After years of planning, negotiating, stressing, sweating and hoping for the best, Tracy EDWARDSs dream of a major yacht race starting and finishing in the Middle East is about to become a reality. The four massive multihulls that comprise the Oryx Quest 2005 fleet stand ready to set off on a voyage around the world that will take them south of the five great capes and back to Qatar with the first boat returning approximately 55 days after starting. This weekend the competing yachts will take their place in a purpose-built marina in front of the race village and be on display through start day. For now, however, they are a hive of activity as the international crews prepare them for the grueling trip ahead.
In a local marina Tony BULLIMORE's Daedalus sits alongside Brian THOMPSON's Qatar 2006. Both boats are crawling with workers stringing rigging, dragging bags of sails and drilling holes to mount some critical piece of equipment. Daedalus arrived from the UK earlier in the week and Qatar 2006 was recently relaunched after a complete refit in a local boat yard. There is still much to do but both teams are confident that they will be ready well in advance of start day. Tony BULLIMORE's crew were unbolting the engines and removing them from the boat in order to save weight, while Brian THOMPSON's team were installing generators to replace their engines which were removed during the refit.
A quick look at the crew working on board Qatar 2006 and you will see one of the most experienced teams ever assembled. No one has formally tallied it up, but there must be at least 20 circumnavigations between them. French sailor Jacques VINCENT is about to embark on his seventh trip around the world. He has already done The Race, a Jules Verne record attempt (on Commodore Explorer when they were the first boat to break the 80-day barrier), three Whitbread races and a Volvo Ocean race. Working alongside him is Damian FOXALL who is heading out on his fifth sprint around the planet. Thompson has also assembled some top French multihull sailors including Tomas COVILLE who has been campaigning the ORMA 60 trimaran Sodebo since completing the Vendee Globe solo, non-stop around the world four years ago. Karine FAUCONNIER, the attractive skipper of one of the fastest ORMA 60 trimaran's, Sergio Tacchini, is also on board. Thompson navigated for her in last years Quebec St Malo race where they finished first in an incredibly competitive fleet. All in all it's a formidable team led by a skipper who knows his boat well and knows his way around the world. Qatar 2006 will be officially renamed in a ceremony later this week - stand by for that news.
In a nearby navy yard the crew on Geronimo are also hard at work. Most of them have sailed around the world on board the boat before, many of them more than once. They know their boat and it's obvious that the massive trimaran is well sorted. Olivier de KERSAUSON the colourful French skipper, is dividing his time between the boat and dining locally with dignitaries including the French ambassador to Qatar. This will be de Kersauson's eighth trip around the world, and while it's a major undertaking and not one that he's taking lightly, he seems completely relaxed and ready for the race.
The only boat not in Qatar is Cheyenne. The well known catamaran that made world headlines last year when the team set the fastest circumnavigation time of 58 days and 9 hours, is still in Dubai where it was recently unloaded from the deck of a container ship. Dave SCULLY has also assembled an impressive crew including Herve JAN and Gordon MAGUIRE, both veterans of The Race aboard Club Med (among numerous other circumnavigations). The team will bring the boat to Qatar this weekend to join in with the rest of the festivities.
So, while the anticipation is building here in Qatar, there is still much to do. The new Oryx Quest 2005 website is going through some teething problems, but once sorted it's going to be a very impressive site and an easy and interactive way to follow all the action. The television production team, APP Broadcast, is feverishly applying for filming permits while the first of many programs aired on UK television last night. World renown photographer Rick TOMLINSON, the official photographer for the event, is busy lining up ladies in burka's with crew in sailing gear while being careful not to fall in the water. The rest of us, meanwhile, struggle with the language and culture while having an exceedingly good time in this hugely hospitable part of the world. It's unlikely that Doha has seen such frenzied activity along their waterfront and things are just getting started.
Finally, before we forget, many thanks to the kind people of Qatar who have opened their town to us and helped out in so many ways. We hope that you enjoy the festivities and are impressed with the boats and the crews. Please stop by the Race Village next week and bring your children. The Education Tent will have a fascinating look at life on board a maxi-multihull as they race around the world.