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Speeding water
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 05 - 10 - 2006

The RIB Rally has put Egypt on the international calendar of extreme sports. Rasha Sadek saw for herself in Sharm El-Sheikh
I was supposed to be on that boat in the middle of the Red Sea, but for some reason my permit was never issued. Instead, I stood in the terrace of my hotel room that Friday afternoon, reduced to watching the RIBs splashing water in all directions as they approached the Sheraton Sharm El-Sheikh shore and red rescue helicopters hovering around.
It was Egypt's, and the Middle East's, first event of the sort -- hosting an international Rigid Inflatable Boats (RIB) Rally. Many people and authorities contributed in organising the rally and making it a "most adventurous and least accidental" event. Echinops, in cooperation with Flash Tours, handled the organisation under the auspices of the Ministry of Tourism, the Egyptian Tourist Authority and the Egyptian Sailing and Water Ski Federation.
Taking such an extreme sport from Europe and its calm waters to the high waves of the Red Sea was the racers' big "challenge". They were mostly Europeans coming from the UK, Belgium, Greece and Holland, making up 13 teams joining just one Egyptian group. The 10-day rally, held from 1 to 10 September, was for many reasons, and for many people, an event of utmost importance. Starting off in Sharm El-Sheikh, and ending there as well, the rally took the racers to El-Gouna, Hurghada, Soma Bay and Port Ghalib in Marsa Alam. It was an opportunity for Fastrax Television to follow the rally as it passed through various sites in the country, on land and water, especially the Red Sea where lies the richest marine diversity, in addition to the breathtaking scenery of the Sinai Peninsula. Holding the rally in Sharm El-Sheikh was a bonus since the city, located in South Sinai, is Egypt's top-notch tourist magnet for endless reasons.
From the very beginning, and even before, safety measures seemed to top the agenda. For the purpose, Richard Salaman was brought over from the UK and assigned security officer. "Safety comes first especially in first-time events," Salaman said. "The national press don't start to focus on the event until there's an accident." Difficulties? "Getting all the authorities to understand what we're doing was a problem, but it will be much easier next year."
To provide first-class medical aid during the rally, the Sea Eagles, the Belgian Medical Crash Team, was delegated to Sharm El-Sheikh. Working at a highly professional level, the team does not wait for a casualty to reach land. Instead, medical divers jump in the water from boats or helicopters to start treatment on site. In addition, members of the Royal Yachting Association (RYA) and the Union Internationale Motonautique (UIM) joined two inspection trips to monitor the tracks, GPS systems, security, search and rescue procedures and also to witness the logistical organisation between the local authorities and the organising committee. Testifying to this was Regin Vandakhova, secretary-general of the UIM. "The safety procedures were executed to the highest level in addition to the organisation between all authorities including the security apparatuses in the ministries of interior, defence and tourism," she said.
The spirit of the racers was what fascinated everyone the most. The difficulty of the track saw many RIBs almost retiring in the middle of the rally, but it was the same difficulty that pleased and steered them towards fixing their babies with their bare hands, even on their lay days. And since most RIBs were constructed to speed through low seas, the Red Sea was the racers' all- time endurance test which is why, in next year's rally, the RIBs will be modified to fit the weather and sea conditions of Egypt. This is what Nicolas Ioannou, chairman of Echinops, is determined to do. Because Ioannou has long experience in organising rallies of the sort, he brought to this event a long list of world class royalty, celebrities, business people and adventurers. He also has plans to expand the rally in the coming years to include in the track the Mediterranean Sea and the River Nile.
Winners in the Red Sea RIB Rally... well, all racers were actually winners because it added experience to their long list of achievements and further put RIB racing on the international calendar of extreme sports. In classes F1 and F2, the Greek team won the gold medal. Belgium came in second and Britain third, fourth and fifth. In classes F3 and F4, the Dutch were first followed by the British in second and third place while the Egyptian team came in fourth.
During the closing ceremony, it was announced that Egypt had officially become affiliated to the UIM and had become the 52nd country to adopt extreme sports.
RIBS BACKGROUND: RIBs stand for speed rigid inflatable boats; rigid from the bottom and inflatable from the sides. RIB racing first started in the UK 15 years ago with a group of enthusiasts competing in long distance endurance racing and using RIBs of all different types and sizes. The first of these races was the now famous Round Scotland or Highlands and Islands RIB race in 1990. Competitors then formed the Inflatable Boat Owners Association (BIBOA). The sport has come a long way in the intervening years with some classes of RIBs now achieving speeds of over 80 miles per hour. Club racing is still available to anyone with RIB and races such as the Round the Island -- around the UK's Isle of Wight -- are very popular. National and International racing now consists of well defined classes.
However, powerboat racing started in 1902 when the British formed their Marine Motoring Association. By the following year, New York's Columbia Yacht Club had formulated a constitution for what ultimately became the American power boat. In 1903, the French ran a 62- mile circuit race on the Seine at Moulin and the 230-mile Paris to Troutville event while the following year saw a race across the English Channel and an attempt to promote a trans-Atlantic marathon.
The Union International Motonautique, UIM, was formed as the Union International du Yachting Automobile by Alfred Pierrard, the oldest federation supporting and arranging powerboat racing. It was renamed UIM in 1927. The union welcomed several countries racing under its umbrella: Argentina, Belgium, France, Germany, Holland, Ireland, Monaco, Norway, Poland, Sweden and the US. Within the last 10 years, the UIM has extended its horizons to encompass China, Cuba, Greece, Hungary, Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Malta, Russia, South Africa, Thailand, Yugoslavia and Egypt.
As for the RYA, it was founded in November 1875. Its primary purpose was to standardise the rules governing the measurement of racing yachts so that boats of different classes could compete against each other. Its membership was open to "former and present owners of racing yachts". Its first involvement in the organisation of Olympic sailing was with the 1908 London Games, when racing was held off the Isle of Wight in yachts. Its role as the national organisation for powerboat racing dates back to 1961, following the closing down of the Marine Motoring Association.
More recently, the RYA has become the national body for windsurfing, while personal watercraft has been recognised since 1997. From a total of 117 at the end of its first year in operation in 1876, the RYA's personal membership has grown to over 100,000 -- a figure reached in July 2004.
Echinops, the organiser of the RIB Rally in Egypt, is affiliated to the RYA powerboat racing department.


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