this myself – one weekend the skipper and crew of the Beneteau 21.7 in the next slip sat down in the cockpit and tucked into a pre-race lunch of juicy looking cheeseburgers and ice cold beers while we were setting up our boat for racing. The room service cart filled the whole cockpit.
AD Cup 006

The best part of the move, aside from the location, scenery and service, is using the floating clubhouse. Now we have a place right at the marina where we can gather after a race. We bring our own beverages and food, and the marina provides a barbecue. The post-race group seems to grow a bit bigger and more fun after each race, and Mark and I can never seem to tear ourselves away without being among the last to leave.

This year’s ADCA Annual Meeting for the general membership will be in the Emirates Palace Marina clubhouse.

ADCA Commodore’s Cup series 2012-13

The new marina is working out well for racing. When we were at the other marina, our starting line channel buoys were in a location that was popular with jet skiers, who loved to buzz around us in light air just after the start, showing off for spectators by disturbing the water and stopping the boats. Yelling at them to go away only made them do it more. Boys will be boys, and they pretty much do whatever they want around here.
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Lady Marmalade, Saeeda and Floosie before the start

Now we use the Emirates Palace Marina channel buoys as the start line – port end is usually a bit favored, but not bad – and we round permanent buoys offshore. We’ve raced the same 14 NM course for the past few races. There is a bit of current to play, some wind shifts and tacking, and a downwind run to the finish line. We always start at 2 p.m. which may sound late, but the early offshore breeze dies around noon, and in the afternoon we usually get a decent onshore breeze of 8 to 12 knots, sometimes less and sometimes more. We finish around 4 p.m. or so, put the boat away and head over to the clubhouse, getting just a bit of a head start on the slower boats who sail a shorter course.

There are thirteen IRC-rated boats registered for the season, and from five to nine have been showing up on the starting line. Despite the wide range of boat types, the racing is fun, with us on the Pacer 27 Unwind battling it out with our arch rival, the Farr 30 Idefix, who need to be upset from their perennial podium place as season champions.

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Greta, Alicia, Emma and Matteo

Unwind’s crew is all Italian except for Mark and me, and the crew rotates depending on who is available. On one fun special regatta this year, the Abu Dhabi Cup, we had Emiliano’s two daughters, Emma and Greta, and Paolo’s daughter Alicia, all three chattering in Italian and singing Taylor Swift songs.

The Humpback Dolphins have been meeting us in the starting line area, swimming with us as we tack around before the start. We see Humbacks or Bottlenose almost every time we go sailing, although as the water along the Abu Dhabi coastline warms up they will surely go someplace where it’s cooler.

Starting the Race with Humpback Dolphins

At this writing we are in the lead for the season, but only one point ahead of Idefix, having taken a third in Race #8. A THIRD??? Read on …

The New Floosie in Town

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Martyn and Floosie

We took a third in Race #8 because there is a new FarEast 26 named Floosie in the fleet. The owner, a very nice Brit gentleman named Martyn, wanted to get something a bit larger than his National Squib, so Emiliano suggested the purchase the FarEast 26. It was delivered from China a few weeks ago, and Martyn named her Floosie, because “She’s fast and she’ll go with anyone.” Apparently she’s the latest in a long line of Floosies that Martyn has had. Emiliano, Mark and I went out with Martyn on the maiden voyage, to help him sort the boat out and figure out how to sail it. We agreed that it’s very comfortable and sails very well.

Then Martyn asked us to go out with him on a Thursday evening Twilight Race, which we did – despite the shamal, which is a strong northwest wind that blows across Iraq and the Gulf, kicking up some pretty steep chop. Whoa! First puff upwind the boat lays over and the outhaul on the main breaks. Nevertheless, we continued to the mark, rounded, and put up the spinnaker, crossing the finish line first – well – and last, being the only boat out.

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Mark and Martyn get along like a house afire

That evening we enjoyed an intimate BBQ with Martyn, his wife Christine, son Geoff, and some Cuban cigars, which Martyn enjoys regularly and Mark has recently taken quite a liking to. Christine “isn’t much of a sailor,” says Martyn, but I think she will grow to appreciate Floosie’s comfortable accommodations in the benign weather we have so often here.

A couple of days later we sailed Commodore’s Cup #8 on Unwind with Emiliano. It was light wind, with choppy conditions left over from the shamal, and Unwind just couldn’t get moving. It also seemed like we were faster on port tack. Floosie took second place, with nobody more shocked than Martyn. Thus, we are now only one point ahead of the Farr 30, and Floosie is a threat. This week, Emiliano is hauling Unwind, painting the bottom, and checking the mast and keel alignment.This is just what Emiliano wanted – more competition in the fleet, which he hopes will encourage more people to join ADCA, buy boats and sail in races.

Martyn was so appreciative of our help that he hosted us at the last running of the horse races at Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club on March 17th. He is just one of the many great people we have met, and continue to meet, sailing here. We just need more boats!

Emirates Open Regatta

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Tom, me, Mark, Ken and Geoff accept the 2nd Place cup.
The award money is coming, inshallah.

We sailed the Emirates Open Regatta on Saturday, March 2nd. It’s a multi-day international regatta, sponsored by Emirates Heritage Club and Abu Dhabi Sailing and Yacht Club, with mostly dinghy classes.

We sailed in this regatta last year, with just a few other keel boats. This year, thanks to Emiliano and his skill in getting the fleet to turn out, we managed to pull together enough keel boats – eight – registered in the “Cruiser Class” for our fleet to not only race one day but actually qualify for prize money. Instead of being awarded to the winners, the money is put into the ADCA fund to benefit all members, which means we will have a big party.

At Emiliano’s request, Mark and I sailed Floosie. Martyn was out of town on business but we had his son Geoff, who we think actually prefers fishing but is liking sailing more with the new boat. To round out the crew we brought our friend Tom, who has day sailed with us occasionally and laughs every time you try to explain how to do something, and a guy Tom met at the British Club named Ken who said he had done some racing about 30 years ago.

We used our regular up-down course, with three races. Although it was the perfect light conditions for Idefix we managed, to our surprise, to earn one “bullet,” or first place, on Floosie which put us in second place for the series, behind Idefix and ahead of Emiliano on Unwind. We are more impressed with the FarEast 26 each time we sail her.

The best part about the Emirates Open is the prize giving ceremony and dinner. The prize giving is in the National Theater, on the waterfront next to Emirates Heritage Village and the site of the Volvo Ocean Race stopover. After a young boy sings some verses from the Quran, the winners approach dignitaries lined up onstage and are awarded large trophies. Then everyone goes over to the Heritage Village for a huge Arabic buffet dinner, served al fresco. The regatta’s sponsors provide all this at no cost, no entry fee, no dinner tickets. The only thing for us that is different than other regattas is the absence of sponsors like Mount Gay or Skyy, which just means that we get home at a decent hour and nobody makes a fool of themselves.

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Walking over to the dinner

By the end of the evening we could see that Ken was already getting hooked on sailing again, so it was no surprise to see him crewing on Floosie in the next Commodore’s Cup race.

Sailing Arabia – The Tour

Sailing Arabia - The National
Inshore racing

We had some international sailing celebrities in town recently, including a member of Richmond Yacht Club, our yacht club in the San Francisco Bay. Liz Baylis, two-time US Sailing Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year, was sailing with three other professional women sailors, Dee Caffari and Sarah Hornby of Great Britain and another American, Katie Pettibone, on an all-female team with a crew of Omani girls sailing in Sailing Arabia – the Tour.

The Far 30 fleet’s racing began in Bahrain, stopping along the Arabian Gulf coast in ports in Qatar and UAE, then through the Strait of Hormuz to Oman, ending in Muscat. Mark and I caught up with Liz and the crew while they were in Abu Dhabi, and watched some of the in-port racing before heading over to our own ADCA race which happened to be the same day.

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Omani crew

We talked briefly to the crew, and I was impressed with the young Omani women from the Oman Sail Women’s Sailing Program, who were out racing day and night, among the oil rigs and sandy shoals, building confidence in themselves and learning that they can compete in the sport of sailing.

Since they were rotating their crew there were a couple of girls who weren’t racing and Liz and I talked about having them come and race with us in our ADCA race, but it didn’t work out. Although I thought we had two crew coming along, they went out on the spectator boat, and we had to leave to get to our marina and get our boat ready. I think maybe they were a little shy about going out with us. Oh well.

Volvo Ocean Race 2013-14

Sailing Arabia Tour 002

The Farr 30’s were tied up at the docks that were built for the 2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race stopover. It’s been announced that Abu Dhabi will compete in the 2013-14 VOR, and Abu Dhabi will again be a race stopover. Mark and I will still be here by then – maybe. This time, we’ll make sure we get on a boat to watch the in-port racing on the water.

Yas Island Cruise Out

Every year, ADCA organizes a cruise to Yas Marina, a 25 mile trip past Abu Dhabi’s still-developing arts and culture center on Saadiyat Island to Yas Island which, in addition to the luxury marina, is the home of Yas Marina F1 Circuit, the world’s largest indoor theme park Ferrari World, the brand new water park Yas Waterworld, and the Yas Links Golf Course – none of which anyone in our sailing group visited. We were just there for the cruise and the party.

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Ferrari World

We started out from Emirates Palace Marina at about 10:00 a.m. to take advantage of the ebb. We got a mile or two offshore where we found a decent breeze, and were able to hoist the spinnaker. The fleet consisted of four boats – Idefix, Unwind, Floosie, and the Cork 1720 Saeeda. Once again Mark and I sailed with Martyn on Floosie, because Emiliano and Paolo had their families along on Unwind.

Mark and I were excited at the opportunity to explore a little piece of the coastline and some inter-island waterways that we hadn’t yet seen. It’s always an interesting perspective to view a city from the water. All along the way, we recognized buildings that we knew, but had never seen from that vantage point. We also saw things we had never seen before, and were especially interested in what looked like an abandoned resort project, with Arab-style wind tower architecture. An Arabian ghost town.
Yas cruise map
25 miles each way
ADCA Yas Rally - Barry
Dockside celebration on Saeeda

The fleet arrived at Yas Marina between 3:00 and 4:00 p.m. There was only one grounding by Saeeda but, because the bottom is sand, it wasn’t a big deal and they were able to sail off. The four boats tied up and everyone enjoyed some drinks and snacks.

Compared to Emirates Palace Marina, Yas Marina, which is also designed for mega yachts, is very noisy. There was racing on the track right next to the marina while we were there, and the Abu Dhabi International Airport is nearby, with a constant stream of approaching jets flying right overhead.
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Yas Marina entrance

That, combined with a retrofit of the restaurants and other non-berthing facilities in the marina, made it a bit less convenient than we would have liked, so before long everyone was taking the concierge golf cars to the Yas Viceroy Hotel to catch taxis.

Some people had booked a room in one of the hotels on the island, but Mark and I went home which, as you can see from the map, is exactly half way between the Palace marina and Yas – about twelve miles.

We returned at 7:30 for the dinner, and as we arrived at the hotel complex, the place was buzzing with people arriving with Corvettes for a racing event. ADCA’s social secretary, Liz, arranged for a private poolside buffet dinner for our group at the Yas Rotana Hotel. Spouses who didn’t make the ADCA cruise joined us and there were about 40 people in the group. The wine was flowing, and there was a considerable amount of singing, which Malcolm had started back in the marina. At one point I looked over at Malcolm, who helms Idefix when the owner Marc, who is a pilot, is flying.

Wimer kiss
Photo lifted from Wimer's Facebook page.
I hope it's OK, John!

I noticed Malcolm balancing a spoon on his nose, which reminded me of someone back home. Malcolm is ADCA’s version of my sailing friend John Wimer, owner of the San Francisco Bay J120 race boat Desdemona, notorious for winning the party as well as the race. Both Malcolm and John are very affectionate. Malcolm is always demanding kisses, both cheeks please, and Wimer kisses everyone, not just the girls!

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Malcolm at least needs some beads, no?

The next morning, Malcolm flashed us as we passed Idefix motoring Floosie. Which is a classic Desdemona move. “We have a Wimer,” I told Mark. “He just needs to work on the wardrobe.”

As the weekend wore on, it reminded us more and more of a calmer version of the Delta Ditch Run, a popular race from Richmond in San Francisco Bay through the Sacramento River Delta to Stockton, California that’s often very windy, with lots of groundings and carnage. What a great race it would be, downwind to Yas Island! There would need to be a motoring allowance, Mark and I decided. The party could be easily organized at any one of the many restaurants in Yas Marina, or at a nearby hotel as Liz did this year.

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Catching Idefix under power

We left the Yas Marina dock at 8:00 a.m. Saturday, so we could beat the tide, and motored out, enjoying the scenery and wildlife, including a friendly Humpback Dolphin, a Stingray, and a Gazelle grazing in the mangroves.

At 10:00 a.m. we crossed under the Saadiyat bridge and into the Gulf, where we were met by a fleet of classic racing dhows just lowering their sails. The breeze came up, and we close reached up to the Emirates Palace Marina, arriving at 1:00 p.m.

What a perfect weekend, and what a perfect place to go sailing. And what a great group of people, the Abu Dhabi Cruiser Association.

Thanks for reading; two photo albums are below.

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