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2 February 2005, 09:03 am
Rally Man Turned Skipper Expects Long Tactical Battle
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Maktoum Sailing Trophy
Dubai, UAE

Alan SKENNERTON, who has enjoyed success as a rally driver and as a skipper in one of the Gulf's longest offshore yachting races, hopes to take a short course to victory over the weekend in the Maktoum Sailing Trophy.
Skennerton, a former UAE champion and Oman International winner, retired from rallying ten years ago, swapping the wheel for the helm and is now the proud owner of one of the leading challengers in the new IRC race series entering its third of seven rounds at Jebel Ali Sailing Club this morning (Thursday).

Since taking delivery of his 36.7 ft Bénéteau yacht last August and naming it Aquamarine Shock Wave, he and his crew have worked hard to keep it on course for a chance of outright success in the Maktoum Sailing Trophy.

After two rounds they lie fourth and Skennerton believes the three boats ahead, Horizon FCB owned by Sheikh Khaled bin Zayed Al Nahyan and skippered by Christophe Vanek, David WORRALL'S Sharazad, and Xclusive with Yousef Bin LAHEJ, are all within reach and unlikely to be able to break free of the pack.

'It could be very close all the way to the end of the series unless somebody makes a break and builds up a buffer of points, and that's not likely,' said Skennerton.

The likelihood is an intriguing tactical battle to the finish in April, a result envisaged by Saeed HAREB, Managing Director of Dubai International Marine Club, when he devised the series.

During a skippers' briefing at Jebel Ali Sailing Club last night (Wednesday), regatta chairman Sid BENSALAH said expected light winds this weekend may persuade DIMC to interrupt the scheduled programme of six short course races with an offshore event.

This will not upset Skennerton, one of a group of Dubai-based sailing enthusiasts who acquired new racing yachts and cruisers in recent months and are now trying to outwit each other, on and off the water.

'I don't think anybody has any secrets because we all know pretty much what's required to do, it's just a matter of how you go about it,' says Skennerton. 'The fine trimming of the boat is critical and the start is critical as well because if you get out in front, it's very difficult for anyone to overtake you.

'It's different in the offshore races, and I think we'll probably be better suited to those, especially the Dubai-Muscat Race. That's one event I've got a lot of faith in. This will be my eighth attempt, and I've won it twice, once as a skipper.'

Prior to the 365-nautical mile fourth round next month his priority is to plot a much shorter course to success in this weekend's Jebel Ali Sailing Club series, which is sponsored by Southwest, Van Oord and MMI. 'This weekend will be interesting because the forecast is for not a lot of wind,' he says. 'That can make things difficult, but we usually do well in light air.'

Back in action after playing a key role behind the scenes during last week's Dubai Junior Regatta is Yousef Bin LAHEJ, sailing coordinator at Dubai International Marine Club, organisers of the Maktoum Sailing Trophy. Like Skennerton, he is looking for an angle.

'At the start it was a steep learning curve for us, and there are two ways in which you improve,' said Lahej. 'Onshore, we're looking at how we can change the rig to suit the boat and the conditions for each race, and so we're now working out how best to do that.

'Out on the water, initially you're going to make mistakes, and the important thing is learn from those mistakes and not make the same ones again.'

Second-placed skipper David WORRALL adds: 'There's a lot of fine tuning that can be done to bend the mast and shape the sails in different ways to increase your speed by fractions.

'We've only had these boats for a relatively short period of time and so we're learning how to do that as we go along. It's difficult to tell whether you're doing the right things to improve your speed, unless you're racing right alongside another boat for a good distance and can test your speed against theirs that way.

'We're all trying to gain perhaps a metre per minute, and while that doesn't sound much, over the course of an hour it adds up to 60 metres, and in a five-hour race it's 300 metres. At the moment, we're all getting better at the same time.'

Jebel Ali Sailing Club commodore Ramsey ASSAL, who will start proceedings at 11am this morning (Thursday), will conduct the prize giving ceremony at 6pm tomorrow (Friday).

Top eight after two of seven rounds:

1: Horizon FCB (skipper Christophe VANEK) 33
2. Sharazad (David WORRALL) 30
3. Xclusive Amirah (Yousef Bin LAHEJ) 26
4. Aquamarine Shock Wave (Alan SKENNERTON) 25
5. Serdal Dubai (Mark FEILBERG) 24
6. Switch Blade (Will RAMAGE) 24
7. Eid (Mohamed Saeed Al GEMZI) 10
8. Mina Effect (Brian HILLESDON) 10

Narayan Marar (As Amended by ISAF)
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