Dee's presence spurring us: Raya

Oman's Raya al Habsi, a member of the all-women crew onboard Al Thuraya bank muscat Team at the ongoing 2013 EFG Bank Sailing Arabia-The Tour (SATT), believes that skipper Dee Caffari has had a motivating influence on the team members. The experienced British yachtswoman, who has sailed solo around the world in both directions, spearheads the Al Thuraya team in its second appearance in the SATT.

Speaking to Muscat Daily on Saturday, Raya said, “Our debut in the SATT last year has done a world of good for us. We are much more comfortable now doing offshore races.” Half the crew of the Al Thuraya team comprises Omani women - there are four from the sultanate - with Raya and Intisar al Tobi the only ones to be part of the boat's campaign in the 2012 edition. The other two Omani girls in the team are Raja’a al Owaisi and Tahira al Yahyai. Al Thuraya bank muscat Team has produced its best offshore result so far, securing a fourthplace finish in the fifth leg from Ras al Khaimah, UAE, to Dibba, Oman, recently. Raya said about her team's fifth-leg performance, “All the Omani girls were excited to enter the sultanate waters.

We were looking forward to our stay at the Six Senses Zighy Bay Resort [in Musandam, Oman].” Raya added, “With me and Intisar around, things have been easier for Raja’a and Tahira. We now realise the difficulties that we faced last year. They too are excited just like we were, but our presence has hopefully made things smoother for them. “For us, it was tough at the start. But when you have a skipper like Dee around, things becomes smooth sailing. Dee has a world of experience. We are proud of what she passes on to us.” Raja’a, who is Al Thuraya's pitwoman, admits that the presence of Raya and Intisar has made things much easier. “To have Omani girls with us, who have experience in the SATT, has helped us adjust to the conditions much quicker,” she said. As for taking on the mantle of 'seniors' for her lesser experienced teammates, Raja’a and Tahira, Raya said, “We are happy to act as seniors on the Tour. We try our best to support Raja’a and Tahira. Of course, we are thankful to Oman Sail for giving us this exposure and the opportunity to sail with greats like Dee, Katty [Pettibone] and Sarah [Hornby].”

On Friday, it was yet another first for the Omani girls as all six of them, including reserves Asrar al Ajmi and Ibtisam al Salmi, were part of the all-Omani women crew that took part in a non-scoring inshore race at Zighy Bay. On losing out on a podium finish in the SATT's fifth leg race, Raya said it was disappointing since Al Thuraya had gone agonisingly close to a podium finish. She said, “We were doing very well and approaching the Zighy Bay Marina.

We were at second place with just a few kilometres left when the Dutch guys onboard Delft Challenge-TU Delft, which was close behind us, suddenly moved ahead. “And then, almost out of nowhere, we found Sidney [Gavignet] onboard EFG Bank (Monaco) get ahead of us as well. It was frustrating to see a podium finish slip through our fingers at the last moment. However, it has been our best result in the SATT this year.” Looking forward to the rest of the campaign, Dee said, “The next stopover, at Musannah, is close to the hearts of the Omani crew as they have all trained there.

Also, a couple of them hail from that area.” The Al Thuraya crew camped overnight at the Six Senses resort, while the other teams were ferried to Dibba and Fujairah, UAE, from the Zighy Bay Marina. The eight-boat fleet left Zighy Bay Marina on Saturday morning and set off for Oman along the coastline. The start to Saturday's action was delayed due to lack of winds and race director Giles Chiorri instructed the fleet to motor along further out to the sea for a proper start.

With light winds predicted, the teams are expected to arrive at Musannah late into Saturday night. Team Abu Dhabi, which was sidelined from action after its rudder was damaged during the second leg from Doha, Qatar, to Abu Dhabi, UAE, is expected to rejoin the fleet in Musannah and will compete in the final leg to Muscat beginning on Monday.

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