As Azzam streamed from Portugal toward the Isle of Wight this week with the yacht still "dry down below" and the mango porridge "still warm," she approached a momentous phase of her nascent development.
"All is happy onboard Azzam," the media representative, Nick Dana, wrote from the 70-foot sailboat on Tuesday evening, approaching a near-two weeks in the United Kingdom that will entail both showing off and showing up.
First, as a marketing bonanza beginning on Saturday, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's new vessel will join the crafts appearing before throngs at the eight-day Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week regatta on Isle of Wight. There, Azzam will help present Abu Dhabi as a wintertime sailing destination and advertise the capital's presence as a stopover in the nine-month, round-the-world Volvo Ocean Race (VOR).
Then, as an intensive stretch of trial run, beginning one week from Sunday, Azzam will count among about 350 boats and two fellow VOR entries in the biennial, 86-year-old, 608-mile Fastnet race from Cowes and around Ireland's notorious Fastnet Rock and to Plymouth over two days.
"With a huge number of spectators due in Cowes for the event, this was a superb opportunity for us to show off Azzam, introduce Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, our contesting team, explain our ambitions and give the visitors a taste of Abu Dhabi, in the hope it will encourage them to join us over the New Year," Dayne Lim, the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority Product Development Director said in a statement.
The new year, of course, will bring the festival slated for December 30 to January 14, with its dedicated waterfront "Destination Village" on the Corniche highlighting Arabian culture and sailing heritage.
Eyeing that, the appearance in England counts as "really good for the profile," Ian Walker , the skipper, said in Portugal.
"It's England, a big market. It's nice to be there with a wicked, huge, cool boat, promoting our sponsor in the marketplace."
After the showing, Azzam will get moving, and therein lies the tension as sailor upon sailor reminds that acquaintance with a new boat cannot flourish until actual racing.
"As I say, line up against other boats," the bowman Wade Morgan said in Portugal. "It's a more exciting; nervous time to some degree. You get to see who's got it right, who's got it wrong."
Within the Fastnet, the boats range from 30 feet to 140 and, as Walker said, "A handful of boats are faster than us. It doesn't mean we can't beat them."
In a statement released yesterday, he cited a wish to "flex our muscles without letting too much out of the bag" and cited the Fastnet as having "an important role in ensuring our race-readiness."
As the bowman Justin Slattery saw "a very exciting boat" and called the shore preparation work "80 to 90 per cent of the battle," he echoed several of his teammates when he withheld any full-on assessment until, well: "Ask me after Fastnet."
The ocean trip to Cowes and the Fastnet will supply fresh insight right down to the supply of food, Walker said.
"If you get to England and there's still stuff in the bag," he will know to make adjustments.
Meanwhile, out at sea some 300 nautical miles northwest of Cape Finisterre in France, as of Tuesday evening, Azzam had done more than 1,400 miles with a 15-knot average, Dana reported. "With cracked sheets and wind speeds up in the high teens," he wrote, "there is one thing you can guarantee on a Volvo 70: You're going to get wet."
While the previous night had been "instrument-heavy" and "moonless," he relayed, Azzam had "felt like a 'low-riding Cadillac," according to Dana and the lone other American, Andrew Lewis, because she moved "smoothly through the darkness. Her comfortable motions coupled with the underbelly detail from a spectacular amount of phosphorescence gave her that classic-car feel."
Having looped around the Azores on the way back toward fresh land, Dana wrote: "The colour of the sky is greying as we sail farther toward the English coast."