On February 14, eight teams from around the world will line up against one another in their identical Farr 30s with two weeks of offshore and in-port racing action across a 763 nautical-mile course poised to produce a new SATT champion.
First points are up for grabs in the in-port curtain raiser in Muscat next Tuesday, with all teams determined to make an early impression before heading north on the opening stage to Sohar up the Omani coast before rounding the tricky Musandam Peninsula to Khasab on the second leg.
Stamina and endurance will be the name of the game as the fleet clocks up the miles weaving between ships, oil platforms and fishing nets in the Straits of Hormuz on the way to stopover four in Abu Dhabi, UAE.
Points will have soared in value by the time the second in-port race in Doha, Qatar takes place on the February 25 and will be ruthlessly protected during the final leg to Dubai, UAE, though the closing in-port races in the Emirati city have the potential to make or break a campaign.
Skippers were eyeing up a more level-playing field this year after hearing that experienced French campaigner Sidney Gavignet, a three-time SATT champion, had been forced to sit out of the race with a knee injury.
His place has been taken by the French duo of Thierry Douillard and Mathieu Richard, so EFG Bank Monaco starts out as the favourite once again since the crew, Gavignet apart, is unchanged and determined to defend the 2016 title.
It will be close, says Libby Greenhalgh, the British meteorologist racing on the all-women boat DB Schenker (Germany) with Dutch Olympic sailor Annemieke Bes, who is standing in as skipper for Dee Caffari.
The crew is half Omani and half European and aside from the all-important hunt for points, DB Schenker has a mission to raise awareness of women’s sailing in the Middle East.
“Each leg will have different tempos and the challenge will be to pace yourselves so that you are still strong on the final approaches and able to pick up the all-important wind shifts,” said Greenhalgh, who was meteorologist on Volvo Ocean Race contender Team SCA.
“The start of the race could be interesting because having had a year of dry weather, Oman is experiencing some storms with heavy rain, and from what I see, the start day will either be a very light breeze or some pretty stormy conditions which will makes things interesting.
“This will be my first SATT, but we have all trained together on DB Schenker and will have five days of intensive training this week so I think we have a pretty good chance of finishing well.”
New to the fleet in 2017 is Adelasia di Torres, a brand-new team from Italy, put together by Costa Esmeralda-based shipowner Renato Azara. For Averda (UK), Bienne Voile (Switzerland), Team Al Mouj Muscat (Oman), Team Zain (Kuwait) and Team Renaissance (Oman), the challenge will be to improve on previous rankings.