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O'Connell faces tough title defence in Jumeirah Regatta

O'Connell faces tough title defence in Jumeirah Regatta

06.02.2008: O'Connell faces tough title defence in Jumeirah Regatta

Skipper knows pressure is on for big UAE sailing weekend

Toby C’Connell cruised to victory in last year’s Jumeirah Regatta but expects a much stiffer test next week.

Toby O’Connell will be aiming to protect a near perfect recent record when he makes an important title defence in next week’s Jumeirah Regatta, one of the highlights of the UAE sailing calendar.

The Dubai company director has gone from one success to another since taking his 50-foot yacht Yo! to victory in Division One of the cruiser class at last year’s Jumeirah event and is strongly fancied to pull off a repeat win.

He followed up his 2007 Jumeirah Regatta triumph by dominating last year’s prestigious Maktoum Sailing Trophy series, and so far this year has been in dominant form in the Commodore’s Cup at Dubai Offshore Sailing club, with five wins and one second place in the first six events.

"We’ve had a great run, but I’m not over confident for the Jumeirah Regatta," said O"Connell. "The competition is much stiffer this year and we could be in for quite a battle."

A record entry of cruisers and dinghies will line up on Friday and Saturday week (15-16 February) in the two-day Jumeirah Regatta, which is sponsored by the Jumeirah Group, the dynamic and fast growing Dubai based luxury hotel management company. O’Connell knows the pressure will be on and picks David Rostant’s Mattafix and Francis Carr’s Faith as two of the main threats.

"Mattafix has suffered a broken must but I’m sure that’s been fixed ok now and David has new sails which makes him particularly dangerous," he said. "Faith has been getting very well organised and everything has been coming together for them and they’ve really been improving.

"They took us by surprise in the Dubai-Muscat race when they went ahead of us on the water ten minutes into the race. That was quite a shock for me, and if they can keep up that kind of pace we could be in trouble."

O’Connell and crew had built a comfortable lead in last month’s Dubai-Muscat Race last, but retired on the fourth day after all their main challengers had dropped out. "There was no point in going on just to collect some silverware because it wasn’t a race any more," he said.

The Jumeirah Regatta is one of the highlights of the UAE sailing calendar.

A week after the Jumeirah Regatta he faces another title defence in the Maktoum Sailing Trophy, and he also hopes to return to overseas action in Ko Samui, Thailand in May. After getting married last November his sailing exploits have been restricted to UAE waters. He did not defend his King’s Cup Regatta crown in Phuket recently after a memorable 2007 which also saw him claim a third place in the largest fleet race during England’s famous Cowe’s Week regatta.

Marriage has helped make O’Connell’s crew the most colourful in UAE sailing. He started wearing a Hawaiian shirt given to him for luck by wife Chasity, and it made such an impression with the rest of the crew that he was forced to buy them one each.

O’Connell has a squad of 25 sailors to pick from, and normally sails with a crew of 12 to 15. For the Jumeirah Regatta he will also be helped by Australian sail maker Jamie Wilmot, whose son Nathan is the current 470 world champion.

The 208 Jumeirah Regatta will be run over two courses, one being set off Dubai Offshore Sailing Club for the cruisers and dinghies and the other off Mina Seyahi Sailing Club for the catamarans.

 

- Tony Lewis, Total Communciations Dubai - also photos

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06.02.2008 / MaP

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