Diverse information, well-intentioned advice, and outright misinformation we received during the weeks leading up to our Dubai trip to cover the Puma Moth World Champs made it hard to know what to expect from this desert city. We heard the emirate called "a third world country with lots of shiny bits", a "desert oasis with amazing opulence", an entrepreneur’s paradise, and much more. We were told to keep Mer covered up and out of her uniform; shorts and tank tops, that the border was one of the strictest in the world, that there was no drinking at all, and that partying was restricted to tourists, who were routinely searched and jailed for having poppy seeds or a tiny crumb of marijuana in their bags. A travel agent told us that we’d be crazy to rent a car in such a dangerous place and that driving here was "not for the faint of heart." We heard of dust, heat, sand covering everything, endless traffic and construction, women covered head to toe and unable to speak to foreigners, and that the prices for everything were beyond obscene. And of course we heard of the malls and Free Trade Zones that covered thousands of acres, sporting indoor driving ranges, indoor ski mountains, and food courts where you could eat food from a hundred countries. In short, we expected something of a rough ride as our crew of six got set to bring you comprehensive coverage of the most important regatta there is for one of the most exciting and chill classes in the world. And given the difficulties we dealt with in Valencia, truly a third-world city at times, we were a bit nervous to deal with it all over again. My heart can only take so much stress.
And then we arrived. And like most exotic places, we found the conventional wisdom wrong. Our hotel is reasonably priced and staffed by some of the nicest people you could want to meet. We rented a big, pimped out car for a song, and everywhere we’ve gone, we’ve met helpful and friendly people anxious to show how hospitable they are, and to share tips and history about their country. In spite of an economy in shambles and a building boom in limbo, in spite of huge differences in religion, race, dress, language – or perhaps because of it, the locals are proud, and it makes you want to know more about them and their country.
We’ve seen hot chicks in surprising quantities, drunk ourselves stupid once or twice, and even found sort of/kind of high speed internet, though dealing with the government-owned mobile phone monopoly was the kind of nightmare that we were worried about and isn’t a particularly pleasant experience. Filling the gas tank of our Ford Flex is the opposite, though – quite pleasant indeed. The price of gasoline makes you want to leave the car running all the time. An interesting factoid: The UAE Dirham is pegged to the Dollar, with each US buck being worth 3.7 of the Emirati version. That is about exactly how many liters of gasoline make a gallon, which makes knowing the price of fuel quite simple, and astonishing. It’s less than a dollar fifty a gallon.
The Dubai Offshore Sailing Club, the host of the Worlds, is a jewel of the waterfront, with a laid-back attitude, seriously good food, and a membership that totally support Sailing Anarchy, with an army of volunteers pulling out all the stops to make sure this event – and our coverage of it – is awesome. It’s almost relaxing, despite our usual 8 AM to 5 AM workdays, and a hell of a long way from Alinghi and ACM’s approach to media relations. Refreshing, really.
To Foil Or Not To Foil
The Worlds itself is shaping up to be a supremely interesting battle of wits, weather, and worldliness. With a forecast that is fairly typical – light to moderate breeze, generally flat water, and the likelihood of at least a few low-riding (off the foils) races, we see four main contenders to take the title in the world’s most spotlit singlehander:
Simon Payne: Looking to regain the title he won in 2006, Si Payne is perhaps the most dogged competitor in the fleet. Aggressive as hell and never giving up, his bum knee and slightly lagging boathandling will hurt him if we get some races in the teens. Then again, promptly after tearing up a recurring bum knee last year in Cascade Locks, he went on to win the next race by a huge margin. Mentally as tough as they get.
Chris Graham: Small, softspoken, and as good a guy as you could want to meet, this local went out and sailed a calm Nationals to a victory in conditions from 4 knots to 20. Along with Glenn Raphael, Chris was responsible for bringing Puma to the dance, as well as helping cheerlead the local fleet to its current 15-strong numbers. Chris knows the water and has the size and boatspeed to do the deed in the light stuff here, but has to conquer his own reluctance to believe he can actually win it if he is going to actually win it.
Andrew "Amac" McDougall: You all know him by now – the ‘elder statesman’ of the fleet who is fitter than half the 20 somethings – Amac is the father of the moth’s rebirth and its ascent to its prestigious position on the world stage. Amac designed the Bladerider, the Mach 2, the sails sported by much of the fleet, and the foils on most of them. And he’s fast – blisteringly so, as long as he is on the foils. But he falls off during tacks, something he cannot afford to do in this fleet of flyers. Fresh off total domination and a string of bullets at the recent Australian nationals, he’s got what it takes in the medium and heavy air, but that boathandling and older bones than the rest of the fleet may bite him in the proverbial arse.
Bora Gulari: If you know Amac, you probably feel like Bora is a member of the family. A regular on these pages as the Turk behind the US Air Force’s flying power and the current World Champion, Gulari showed downwind wheels during the ’09 Worlds that nobody could come close to, and he’s been training almost non-stop ever since. But there’s a wrinkle: Neither Bora nor the rest of the US contingent has spent much time training in sub-foiling conditions at all, because, as he puts it, "the Moth is what it is today because it foils," and that’s what Gulari does best. But many forget that Bora is one of the truly gifted light-air sailors and finders of private puffs in other fleets he races in as tactician or driver, the same skills that he’ll need if he’s to hold off the lighter sailors above before the afternoon sea breeze starts fanning the desert dust.
See It, Smell It, Taste It
Thanks to the vision of Puma, Puma Ocean Racing and CST Composites, we’ll be coming to you fully live from the course starting with the first race tomorrow at 1500 local/1100 GMT/0600 EST with video, photos, and text commentary from the one race of the day. You can follow along on the Puma Moth Worlds Anarchy Special Report Site, keep tabs of all the developments in the forums, and chat live to our coverage team which now includes the excellent John Casey, the pro cat racer who proved his SA mettle and humorous color commentating abilities during the harrowing conditions during 10 days of Valencia shitfight just last month.
Catch up on all the action and the gorgeous imagery from Meredith Block from the past few days from the Pre-World UAE Nationals, the MarineTech Slalom for cash, and practice, prep, and a Cocktail Hour with some of the above rockets on the Runup Thread here. And if you’re in the market for a carbon dinghy spar, be sure to watch the Day 1 Thread for the CST Composites ‘Keyword Of The Day," which will get you a 15% discount off any dinghy spar that they make.
And get ready for flight.