ABU DHABI // Before the 75 dhows of the Abu Dhabi Sailing Race Festival unfurled their sails for the capital in a dash for Dh3.5 million yesterday, they stopped for a hearty lunch and some juice on the open sea.
Many of the sailors rested their heads on life jackets and cardboard boxes as they waited for all the competitors to arrive at the starting point, 16 nautical miles from the capital.
And by the time the race started, the pristine waters were dotted with juice boxes, milk cartons and cigarette packages.
Hours earlier, expatriates and visitors had boarded boats to Lulu Island while most of the city was still relaxed in weekend slumber, in a Beach Clean event for the Volvo Ocean Race.
"For sailors, the ocean is their home, it's their office, it's their source of inspiration," Jackie Smith, the project coordinator of Beach Clean told volunteers. "Even something like a plastic bag can slow the boat down considerably."
Two of the first to arrive for the project were William Brown, 6, and his father Darren, 40.
"Why do we need a life jacket?" asked William.
"They're for short people," said his father.
William and his father, British nationals who have lived in Abu Dhabi for five years, are beach cleanup junkies.
On their last cleanup at Lulu Island, they found a car seat, tyres, and a turtle skeleton surrounded by plastic.
"I think it's all about respect," Mr Brown said as his son ran down the beach. "If you're going to use something, you've got to respect it."
Today, Abu Dhabi will get another chance at environmental awareness at a workshop with the surfer and artist Joao Parrinaha, who will create an art installation out of the rubbish collected at yesterday's Lulu Island cleanup.
The artist will work with children to build a sculpture of litter at each destination of the Volvo Ocean Race.
Mr Parrinha was at Lulu Island yesterday to inspect the rubbish as it arrived to check out potential "treasures".
He will sort through the dozens of bags collected before meeting children at Destination Village on Sunday afternoon to sculpt a giant fish. Each child will be given a scale to decorate with Lulu's flotsom.
"The forms of the pieces, they say something. We can use this for an eye, we can use this for a flipper, sometimes we just grab them because they're nice," said Mr Parrinha. "It's a case of what's interesting."
At the race's start in Alicante, Spain, each child turned rubbish into flowers for a floral display.
At the next stop, in Cape Town, South Africa, rubbish was sculpted into fish.
The children might be inspired by the Skeleton Sea exhibition, which includes a 250cm by 200cm fish made entirely of steel and flip-flops found on the beach, with flippers for fins and a buoy for an eye.
A 230cm-long tin-can tuna is made of rusted cans and steel.
The pride is the albatross, a sculpted bird of steel with an exposed stomach full of beach debris.
"Incredible," said a visitor, tut-tutting at a display board beside the fish. "20 years for a cigarette butt to disappear? It shouldn't take that long."
As for the race, athletes from the Volvo Ocean Race joined the dhow crews to get an idea of the traditional craft of Arabia, a ship that rides the mild winds that rise with the midday heat of the desert.
Butti Al Muhairi, the Emirati reserve sailor and shore crew member for Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, gave Tom Addis, the Puma navigator and first-time dhow sailor, some advice before the contest.
"We don't ask who comes first, we ask who comes second or third because we all know that boat No 16 will come first," joked Al Muhairi.
His words came true. Alzeer, known to all as No 16, kept its early lead and won. The boat is owned by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, and also came in first at the Abu Dhabi Sailing Festival. The boat was skippered by Mohammed Rashed Al Mirar.
Second place went to Muhajer, owned by Ahmed Al Muhairi and skippered by Majid Ahmed Al Muhairi. Zilzal, owned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed and captained by Abdullah Mohammed, came third.