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5 February 2005, 05:22 pm
They're Off - Next Stop Doha
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Oryx Quest
Doha, Qatar

The next two months are going to be hard graft for the 45 sailors racing in the Oryx Quest 2005 as they race around Antarctica bound for Doha, some 23,000 miles away. At precisely 1400 local time (1100 GMT) the start gun was fired by His Excellency, Sheikh Jassim Bin Thamer Al Thani, the Vice-President of the Qatar National Olympic Committee.
The fleet got cleanly away with the local entry, Doha 2006, crossing the line first followed seconds later by the French trimaran Geronimo. Tony BULLIMORE on Daedalus and David SCULLY on Cheyenne crossed at the same time, both boats with eased sheets as they powered toward to first turning mark.

A steady northeasterly wind, blowing between 12 and 15 knots, made for perfect sailing conditions as the yachts quickly left the spectator fleet bobbing in their wake. Only a dozen or so high speed powerboats were able to keep pace with the leaders as they raced under clear, sunny skies. A flotilla of local dhows were in stark contrast to the ultra high-tech multihulls and lent a definite touch of color to the day.

At the first turning mark, 3.6 miles from the start, Doha 2006 held on to a narrow lead over Geronimo. Both boats tightened sheets and altered course for the next mark of the course, Qatar Lightship, 26 miles to the east. Three minutes later Cheyenne approached the turning mark sailing with a reef in the mainsail and looking decidedly underpowered. David SCULLY must have felt that the boat was sluggish and soon after the mark ordered the reef to be thrown and a full mainsail hoisted. While his crew shook the reef, Tony BULLIMORE on Daedalus took the opportunity to strike and powered through to leeward. It must have been a moment of sweet pleasure for the British sailor and his crew.

Soon after rounding the turning mark Doha 2006 and Geronimo started a tacking duel as first Geronimo crossed ahead and tacked on top of Doha 2006, but was later forced to tack away as Doha 2006 powered through Geronimo's lee spilling dirty air onto de Kersauson's sails. As the fleet sailed into the haze toward the narrow Strait of Hormuz 250 miles away, Doha 2006 retained a slight lead but both skippers are well aware that there is a long way to sail and there will be many more skirmishes.

The wind is forecast to build during the early evening and be blowing close to 25 knots by midnight. The first 400 miles of the course is fraught with danger as the boast will have to negotiate oil rigs, gas drilling operations, ships and shallow waters say nothing of a strong current flowing in the Strait. Despite the potential pitfalls it's a huge relief to finally see this event underway. It has been a long time in the making, but today's start made it all worthwhile for both the sailors and race management.

We wish the sailors fair winds and a safe sail around the world. We also invite you, the armchair sailors, to enjoy the race along with us. Check out real time data from each boat. Click on the map on the home page to view the on board instruments, or look in on life on board via webcams mounted on all the boats. Stand by for a daily video postcard to be produced by APP Broadcast. There will soon be a direct link on the front page to a fast paced two minute synopsis of the days action using video clips, images and the crew logs. Two months of intense racing lie ahead so stand by for a lot more action.

Brian Hancock. Image: © Brian Hancock
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