Organised by Dubai International Marine Club, the Maktoum Sailing Trophy consists of a seven-round series of events stretching over the next four months for the spectacular new IRC (International Racing Certificate) class of sailing boats given birth by a recently created national body in the UAE.
The introduction of the Maktoum Sailing Trophy - the first IRC series to be held on a national level - is an important step in plans to give sailing a major boost in popularity in the UAE to reflect the country's age-old seafaring tradition. It is also part of a broader international effort to promote sailing with a view to encouraging greater participation and fairer competition along with more public awareness and support.
Getting under way at 2.00pm, tomorrow's (Thursday) opening Race in the Maktoum Sailing Trophy follows a course along the edge of The Palm Jumeirah, which in being hailed as a unique stage for world-class watersports, particularly after its recent role in two weeks of World Powerboat Championship racing in Dubai. Three more races take place on Friday, the first starting at 11.00am and the other two following in the afternoon. DIMC stages a skippers' briefing at 6pm tonight (Wednesday).
The series is being staged with the support of the entire UAE sailing community, including Jebel Ali Sailing Club, Dubai Offshore Sailing Club and the Emirates Heritage Club Abu Dhabi. Set up in May by the UAE Marine Sports Federation, the UAE IRC Owner's Association was the first national body to be established after sailing's world governing body, the ISAF, sanctioned the launch of IRC class of handicap racing.
This brings together a mixture of purpose-built racing yachts and racing cruisers ranging in length from 29-foot to 55-foot, whose widely ranging performance capabilities will be balanced out by a handicap system based on hull and sail size. 'The launch of the Maktoum Sailing Trophy series marks a very exciting new chapter for the sport in the UAE, ' said Saeed Hareb, Managing Director of Dubai International Marine Club, at an official launch press conference at DIMC today.
'This is part of a growing international movement to reverse the way sailing has fallen behind other sports. We are determined to play a key role in changing the fortunes of sailing.' David Warroll, Vice President of the UAE IRC Owner's Association, told the press conference: 'After the ISAF opened the way for the establishment of IRC handicap racing, the UAE Marine Sports Federation wasted no time in setting up our own parent body for the new class.
'We're proud to be at the helm of such an important development bringing inexpensive but fair competition for local keelboat sailors. We're also grateful to Saeed Hareb and his team at Dubai International Marine Club for the inspired move to create the Maktoum Sailing Trophy.' He added: 'Keelboat owners are welcome to join the association and can obtain all necessary information on the Maktoum Sailing Trophy from DIMC.'
Also present at the press conference were DIMC Sailing Department Manager Sid Bensalah, Principle Race Officer Mike Butterfield and Mike Scully, General Manager of Le Meridien Mina Seyahi Beach Resort and Marina, the official hotel for the series. The series consists of a variety of races from short 'around the marks' events to the prestigious 365-nautical mile ISAF Category 3 offshore course from Dubai to Muscat in March. The series reaches its climax in April with the Around The World Race circling Nakheel's landmark development in Dubai.
It will see a mixture of eight to 12-strong national and expatriate crews competing in a selection of newly acquired IRC boats, in particular the popular Beneteau 36.7, in a race series designed to be attractive and easy to follow for enthusiasts and the general public.
The Maktoum Sailing Trophy is designed to build a reputation matching some of the most prestigious and famous events in sailing, such as Australia's Sydney Hobart Race, the King's Cup in Thailand and Cowes Week in the UK. While the bulk of competitors will initially be UAE-based, the series is designed to gradually attract competitors from around the world, including some of the sport's biggest stars.
At least 15 new IRC class boats are expected to be confirmed for tomorrow afternoon's opening race in the series when registration opens in the morning at DIMC, which has been successfully driving a junior sailing programme for the last five years. Emirates Airline's sponsorship of Team New Zealand for the 2007 Americas Cup is another key move to raising the profile of sailing in the UAE, and this process will continue next October when the team's former America's Cup challenger, NZ82, will be retired permanently in Dubai to assist in the development of young sailing talent.
Maktoum Sailing Trophy calendar:
16-17 December: DIMC Series
21-22 January: Dubai-Sir Bunair-Dubai Race
2-4 February: Jebel Ali Sailing Club Series
3 - 7 March: Dubai-Muscat Race
31 March-1 April: Dubai Offshore Sailing Club series
7-8 April: Dubai-Sir Bunair-Abu Dhabi Race
21-22 April: Final - Around The World Race