There’s not much not to love about racing in Oman at the beginning of December whilst the northern hemisphere freezes. Okay yes, there’s not a lot of breeze, but you know what? I can live with that. The spectacle of the ILCA 6 World Championships is fantastic. The backdrop is awesome. I half expect Lawrence of Arabia to ride into the dinghy park from adventures in the dry desert at any moment on a white horse demanding water. And the racing is tense, close, nerve-wracking and tighter at the top of the fleet than an Arabian at the bar. It’s a fabulous scene.
Without wishing to put the commentators curse on proceedings (and by saying that, I just have), Anne Marie-Rindom is having a ball. Not only has she ingested the spirit of that other great Dane, Paul Elvstrom, as she fights not just to win but to win with respect of her peers, but she’s also putting in one of the finest big-fleet displays of the year.
A couple of handy second places yesterday finds Anne-Marie, the ultimate cat’s cradle of competitiveness, charm and elan, sitting atop the leaderboard with the world at her feet. As the current Olympic champion, you can imagine the pressure she’s under but this is one cool cucumber and truly the find of 2021. I’m cheering. I’m sure you are too.
And just how cool do the ILCA 6’s look with the all-carbon masts? As a sailor of these boats and having only actually sailed with my carbon lower section once (too blooming cold in the UK at the moment) I am eminently unqualified to talk about their merits but from my first two hours on the water with one, I can tell you they feel different and they feel right.
An absolute breeze to assemble such is the lightness of the rig now, it makes Laser sailing thoroughly enjoyable, plus it looks pro. And that’s all that really matters, right? We’ll find some talent later in the season…
But the ILCA 6 rig changed my dinghy sailing. I don’t feel overpowered, unfit and begging for the beat to be shorter. Downwind there are no hairy death rolls. Everything feels right and allows for eyes out of the boat. If you’re thinking of a Christmas Laser purchase and you’re the wrong side of 40 with questionable knees, a back that’s seen better days and stomach muscles that are mysteriously hiding and resolutely not wishing to make an appearance despite the purchase of a hiking bench (see advert below), go for the ILCA 6.
But back to Oman and sailing in the Middle East, it’s a stunning place and for those of you that watched the Formula 1 yesterday in Jeddah, it’s the brave new world. The fact that the race yesterday was bordering on farcical and simply way too ambitious in its construct is very much the Saudi Arabian way. I have to say, I came away from watching all four days of the F1 coverage a bit disappointed and it rather changed my view on Jeddah as a possible venue for the America’s Cup.
The thing with the Saudis and in particular the ruling elite parading around in their dish-dash’s is that they do show very well but it’s a show that’s just a bit too obvious, shallow, antiseptic, soulless. It’s a show-by-numbers – big fireworks, light displays, glad-handing, smiles behind clenched fists, nothing-to-see-here, trash glitz, faux glamour.
After a few hours of behind-the-scenes footage it leaves you flat – there’s not a lot of class. The general population however are lovely and it’s fascinating to know that 75% of Jeddah’s population are under the age of 35. That’s a heck of a demographic to play sports into and they are super-engaged, grateful, warm, encouraging and enthusiastic to the spectacle before them. It must feel like a sports Disneyland every week in Saudi Arabia. Everyone is going there. Every professional sport is taking the riyal.
But will sailing? That’s a big question and there are big structural, moral and people problems with taking the apex event to Saudi Arabia, problems that are most likely insurmountable and unpalatable to the confirmed teams already entered.
Certainly from the underbelly of the Cup world, the communication debriefs have dried up from that region as what looked like a shoo-in proposal has crumbled in the detail – similar to how the Formula 1 played out yesterday. I could see a travelling circus event there but not much more – perhaps that’s enough?
But in the meantime, it’s all eyes on Oman or ‘Oh-maaan’ as it’s colloquially known. A win for Anne-Marie Rindom would be the icing on a perfect 2021 cake.
That’s the curse, right there…