Wednesday, September 16, 2009

RAK Crown Prince Gives Inside Story on Winning America’s Cup Venue

A wide-ranging interview by the Khaleej Times with the Crown Prince of Ras Al Khaimah reveals many details about the choice of RAK as the venue for the 33rd America’s Cup and insights as to what this means to the emirate and to the UAE.

First some description and then excerpts from the interview.

Benefits of the America’s Cup
Shaikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, Crown Prince and Deputy Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah, was quite specific about one thing.

That the America’s Cup will benefit not just Ras Al Khaimah but all of the UAE and the entire Arab World. Swiss-based Alinghi named RAK, as everyone calls the northern emirate, as hosts for the defence of the world’s oldest trophy. The three-race event against American yacht Oracle will be held off the coast of Al Hamra Village in Ras Al Khaimah from February 8, 2010.

Window on the World
Speaking fluidly and with precision at his Majlis that overlooks almost all of his city, Shaikh Saud was free, frank and forthright in a wide-ranging interview with Khaleej Times recently. The America’s Cup will be a window from which we can see the world and the world can see us, he said. “It’s a huge event for the whole country. It’s like a big party.”

Magic of Technology
America’s Cup is yachting’s most prestigious prize on the water. Alinghi will be using a catamaran while American challenger Oracle will be using a trimaran. Both boats are supposed to sail over three times the wind speed. The magic of technology kicks in here. How can a boat sail three times faster than the same wind it uses to propel? They are able to sail faster than the wind because these carbon fibre boats with huge sails create their own wind.

Excerpts from the interview with Shaikh Saud by Aruna Urs and Cherian Thomas.

Khaleej Times: What was the idea behind bringing the America’s Cup to Ras Al Khaimah?

Shaikh Saud: The UAE in general, for the past 37 years, has witnessed dramatic changes. I would say that it has leaped forward in all fields. Look at the number of tourists, volume of containers and the GDP growth. The Emirates has become the second largest economy in the Arab world.

And, of course, we here in Ras Al Khaimah have been trying to become a growth emirate with sustainable development. So we have started ambitious development plans, creating industrial parks and in the tourism sector, we have embarked on the development of Marjan Island, Al Hamra Village and Mina Al Arab. We have started drawing out a master plan for the whole emirate — residential areas, business areas, tourist areas and hotels.

Ras Al Khaimah has a rich history. Two hundred years ago, it was a sea faring nation with almost 20,000 sailors and 1,800 ships.

The Emirates enjoys peace, tranquility and security. It is a place where everyone feels respected and there is a dream for everyone here. As you see, the diversity of ethnicity, religions…it is of a wonderful co-existence. The Emirates has a unique location in the world. New York is 14 hours by flight. So too is Sydney. Tokyo is about 10 hours. Basically, you are in the middle of the world. And it is also at the centre of growth—close to Asia, next door to Africa. The collapse of Soviet Union, has allowed those central Asian republics to seek closer ties with rest of the world. Those countries are only about three hours of flight from here. The Emirates has become unique in this world—a business partner in boom times and an oasis of security and sanctuary in troubled times.

Of course, the America’s Cup is a unique sporting event. It is sought after by every sailing nation in the world. It will be a signature event on how the world will look at the whole Emirates, in general, and Ras Al Khaimah in particular, as a destination. Of course, the weather in February in Ras Al Khaimah will be fantastic, unlike in Northern Europe. So we welcome the decision to play host to the America’s Cup here. Both the teams are most welcome. We will make sure the event is successful. We value Alinghi’s decision to make us host. And, of course, we will be more than happy to do whatever we can to make sure that the event is successful.

KT: Did you know about Ras Al Khaimah’s selection as host in advance?

Shaikh Saud: Let me say I knew it earlier but it was still pleasant news. It is good for the UAE. I think the teams will be able to compete fairly and, in my opinion, the world will watch a top-class race.

KT: Teams will start coming in November/December and journalists from all over the sailing world will be descending on the UAE. How do you feel about that?

Shaikh Saud: Good, this will make us work faster.

KT: What is the expected expenditure by the Ras Al Khaimah government for this event?

Shaikh Saud: We are currently working on a budget.

KT: Next year’s race is billed as the fastest race in the history of the cup. These boats are cutting edge of physics on water. What are your thoughts on this?

Shaikh Saud: Let me tell you, these boats are the summit of physics. It is a reflection of geniuses of human brain and the competitive nature, especially how competition allows one to beat his own record.

KT: Are you a sailor, yourself?

Shaikh Saud: I wouldn’t be a sailor compared to the men in these teams. I am not in that league.

KT: What is the impact of America’s Cup in terms of employment creation?

Shaikh Saud: I am not really focussed on it. It is a great event for Ras Al Khaimah. It is a window from which we can see the world and the world can see us. It is a good moment as well in this economic climate that we move on. Hope with work is the cure.

KT: How many tourists are you estimating and what are the plans to accommodate them?

Shaikh Saud: We are hoping that the whole UAE will benefit from this. We are limited in the number of rooms we have but I am sure other emirates will benefit, which is fine. It is our country. We hope that the event will give investors the impetus to build more hotels. If we can host the America’s Cup, that means we can do lot more.

KT: The whole sailing world will be here in January/February and people world over will be watching it on TV. The race was beamed to over 150 countries from the previous event held in Spain in 2007.

Shaikh Saud: The good thing is that we are in a much better location to get a large TV audience. India, China, Pakistan, Europe, Africa, Australia are within a five to seven hour time zone. For those who love sailing, they will see cutting-edge racing.

Another good thing about the UAE is that we are well connected. If you are in South America, North America, Europe, Asia or anywhere, it is very easy to get to the Emirates. And it is very safe. The weather is going to be beautiful. February is truly the best time. I am really looking forward to a really successfully event.

It is a huge event for the whole country. It is a good moment. It is like a big party. It will be a really good start for 2010.

KT: How did you make this happen?

Shaikh Saud: We have good relations with Switzerland. We actually have a number of Swiss companies based here. I have high admiration for Switzerland. A land with no real mineral wealth, a land of multi-ethnicity and yet they forged together to create a successful country. So we are always keen to welcome Swiss ventures and teams. The whole package of the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah was the main selling point for the race to be brought here — if you look at the weather, security and connectivity. It will be great for racing.

KT: What are your plans for managing this event? Are you planning to outsource it?

Shaikh Saud: We are going to work with different teams.

KT: Ras Al Khaimah has been clocking double-digit growth rates in recent years. What will be the contribution of America’s Cup to the economy?

Shaikh Saud: In 2009, a growth rate of 8-10 per cent is achievable. America’s Cup will be good for Ras Al Khaimah. It will good for the UAE and for the whole Gulf region. It will send a message about people in the Emirates and their friendliness. People will come and witness how this desert land has been transformed into factories, hotels and parks. They will witness the uniqueness of our land and people.

KT: You have a very beautiful view of the city from your palace.

Shaikh Saud: Unfortunately, you cannot see it as you should because of the haze today. In February, you will see the mountains. It is magical here. This is the unique thing about Ras Al Khaimah. Tell me one place where you have this mixture of geography – you have beach, you have sand dunes, you have plains, wadis and mountains — all in a very small area.

We are building roads to the mountains. Just imagine, it will be 40 degrees Celsius here (in the city) in summers and just a half hour drive away, it will be 20 degrees up there. This is Ras Al Khaimah. It will be as if you are going to Switzerland but just by driving for 30 minutes.

KT: It also snowed here last winter, didn’t it?

Shaikh Saud: Exactly, I know you were sweating in your office, but it was cold up in the mountains.

KT: The pace of Ras Al Khaimah seems to be very similar to Dubai...

Shaikh Saud: Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah are part of one country. So are the other five emirates. By the way, the whole world is one village. We are all brothers and sisters. And what we are trying to do here is to create new potential to allow people to do more. Yesterday is not their destiny, but tomorrow holds the hope for a better life. We are trying to see how we can improve the economic potential, how we can improve the well being of people who live here, and how we can become attractive to even more talent from all around the world.

KT: Any other exciting projects?

Shaikh Saud: I really believe, honestly, that the best message anyone can send is ‘to do it’ and not say what they will be doing.

Aruna Urs & Cherian Thomas, The Battle of Al Hamra, Khaleej Times, 16 September 2009. (Article reproduced with thanks to Aruna Urs, Cherian Thomas and Khaleej Times).

Other Stories and Sites
All Aboard the New Metro! Enjoy the Views of Dubai! Experiencing the Emirates, 11 August 2009.

Abu Dhabi Has the Most Expensive Hotels in the World, Experiencing the Emirates, 16 September2009.

What Will Be the Legacy of the America’s Cup in the Emirates? America’s Cup in the UAE, 14 September 2009.

Get Into the Frame with Alan Nambiar and His Fujairah 100 Photo Project, Fujairah in Focus, 16 September 2009.

Dr Geoff Pound

Geoff can be contacted by email at geoffpound(at) on Facebook and Twitter.

Image: Shaikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, Crown Prince and Deputy Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah.