Skift Take

Abu Dhabi is looking for relevance in the Middle East's booming tourism market. It's competitive airport is still years away from completion making sailing an easier point of entry.

The UAE capital could become for the Middle East what Cowes has become for UK: a key sailing and community waterfront.

Hosting the Volvo Ocean Race (VOR) 2014-2015 for the second consecutive year, which includes in-port racing, the Abu Dhabi specially re-designed harbour for the event has the potential of being the Cowes Week Regatta.

“The whole of the Isle of Wight and Southern England come to life during Cowes Week with sailing enthusiasts from all over the world arriving for the regatta. The local community and the corporate world also are fully engaged using it as a great entertainment and networking occasion,” pointed out Adil Khalid, the Emirati sailor on Abu Dhabi VOR’s team.

“The sight of thousands of boats gathered on the river Solent for Cowes Week is spectacular, it’s amazing to see them. Abu Dhabi, where we sometimes have upwards of 100 dhows out racing, can do the same for the stopover, and we can make it, without doubt, the most important sailing and waterfront celebration in Arabia,” suggested Khalid, who is in the UK for Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s defence of its Rolex Fastnet Race title.

Just as in previous season, VOR’s stopover in Abu Dhabi will be from mid-December next year to January 3, 2015. Local organisers, the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (ADTCA), are already planning on setting up events related to the race, including a New Year’s Eve party on the waterfront. For the first 2012 VOR stopover, a traditional souk with Emirati and Arabian souvenirs was built, along with fun games and a VOR exhibition.

For the winter of 2014, ADTCA is planning pretty much the same — a fan-friendly Destination Village on the Corniche breakwater and several concerts and entertainment events.

Known as the “Everest of sailing”, VOR is the most challenging sailing race in history, starting from Europe’s calm waters in the summer, going through the tough icy seas near Antarctica, the southern waters sometimes infested by pirates and ending via the world’s toughest — the Irish Sea!

Abu Dhabi joined VOR for the first time in 2012, when the very young and freshly married Khalid Adil became a star, as the only Emirati on board! Only five out of six teams made it to Abu Dhabi back then.

This time around, the capital will welcome the fleet from Recife, Brazil after one of the longest and potentially most-gruelling legs in the 40-year race history (9,707 nautical miles). The Abu Dhabi Etihad Airways In-Port Race, which was won by home favourites Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing in the last edition, will take place on January 2, 2015, with the fleet departing for Sanya, China the following day.

(c)2013 the Khaleej Times (Dubai, United Arab Emirates). Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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Tags: abu dhabi, boating

Photo credit: Abu Dhabi competes in Volvo Ocean Race hosted in Galway, Ireland in 2012. Sean Rozenkranz / Flickr

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