Sitting in a small sailboat, nine-year-old Manal glides past on the waters at Almouj Marina, while spectators clap and cheer her efforts. The boat comes to a serene halt with the help of the eight-year-old Rahma, Manal’s partner.
With excitement in their eyes and broad smiles spread across their faces, more than 40 Omani girls between the ages of eight and 12 recently received their certificates on completion of the Women’s Sailing Initiative, which was conducted by Oman Sail in partnership with Occidental of Oman.
In another sailboat, two other young girls are also showcasing their newly learned skills as they are given feedback and encouragement from Marwa al Khaifi, 21, Hibba al Asmi, 20, and Tamadhur al Balushi, 30, all newly trained female instructors and sailors.
Designed to realise the sporting ambitions of Omani women, the first phase of the Women’s Sailing Initiative involved bringing together females who were active in sports to arm them with the necessary skills and knowledge to become certified instructors.
The programme has produced three instructors so far and Assim al Saqri, the public relations manager at Oman Sail, says that recruitment is ongoing. All three women have completed all levels of sailing qualifications, but only one level of coaching, which is why they still coach under supervision.
While admitting that the training period was “challenging”, Hibba says it was the group atmosphere and bond between the three girls that helped them all through and made qualifying such an enjoyable experience.
Although newly qualified, Tamadhur is already looking ahead to the future, saying: “I want us to be able to train the little girls by ourselves, through the experience we have garnered over time. I am really enthusiastic about our future journey with Oman Sail.”
All three girls agreed that their families have been very supportive of them throughout the training process. “Our parents encourage us a lot and we get all the required support from them. They are happy because we are happy,” says Hibba.
The second phase of the initiative involved schoolgirls between the age of eight and 12, who were introduced to sailing in an effort to broaden their horizons and begin shaping the next generation of Omani female sailors.
Operating the first and only all-female sailing team in the region, Oman Sail is working towards further building and expanding the team into new classes and races. One of the organisation’s key aims is to promote the sport as a fun and healthy activity for women, and continue their development in the youth clubs, race clubs and national squads.
“Sailing has changed my life and I have seen firsthand how participating in sport and healthy activities can have a positive impact on women in Oman,” says Marwa. “The children joining the programme are incredibly lucky to have this opportunity and gain valuable skills while having fun. This is the first step in a long and exciting journey that I have seen and can lead to great things and the chance to represent my country on the water.”