Ras al-Khaimah - Background information
Following my visit to Ras al-Khaimah I thought it would be interesting to write more in depth about the venue Alinghi has chosen for the 33rd America's Cup. Nevertheless, one should always keep in mind the fact BMW Oracle has contested this venue in court and as a result it might just mean I wasted my time. The only purpose of this article is to show what this venue looks like and what one should expect, should the court find it legal.
Ras Al Khaimah is the fourth, in terms of size and population, of the 7 emirates that constitute the UAE. It has a population of around 300,000 people and approximately 250,000 of them live in the capital, also named Ras al-Khaimah.
Al Hamra Village, the proposed Venue
Although the proposed venue is part of the Ras al-Khaimah emirate, it is not located in the city - and emirate capital - with the same name, as was the case for example in Auckland and Valencia in the previous two editions of the world's oldest sports trophy. The actual venue proposed by Alinghi is located inside the Al Hamra Village tourist and residential complex, some 15km south of the capital and 70km north of Dubai.
Al Hamra Village consists of a large number of condos and town villas built around a lagoon, together with an existing hotel and golf club, Al Hamra Fort, a newer hotel, Al Hamra Palace (still under construction), and a recently-finished marina. The America's Cup Village, home to the two team bases and a public area, is an artificial island in the center of the lagoon and has an area of approximately 220,000 square meters. The lagoon is connected to the open sea through a canal that is currently being widened and lengthened.
Unlike Valencia, the venue is not purposely built for the America's Cup and all the construction work is part of a real estate development the emirate has started some years ago. This wouldn't be the UAE if a big real estate development didn't also include the creation of new artificial islands off the coast and RAK has its share, right next to the Al Hamra Village. They are called the Al Marjan islands and can be seen in the aerial photo below, on the right-hand side. Similar to Dubai and Abu Dhabi these 5 islands will include residential and commercial properties as well as 8 hotels.
The Al Hamra Village. The America's Cup Village is located on the man-made island inside the lagoon. On the upper right-hand side of the photo the artificial Al Marjan islands are now clearly visible. Ras Al Khaimah, September 2009. Photo copyright RAK Tourism
Valencia Sailing is obviously not a real estate website, so we provide all that information with the actual race in mind. The Al Marjan islands extend 1.5 nautical miles into the sea, meaning that no racing can take place there. Nevertheless, as we mentioned in our initial report on Saturday, one of the most important aspects of the waters off RAK is their depth. According to the Deed of Gift, the race must be held in ocean courses the are "practicable in all parts for vessels of twenty-two feet draught of water".
Twenty-two feet is approximately 6.5 meters and if one adds a safety margin as well as approximately 1 meter due to the tide, then the minimum requirement is of approximately 8-9 meters. The sea is considerably shallow in the UAE and as a result the starting line should approximately be located 2-3 miles off the outer edge of the Al Marjan islands, that is, roughly, 3-4 miles off the natural coast. These are our rough approximations and although the Notice of Race and Sailing Instruction will be published in a few weeks, they should be quite accurate. In any case, even if the starting line is closer, the peculiarity of this match means it will be impossible to see anything meaningful from the beach.
Construction is frantic throughout the complex and crews work non-stop in 3 shifts 24 hours a day. Obviously, it is annoying to have all that construction going on but it would be fair to believe that at least during the regatta it will be temporarily put on hold. Another issue that I thought would be a disadvantage to the venue is the presence of an enormous ceramics factory, just across the street from the village's main entrance. It belongs to RAK Ceramics, the world's biggest ceramics group, and can be easily seen in the aerial photo below. Nevertheless, it is hardly noticeable inside the Al Hamra Village.
Construction crews work non-stop in order to finish the canal connecting the lagoon to the open sea. Ras Al Khaimah, 17 September 2009. Video copyright Pierre Orphanidis / Valencia Sailing
Safety - Security
As far as the safety of the venue is concerned I can only give my opinion on what I personally saw and observed during my stay. It would be stupid to venture into any analysis of the geopolitical affairs in the Middle East. This is a sailing website. The entire complex looks like any other resort in the world and it could very well be next to Valencia or somewhere in Mexico. It is gated and all vehicles that enter are stopped and controlled. There is a relaxed atmosphere and, at least during my stay, there were quite a number of German families. In fact, according to Hilary McCormack, manager of RAK Tourism, tourists in the emirate come mainly from German-speaking countries. Always according to McCormack, the UAE in general and RAK in particular are very safe places for foreign tourists, possibly "one of the safest places worldwide".
As for the sea, we went up to 10 miles off the coast and didn't see anything threatening, in fact the only vessel we saw was a small British sail yacht. Of course, the two competing multihulls will venture further off the coast and closer to the border with Iran, so it is not possible to judge what the situation could be.
In addition, we learned this morning that California congressman Edward Royce, sent a letter last week to Daniel Benjamin, the State Department's coordinator for counterterrorism, asking for an assessment of security in Ras al-Khaimah. Royce is also concerned "over reports of Ras al-Khaimah's reported growing commercial and political ties with Iran". This becomes too politically oriented and we are, obviously, in no position to make any judgment.
It is an irony though that two of the reasons the emirate chose to host the America's Cup, as McCormack told us, was to "elevate its profile" in the global tourist market and expose Ras al-Khaimah to new untapped markets, in particular the US!!
The Al Hamra Village with the immense RAK Ceramics factory at the back. The Al Hamra Marina is seen on the bottom right-hand corner. Ras Al Khaimah, September 2009. Photo copyright RAK Tourism
Ras Al Khaimah Airport
Ras Al Khaimah has an international airport, RAK International Airport, a few kilometers from the capital and the Al Hamra complex but with still little international traffic, obviously dwarfed by neighboring Dubai. Nevertheless, the number of direct, scheduled international flights is increasing, mainly to the Middle East, Central Asia, the Indian Subcontinent, Africa and the Far East. There are also a couple of direct scheduled flights to Europe but the majority of tourists that arrive to RAK International Airport do it aboard chartered flights. Still, the vast majority of overseas tourists to Ras Al Khaimah fly through Dubai Airport.
The Al Hamra Palace (at the back, under construction) and the Al Hamra Fort hotel and golf club, as seen from the Alinghi base. Ras Al Khaimah, 17 September 2009. Photo copyright Pierre Orphanidis / Valencia Sailing
Alinghi 5 towed in front of the newly-built Al Hamra Marina. Ras Al Khaimah, 17 September 2009. Photo copyright Pierre Orphanidis / Valencia Sailing
The entrance of the canal connecting the lagoon to the open sea. Ras Al Khaimah, 17 September 2009. Photo copyright Pierre Orphanidis / Valencia Sailing