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21 April 2006, 01:56 pm
Pal Zileri Tighten Grip
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Maktoum Sailing Trophy 2006
Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Pal Zileri moved within reach of the Maktoum Sailing Trophy today with a dramatic victory in the third and penultimate round to maintain their 100% winning record in the Gulf's top fleet racing series. Skipper Francis CARR (UAE) and his crew edged out defending champions Horizon FCB helped by the heroics of 18 year old bowman James HEMMINGWAY (UAE).
HEMMINGWAY came to the rescue when they were faced with a potentially disastrous problem in the 24 hour overnight race.

Strapped into a harness, he was hoisted 22 metres up the mast in the early morning darkness, and with the boat pitching heavily, spent 30 minutes cutting the spinnaker free after it became wrapped around the forestay.

It allowed Pal Zileri to overcome Horizon's time advantage through the Maktoum Trophy handicap system, and they won with just under four minutes to spare. Last year's runner up, Australian Mark FIELBERG finished third on his first appearance in the 2006 series in the new Grand Soleil 37 yacht, Art Marine 2, ahead of David ROSTANT's (UAE) Switchblade.

Yo! Claims Line Honours

Skippered by Toby O'CONNELL (GBR), Yo!, the largest yacht in the race, took line honours as the first boat to reach the end of the 110 nautical mile course at Dubai Offshore Sailing Club, although the impressive 50 footer was placed fifth by the handicap system.

Having won both previous rounds, Pal Zileri now look certain to clinch the Maktoum Trophy in the final round at Dubai International Marine Club on 5-6 May, although skipper CARR remained cautious after a dramatic day all round for the team.

The boat's owner, Kristian TZANOV (BUL), missed the event to take part in the Class 3 GCC powerboat championship and escaped unhurt when his boat overturned. 'He's OK but his boat isn't,' said CARR, after phoning TZANOV on arrival at the finish. Then he said, 'Barring a catastrophe, we should do it now, but you can't take anything for granted in sailing.'

HEMMINGWAY, a Jumeirah College student and freelance sailing instructor, said of his daring performance, 'It was interesting. Basically it was a case of 'here's the knife, here's the torch, it looks like you're going up'. It wasn't my favourite place to be at three o'clock in the morning, but by using a bit of brute force I got the spinnaker free in the end.'

Comeback Kings

Three quarters of the way through the race Pal Zileri trailed Horizon, and already conceding a 1 hour and 40 minute handicap advantage to their biggest rivals, CARR looked to be in danger of losing out before he 'got lucky with the wind', and gradually moved ahead.

Horizon FCB's French skipper Christophe VANEK sai, 'We did everything we could, but the current was always against us and that's an advantage for the bigger boats. Pal Zileri are hard to beat. Their boat is designed for the handicap system, and it looks as though they will be the champions now. But we will try to win some races in the last round.'

Yo!'s skipper O'CONNELL was delighted to be back in action. Restricted by business commitments to an appearance in the previous round and disillusioned after being black flagged in one race and given a penalty in another, he took no further part in the event.

The Dubai company director acquired the boat in Malaysia last year to use sailing to promote luxury villas in Ko Samui. Under its previous owner it enjoyed major success in south east Asia, and won the prestigious King's Cup in Phuket.

Spinnaker Woes

O'CONNELL's crew of eleven included two of his company's graduate engineers and a fabricator who had not sailed before. 'We also had two guys who turned up at the club and just wanted to go sailing,' he said. 'We've never turn anybody down, and we've got space for more.'

His worst moment came around 0100 when the crew spent one and a half hours untangling the spinnaker. 'But for that we would definitely have won,' he said.

The race was characterised by good winds of around 15 knots in the early stages dropping to six to eight knots around midnight. Vacheron Constantin Team Racing, skippered by Mark DEVITT (RSA), were forced to retire in the early evening with steering problems.

As the race continued through the night, Cedric LE REST (FRA) and the crew of Virgo Bellica spent 30 minutes battling to overcome a problem with their mast. The crew included 16 year old Josie WALSH (UAE), one of four youngsters in action who have come through the youth sailing programme driven by Dubai International Marine Club.

Another Jebel Ali Sailing Club youngster, Matt SECKER (UAE), was among the Horizon crew while 15 year old Max BUERGER (UAE) from Dubai Offshore Sailing Club sailed with Art Marine 2, whose tactician is Yousef BIN LAHEJ (UAE), the first UAE national to qualify for an Olympic sailing event.

For a complete list of all the news from the Maktoum Sailing Trophy 2006 CLICK HERE.

Tony LEWIS (As Amended By ISAF). Image, Pal Zileri have one hand on the trophy:© Bob MCCAFFREY/Total Communications
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