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The Olympic medallist Ian Walker will captain Abu Dhabi's crew for the 10-leg race.
The Olympic medallist Ian Walker will captain Abu Dhabi's crew for the 10-leg race.

UAE national sought for Volvo Ocean Race

The search is on for an Emirati sailor to join the Abu Dhabi crew for one of the world's toughest sporting events that begins late next year.

ABU DHABI // The search is on for an Emirati sailor to join the Abu Dhabi crew for one of the world's toughest sporting events that begins late next year. With the skipper in place - the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) announced yesterday that it had chosen the Olympic medallist Ian Walker - attention can now turn to the crew for the Abu Dhabi Ocean Race team that will compete in the Volvo Ocean Race.

The 10-leg race starts in Alicante, Spain, in October next year. From there the yachts will head 6,500 nautical miles to Cape Town, reaching Abu Dhabi on their third leg in January 2012. More races will be held in Abu Dhabi before the teams set off on the 4,600km leg to Sanya in China, 600km south of Hong Kong. Crew trials will start this winter in Abu Dhabi waters, with intensive training scheduled to begin before the summer. "We are on a very tight, critical timescale," said Walker.

Walker, who skippered the Chinese boat in the 2008-09 race, said having a UAE national on board for the whole race was vital. "We had a Chinese crew member on the Green Dragon," he said. "We learned it was really important to get the nation behind the boat and to get some kind of emotional attachment. Finding the right person who can contribute positively to the team and be a figurehead for promoting the sport in the country is very important."

Faisal al Sheikh, the events manager for ADTA, said: "We are expecting enormously tough competition to win a position on the race yacht. To represent Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing is the opportunity of a lifetime." The ADTA is also looking for two Emiratis to join the shore team. They will travel with the crew to every section of the race, which will finish in Galway, Ireland, in July 2012 after nine months of non-stop racing.

The position is not for the inexperienced or fainthearted. "There are certainly a few weeks of very rough conditions," Walker said. Sailing conditions are likely to be rough for a week during each of the first two legs, as the skipper and his crew of 10 sail down the Atlantic around the Cape of Good Hope and into the warmer currents of the Indian Ocean. Later, as they cross the Pacific and round Cape Horn, Walker expects three weeks of high waves and winds.

"It's fast, it's furious, it's very, very wet and it can be pretty cold as well," said Walker. "It is a very tough challenge for anybody involved and particularly tough for someone who is new to this form of sailing." The rough waters will make it hard to sleep, and the deck is likely to be awash for days at a time, leaving the crew reliant on harnesses to stay aboard. "It is not always like that, but when it is, it's scary and physically and mentally very demanding," said the skipper.

He won the Olympic silver medal in the dinghy category in Atlanta in 1996 and in the two-person star class in Sydney in 2000. While the team prepares for the whole race, the capital will be getting ready for the moment, around January 1, 2012, when the yachts arrive, along with thousands of spectators. "It will be very much a community event," said Mr al Sheikh, "with two weeks of activities aimed at encouraging residents and visitors alike to participate and engage with the race.

"There will be learning and sailing training opportunities, as well as a series of exhibitions and entertainment events lined up to ignite the local community." Although key details have yet to be decided, including which port will be used, Walker expects everything to fall into place by winter when he sets up his team base in Abu Dhabi. "It will really confirm the start of the race," he said. From there, he added, "it will all unfold very quickly".

So far, seven teams have entered the race, with 20 other syndicates preparing entries for the deadline in June next year. @Email:eharnan@thenational.ae

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